| Special to USA TODAY
Why families should talk about college tuitionWhy families should talk about college tuition.Dear Pete,My daughter is trying to decide what college she’s going to attend in the fall of 2021, and all of this talk about student loan forgiveness has us thinking. She will be the first person in our family to go to college. One of the schools she’s looking at costs about $15,000/year less than the other school, but if the government is going to forgive student loans, wouldn’t it make sense for her to go to the more expensive school? Since we don’t have much money saved for college, no matter what school she chooses, it will be paid for with student loans.Kim; Jersey City, N.J.What a great moment for your daughter and your entire family. First generation college students can change the course of your family for generations to come, and your hard work and diligence is a big part of that.One of the barriers to entry many families encounter when sending their first family member to college is understanding the mechanism of paying for college. In other words, families struggle to grasp the impact student loans can have on a student’s life, post-graduation. And what’s even scarier, is families often underestimate the consequences of taking on student loans and not graduating from college.Personal finance tips: Our son moved home but is struggling to find work. What rules should we set?Ask Pete: You lost your job but found one that pays less. Here’s how to make it work for you and your retirement plansIdeally, prior to sending your student to any college, you should take the time to calculate their projected student loan balance at the conclusion of their college experience, and then calculate what the monthly payment will be for the student. Too often prospective students and their parents skip this simple step, which ends up being a giant mistake. How can you possibly begin to evaluate the value of an education if you don’t know how it will impact your finances upon the payments coming due?Planning stepsAdmittedly, having access to tens of thousands of dollars of borrowed money, which you don’t have to begin to make payments on for years, is a surreal experience, especially if no one in your family has ever experienced it before. Many families adopt a “we’ll figure it out later” strategy, which generally creates peace now and chaos later.Do the math now.Next, consider your student’s field of study as it relates to the ability to earn a living. If the average person in a given career can’t earn enough money to pay back the student loans associated with entering that particular field, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. There are several systemic reasons why millions of Americans are saddled with student loan debt, but the unwillingness to consider the cost of a degree in relation to the income it can generate, lays the blame at the feet of families who refuse to do the math now.You’ve obviously noticed I haven’t addressed your question about student loan forgiveness yet. But frankly, I don’t think taking on a more expensive education in the hopes that the debt associated with that education is forgiven, makes much sense. It’s way too early to know what student loan forgiveness might look like, if it happens at all. But more importantly, your daughter doesn’t even have student loan debt yet. Your focus should be taking on the least amount of debt as possible, while still securing a quality education which will lead to attractive career prospects.Turn your full attention to helping your daughter choose the most cost efficient school she can, and then ensure she’s 100% committed to earning her degree. Being the first person in your family to go to college can be life-changing, but finding yourself drowning in student loan debt without a college degree, can be equally life-changing, but for much more difficult reasons.Remember, knowing exactly how much money your daughter will owe each month is the keystone to making a good decision, not whether or not the government enacts a student loan forgiveness program. And to be fair, your teen daughter might not know the real difference between a $400/month obligation for a decade and a $650/month for a decade. That’s where your real world experience can come in handy to help her gain some much needed perspective.Peter Dunn is an author, speaker and radio host, and he has a free podcast: “Million Dollar Plan.” Have a question for Pete the Planner? Email him at AskPete@petetheplanner.com. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.