How Dad Can Help

Eric recently had a conversation with his youngest son about co-signing a loan for college, and Eric told him he'd call Dave to find a solution for college other than co-signing. What would Dave's solution be?

QUESTION: Eric in Chicago recently had a conversation with his youngest son about co-signing a loan for college, and Eric told him he’d call Dave to find a solution for college other than co-signing. What would Dave’s solution be?

ANSWER: That’s wise, because I think you’d be letting him down by co-signing. If you hold your son’s hand and lead him into a bear trap, you are not helping him. Let me tell you about what’s all mixed up in this: The condemnation of your ex-wife is still floating out there in this discussion, and sometimes we try to outspend our guilt. I’m not saying that’s happening with you, but it sometimes happens.

Sometimes I see dads that are noncustodial dads spend a lot of money trying to make up for the fact that they are not there to tuck the kids in at night. Those are two toxic things that are pulling at you, potentially, at different levels in this discussion.

If we took all the nastiness and divorce and mess of noncustodial parents out of this, that changes the discussion considerably. Then it becomes you sitting down with your son and telling him about what is wise and how you are not going to co-sign for anything. My refusing to co-sign for you is not letting you down any more than me refusing handing you a lit joint is not letting you down. I took good care of you by not letting you do something that was harmful to you.

Having said all that, we solve this problem by looking at options for this young man to go to school. You are not in a position financially because you are unemployed and not able to be a lot of help financially. If I am in your shoes, your promise should be to help as you are able. Today, mathematically, you’re not able. You don’t have any money or a job.

But you can show him what to do, and that is pick a school that’s affordable. As you get a job, you’ll throw more money at the situation as well and you help him with as much cash as you can, as long as he is making choices in his life that you agree with. You won’t support his choices if he starts to misbehave or goes to a school where he goes $200,000 in debt.

Here are the numbers: If he’s 17 years old, he needs to take the ACT and the SAT at least three times. If you can pay for him to be tutored between each test, his scores will go up each time. It happened with each of my kids, and each time the scores go up, they qualify for more scholarships. The second thing is that he needs to plan on working while he’s in school to pay for part of this.

The average college student who works 19 to 25 hours a week can pay for an in-state school. He won’t go to an expensive school for that; he’ll go to an in-state school, and I would do that. He needs to buy used textbooks that are one edition off of what the teacher is requesting, and you can buy those on eBay for $13 instead of the brand-new ones that cost $313 that the professor requests. We’re not trying to support the professor here, we’re trying to get through the class.

If he works and chooses his school well and works hard at finding scholarship money as well as works hard at the SAT and ACT, this young man can go to school for cash. Nobody has done this kid any favors, including your ex co-signing and encouraging this stupidity.

I think that’s not you letting him down; that’s you serving him well as his dad, who is older and wiser. You are giving him good, solid, loving advice. Whether he’ll follow that in the middle of this toxic mess, I don’t know. How much influence his mother has on him in all this, I don’t know. He has to decide how many of these stupid T-shirts he wants to own.