An unexpectedly high bill

The other week DH’s relative called DH at 10pm on a weeknight in a bit of a panic because kid #4 had signed up for community college next semester unbeknownst to him (she’s graduating a semester early and we are impressed with her initiative!) and the bill was due. Was our offer to pay it still valid? DH said sure, no problem, and we went back to sleep.

The bill turned out to be for $1,800!

So we said, we can pay this, BUT we think it’s really unlikely that you actually have to pay this much given that daughter #1 was free and #2 was something like $300/semester after financial aid. (This is more like the bill we would expect should one of them go to a 4 year school.)

Looking closer, it appeared that financial aid had not been included in the bill, even though they had done the FAFSA and everything else. Kid #4 also said two of her friends had gotten similarly scary bills. So something was messed up. (Also it turned out the deadline posted on the bill was a month earlier than the actual deadline!)

After several days of phone tag, DH’s relative finally got someone on the phone, but they said that they couldn’t talk financial aid with him, only with his daughter, even though she’s 17 and still a minor. She needed to come into the office to sign a bunch of forms.

So she went into the office, and instead of giving her forms, they emailed her forms. But they don’t have a printer, so she had to go back to the office (but the office’s printer cuts off the bottom of every page…). There was a lot more back and forth and in the end, the relative and his daughter both went into the office together. And a month later, everything got sorted out. All we have to pay for is books. Whew.

Our hope is that this daughter will get her SAT score up at least 10 points so she’s state school eligible and then go to a 4 year school (neither of her sisters finished their associates degrees because they dropped out after having babies and the oldest son didn’t start because he couldn’t drive himself… our hope is that maybe the 4-year college environment will be more appealing than dropping out… but we have learned we can only do so much nudging and we never truly know what the right thing to do is).  She’s interested in an education degree, but might change her mind.

So… I guess the moral is … if you get a bill that is way larger than expected, chances are something went wrong?

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15 Responses to “An unexpectedly high bill”

  1. Miser Mom Says:

    Wait, are you missing a zero? This bill (even though it wasn’t correct) still seems surprisingly low, even for a single semester. But I’m at a “highly selective” liberal arts college, so I know my calibration meter might be badly skewed.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      This is a community college. 2 year school.

      • Miser Mom Says:

        Okay, so my calibration meter is *definitely* off. I think it’s partly because you said “This is more like the bill we would expect should one of them go to a 4 year school.” But I don’t know how much other 4-year schools cost, either. Not $32K per semester, I’m guessing!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        After financial aid is calculated I expect it will be more like 2k/semester at one of their state schools. The sticker price isn’t as relevant as the moderate income and low savings as well as the not great endowments of the state schools.

  2. EB Says:

    $1800 for a semester of full-time classes would be about right in my state.

  3. rose Says:

    Thank you for sharing this experience and reminding us all to LOOK at bills carefully and ask questions. Also for standing behind your promise of help in a time when helping others isn’t always a norm. Best wishes for #4 to break the pattern and cycle and keep moving forward.
    Above all, THANK YOU and all who comment here, for sharing and holding on and providing both hope and grounding in the reality of the moment in the personal space. We, and I, are very lucky to know this blog.

  4. Abigail @ipickuppennies.net Says:

    Yikes, that’d definitely be a terrifying bill to get out of the blue. Glad they were able to get the situation sorted out. Both for their peace of mind and your bank account. Always a good reminder to call about any unexpectedly large bill.

  5. delagar Says:

    The Kid’s tuition at our 4-year state school, even after the discount we get because I’m a professor in the system, is just over $3000/semester.

    That’s just tuition and fees — the really big part of the bill is rent, food, books, and medical. It’s running something on the order of $9000/semester for everything now. They’ve got a roommate, so at least the rent part should drop, going forward.

  6. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    The UCSB bill, including room and board is $8577/quarter or about $25,700/year. Luckily, Winter 2019 is the last quarter that my son will be in college.

  7. Leigh Says:

    I had this recently with a healthcare EOB. A medical provider ran an old insurance card of mine (despite me giving them the new one) and I got an EOB for $630 when it should have been $0. One phone call to the front desk of the medical provider and a week later and I got a new EOB for $0. Phew!

    I’m curious how you guys saved for your niblings’ college? Did you set aside specific money for that goal? We are starting to try to figure out how we want to do that.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      So far it has only cost us nothing over what we put in the two oldest’s 529s many years ago so we’ve been cash flowing it. My original plan was to sell some American century trust stocks my father bought in my name, but so far the amount needed hasn’t been worth the effort.

  8. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I was paying something like $1000 in tuition at a CA state school per quarter nigh on 20 years ago so that price tag does sound about right FWIW.

    I’m so glad you had the calibration necessary to point out that it wasn’t quite in line with expectations! I’m sure the college would have happily just taken your money and not corrected the error if they’d not gone to all the trouble of the back and forth.

    I always wondered why my state school was allowed to take my signature on things when I started school, I was a minor still as a young (but not early) high school graduate.

  9. Matthew Healy Says:

    This is a perfect example of how money wasn’t the only important benefit of my having been a faculty kid! When I arrived on campus 40 years ago, not only did my parents cover much of the cost but also they and I were fully prepared for the State University world.

    I wonder how many kids from working class families end up dropping out because of bills that they don’t actually have to pay because they don’t know how to get the bureaucracy to fix its errors.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There’s been some work done on getting someone to help with the FAFSA– there are pretty large effects of that on college attendance.

      Good point about the errors– I’m not sure we would have known this was unreasonable if the older two girls hadn’t enrolled in CC previously. Though they do have an online financial aid calculator on their website that said she should be fully covered based on estimates.


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