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Parents’ Guide

Parents’ Guide

Consumer Education Program


Nurturing our children so that they grow into healthy, happy, responsible, and able adults may be one of our most important tasks as parents, families, and communities. Any way you look at it, parenting is always a challenge. 

Here, we will provide parents and families with informational resources to help meet some of those challenges successfully. Read the articles provided below to learn more!

First Lessons About Money

How soon is too soon to start teaching children about money? Most children begin to develop an awareness of money around age 2 or 3, according to child development specialists. That's not too soon, then, to begin to involve preschoolers in activities that will form a good foundation for future money management skills. The specific activities used should be tailored to the interests and abilities of the individual child. 

Money Lessons for Ages 2 and 3

Identifying Money

  • Working with an adult, very young children can use coins to begin to count objects and to identify like objects. It's okay to talk about the differences in value and the uses of money with them, but don't expect them to understand this information yet. Try to think and talk about money in children's terms.
  • Children will make plenty of mistakes in sorting and in learning the names of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Never criticize or belittle. Guide, encourage and allow them to learn from mistakes.
  • If you have a change jar, letting small children help you separate the coins into a coin sorter or into rolls can be a fun game.

Saving Money

  • Piggy banks are a hit with even small children. Clear, nonbreakable banks let them see the money mount up. You might give them the pennies out of your pocket or purse each day or so to let them put in their bank. A family savings jar to which every family member contributes and which is then used for a family treat such a meal out at a favorite place helps preschoolers participate in family money management.
  • DCU offers savings accounts for young members from birth on (as long as they have a social security number). But very young children have trouble with abstract ideas such as placing their money in a place they can't see. Even if you start a savings account for a very young child, you may wish to wait to introduce it to them until they can understand and use it.
  • If a child accompanies you to DCU, explain in simple terms what you are doing when you deposit money – how you worked to earn it to pay for the things the family needs like clothes or their favorite foods, how the credit union keeps it safe for you until you need it, and so on.

Money Lessons for Ages 4 and 5

Identifying Money

  • Continue to help children identify coins and bills, working especially on comparisons and values. For example, the concept that pennies are bigger than dimes but do not have as much value (ability to buy something) is one idea that kindergartners begin to grasp. Work also on identifying the difference in bills – like a puzzle, find different objects on the bills that make them distinctive even though their color and size is the same.
  • When you get cash from an ATM or use a credit card to make a purchase, begin to explain to a child what you are doing, and the relationship of the money to your job, and the relationship of the credit card to borrowing money, like they might borrow a toy from a sibling or friend.

Saving Money

  • Piggy banks still work with this age. You can introduce the idea of paying interest. You might add a certain percentage to their savings each week and let them hold the coins and add them to their bank.
  • Many children by age five are ready for an allowance. Experts recommend that you make the amount and the time you give the allowance consistent. Discuss responsible uses for their allowance, including saving for things they want. Let them use their money as they wish, but within family guidelines.
  • Begin to make the connection between their piggy bank and a savings account at the credit union.
  • Preschoolers are very aware of and influenced by commercials. You might select a relatively inexpensive toy that they want, identify its cost at the store, talk about whether it delivers what the commercial promised, and if they decide the toy has value, use their money to purchase it if they have enough, or save for it if they don't.

Using Money To Buy Something

  • Playing store is a time-tested activity to teach children the value of money. Help children create the store based on real items and real money, even though the activity is "pretend".
  • Let them spend their piggy bank savings or allowance under your supervision. Talk about what kinds of things represent good value for money.
  • Let children help you select items from a grocery shopping list and help you pay for them at check out. Let them purchase their tickets to a family movie.

Preparing Your Child for College

Choosing Colleges

Heading off to college is a major milestone in your child's life. Although this decision is ultimately your child's, college admission professionals stress that parents have an important role to play in the decision. Selecting a college is a high stress task for both young adults and their parents. Whether they say so or not, most children desire their parents' guidance and support. Working together as a parent-student team is ideal. 

The primary goal: finding a college that matches your student's individual needs and talents

Higher education institutions in the United States come in all types and sizes, from two-year community colleges to large state universities, from small private liberal arts colleges to elite universities, from technical institutes to professional colleges. Overall, the United States has more than 9,000 institutions of higher learning. Which among them is right for your child?

College admissions experts answer that question simply: the institution that best meets your child's needs and talents. Such a school ought to challenge your child while also making him or her feel comfortable. Finding the best match means that the school that's right for one child in a family is often not right for another. Achieving that also means that Mom's or Dad's alma mater may not be right for any of their children. Also selecting particular types of schools because they have particular qualities or programs that a parent values (for instance, a respected four-year pre-law, pre-med, or business degree) is probably not the right decision if the student's talents, interests, and career goals are different.

The College Search Inventory

Answering these questions can help students and parents determine personal interests and whether or not each school under consideration has the key programs and qualities to meet those needs. It can also be used to help identify potentially good schools from among the many that send information to prospective students.

  1. What do you want to study? Are you more interested in developing technical or vocational skills? You don't have to know what you want to major in yet.
  2. Does the school offer a course of study in your area of interest?
  3. What type of location is important – small town, large city? Close to home, within the state, a nearby state, or a far away state?
  4. Do you want to go to a small school, middle-sized school, large school, or a huge school?
  5. Do you want to go to a school with a particular religious affiliation?
  6. Do you prefer a state or private school? Or, have no preference?
  7. Do you want to live on campus, off campus, or commute? Does the school require non-day students to live on campus?
  8. Do you want to go to a coed or single sex school?
  9. What's the total cost of a year's enrollment – tuition, room, board and expenses? What kind of financial aid is available? What types of scholarships does the school offer – academic, athletic, or some other? Have you talked to an admissions officer or the financial aid office to see what types of financial aid you may qualify for?
  10. Is participation in extracurricular activities important? If so, which ones? Does the school offer these?
  11. Are you interested in a co-op program that alternates work with school? Does the school offer programs in your area of interest?
  12. Are you interested in an internship? Does the school offer internships? Some schools may require all students to complete an internship in order to graduate.
  13. What other qualities are important in a college? What other questions need answers?

Finding Schools That Meet Your Criteria

Once students and parents have the answers to these and any other questions, it's easy to use free online search tools to find schools that match their criteria.

Financing College

It's never too early or too late to start planning for your children's education after high school. The earlier you adopt a savings plan, the more options you have for building that nest egg to pay for college or vocational school. But even if your child is approaching high school graduation, it's not too late to plan how best to use your resources. For example, in addition to savings, there are a number of lower-cost educational loan plans in which the parents or student may participate.

Savings Plans

Savings are a primary source for paying college or vocational school tuition and expenses. Savings plans can take many forms, and they can be started by a parent, child (or prospective student), relatives and friends. Here is an overview of a few of the many savings options, including the potential tax benefits or other benefits each may offer.

  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (formerly Education IRAs). These tax-free savings plans may be set up for a minor child to pay qualified education expenses for the designated beneficiary. A maximum of $2,000 can be contributed per year to the account up until the child reaches 18 years of age. Contributions are limited by the giver's modified adjusted gross income. The fund must be used to pay for qualified expenses by the time the beneficiary reaches age 30. Such "distributions" can be used to cover qualified expenses for both elementary/secondary education and higher education. The fact that the account must be in the child's name can affect the child's eligibility for federal financial aid.
  • State-sponsored 529 Plans. Every state in the U.S. offers at least one of these college savings programs, which are established in the name of the beneficiary and which provide tax-free growth. No federal income tax is owed when a distribution is made for the beneficiary's college costs. Although the plan is state sponsored, the funds may be used at any accredited college or university in the country. A 529 Plan has several benefits. First, it's an easy account to manage because the donor simply determines a monthly contribution; like a mutual fund, the investment is handled by the plan managers. Second, the maximum amount that can be saved is large. Although monthly contributions can be as small as $50 per month, the total amounts that can be contributed can be large, as much as $200,000 or more per beneficiary in some states. Also, there are no income or age restrictions.
  • Education Bond Program. This US Treasury Department program allows interest to be completely or partially excluded from Federal income tax. The bond owner must pay tuition and fees at a college, university, or vocational school or pay into a State tuition plan in the same calendar year that the bonds are redeemed. Series EE bonds issued after January 1990 and all Series I bonds are eligible. You don't need to indicate that you plan to use the bonds for education when you buy them but you must meet the program requirements.
  • Prepaid Tuition Plans. These are state-sponsored college savings plans that allow you to buy tuition units. This means that if you buy units for one semester (or quarter) now, the units will still pay for one semester (or quarter) when your child goes to college. Previously, these plans locked you into state schools but with the advent of the 529 Plans, there is a little more flexibility.

Scholarships, Grants, Loans, and Other Financial Aid Options

With higher education costs continuing to rise, most families will need more than savings to finance a child's continuing education. According to college admissions professionals, many families mistakenly assume when their child applies to colleges that they can't qualify for financial aid. These experts strongly recommend that every applicant and his or her family always complete the financial aid application. Financial Aid Offices in most colleges and universities are happy to work with prospective students to put together a package of aid that draws not only on scholarships and the institutions private resources but on government grants, loans and other outside resources.

FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid and more

The U.S. government provides a number of grant and loan programs to help finance higher education. To apply for any federal aid program, prospective students and their families must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is used to determine what federal aid a student may be eligible for. Most schools also require that applicants for financial aid complete this form.

Many colleges also use the federal FAFSA form as part of the financial application process not just to qualify students for federal grants and loans but for their own scholarship and financial aid programs.

There is no fee to file the FAFSA. It must be filed only once and preferably should be submitted online. If you prefer using paper forms (a much slower process), such forms are available from the Financial Aid Office of individual schools and from the Federal Student Aid Information Center, PO Box 84, Washington, DC 20044. Or, you can call them at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1.800.433.3243).


Scholarships come to mind first when thinking about financial aid for higher education. Several billion dollars are available annually in scholarship funds from a wide variety of sources.

U.S. Government Financial Aid Programs

Federal financial aid programs include the following grants and loans. Some programs are applied for through the individual school and others may be applied for directly. But it's important to note that an individual school may not participate in all the programs – another reason to work with the school's Financial Aid Office.

  • Federal Pell Grants – This program provides grants that do not have to be repaid. They are available for undergraduates only. Applications are submitted through the individual school.
  • Federal Stafford Loans – These loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students, and loan eligibility increases for each subsequent year of study. Stafford loans may be obtained directly from the federal government (Direct Loan Program) or from a private lender. The federal government guarantees the loan funds. The variable interest rate can never exceed 8.25%. If you qualify for a subsidized Stafford loan, the government will pay the interest on your loan while you are in school. If you have an unsubsidized Stafford loan, you are responsible for paying all the interest that accrues. The school or lending institution determines whether you qualify for a subsidized or unsubsidized loan based on financial status. An individual who receives a subsidized loan may also get an unsubsidized loan.
  • Federal PLUS Loans – These unsubsidized loans are made to parents by private lending institutions. The variable interest rate can never exceed 9%.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (SEOG) – These grants, which do not have to be repaid, range from $100 to $4,000 per year for students who remain eligible and are only available for undergraduates. The participating school administers the program and receives the application.
  • Federal Work Study – This program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students. The money earned is applied to education expenses. The participating school administers the program and receives the application.
  • Perkins Loans – Loans made through the Federal Perkins Loan Program, often called Perkins Loans, are low-interest federal student loans for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need. Important: Under federal law, the authority for schools to make new Perkins Loans ended on Sept. 30, 2017, and final disbursements were permitted through June 30, 2018. As a result, students can no longer receive Perkins Loans. A borrower who received a Perkins Loan can learn more about managing the repayment of the loan by contacting either the school that made the loan or the school’s loan servicer.

Private Student Lending Solutions

In addition to government-supported loans, you may take out education loans from financial institutions. DCU now offers student lending solutions to help you fill the funding gaps that federal aid can leave behind. By partnering with other credit unions to form Credit Union Student Choice, we are able to offer members lower cost financing options that will help you or a family member achieve your dream of a higher education.

Home Equity Loans

One of the most popular uses for home equity loans is to finance education expenses. Interest is tax deductible for most people (federal and sometimes state) which can lower the real cost.

Information on Other Sources of Financial Aid

Beyond the basic sources of financial aid described in this article, there are many other options. Sources of financial aid run the gamut from free scholarship lotteries, to aid from your specific school, to national service, to meeting specific criteria (such as female, older, minority).

Preparing for College

In this high-tech, globalized world, education beyond high school is more and more important. The more education your children have, the more career options they have. Pursuing a higher education doesn't have to mean going to a four-year college or university. Other options include two-year community or junior colleges, business schools, and vocational technical schools. Also included are courses of study that result in a license or certification. Throughout children's elementary and secondary school years, parents can help lay the foundation for successful advanced education.

How soon should children start preparing for college?

Although doing well in elementary school prepares a student to excel in high school and college, specific academic preparation for higher education begins in middle school. For example, to be able to take chemistry or physics in high school (courses that are often required in a college prep curriculum), a student may need to take Algebra I in the 8th grade. Whatever their current career goals and dreams – even if they don't have anything specific in mind yet, your children should take all of the core high school courses in English, math, science, history and geography. This broad educational base gives them basic skills for whatever path they take after high school.

For students who plan to pursue a college bachelor's degree, educational advisors recommend that a student's high school electives (non-core courses) include 2 or 3 years of a foreign language and classes in music, art, dance, or theater. Again, even if your child doesn't know what they want to do after high school graduation or just knows they want to go to college somewhere, this broad background provides flexibility and opens up almost any option.

How important are high school grades in college admission?

Grades are one of the major criteria that colleges and universities consider in granting admission. College applications usually require that the applicant's complete high school transcript be sent. The transcript contains the grades for the courses taken in all years of high school. As a consequence, every year of high school is important, not just the last two. Colleges will also look at "grade point average," which is the average of all grades received during high school. Although different colleges have different requirements for grades and grade point averages, admission to most colleges doesn't require a straight A average. A good record of A's and B's can win admission to a college that's a good match for a student's needs and talents.

What about SAT, ACT, PSAT and other standardized test scores?

Although many colleges and universities say they are putting less emphasis now on "college aptitude" standardized test scores, most still require them, and most still have minimum requirements for acceptable test scores. The SAT or ACT should be taken at least twice, but usually no more than three times. Keep in mind that test scores are only one part of the admissions package. Most schools use them in conjunction with the prospective student's grades and courses taken. Good preparation for the test is needed to develop confidence. This can be done through practice tests. The availability of practice tests range from books under $20 to full fledged cram courses that cost $500 or more.

How important are extra-curricular activities?

Preparing for college isn't only about schoolwork. Athletics, community service and other extracurricular activities can help children learn discipline, responsibility, teamwork, and other skills. Encouraging children to read a newspaper every day helps broaden their horizons. You don't have to subscribe to one – read it online. Additional reading (fiction and non-fiction) and study outside of course requirements can help expand vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. Extracurricular and community volunteer activities even help some teens find their future careers.