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4 Last-Minute Tuition Tips for College Parents In Trouble

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Any parent of a college-age son or daughter knows the calendar, and the drill.

It's August, and that means college tuition notices -- some for $10,000 or more -- are in your email bin or your mailbox.

That could mean trouble for some families. According to a study from Sallie Mae and Ipsos, How America Pays For College 2013, mom and dad are having a tough time digging deep enough into the family bank account to pay for college:

Sallie Mae says parents pay only 27% of all tuition costs, down from 36% in 2010, probably because 40% of all U.S. families say they have "unexpectedly" run into problems paying.

That still sounds better than the 67% of parents who have eliminated colleges because of high costs.

If you're among the struggling 40%, all is not lost. There are ways to cover those costs, or at least buy some time until you can meet your entire tuition obligations -- even at the last minute:

Ask for an installment plan. Most colleges and universities recognize the economy has dried up family financial resources and are amenable to installment payments -- as long as you make them on time. In general, your college's financial aid office will walk you through the calculations (usually online, but over the phone is an option too) and come up with a regular payment plan. To help spur that process, Sallie Mae has a useful monthly college savings/payment budget calculator here.

Try for some "free money." According to Sallie Mae, 65% of students were awarded grants or scholarships to pay for college costs for the 2013 school year. Leverage helpful websites such as Sallie Mae's Scholarship Search, or sign up for opportunities at Scholarships.com. Even if school has started, it's not too late to grab some scholarship cash.

Turn to student loans. Sallie Mae advises parents struggling to cope with tuition costs to borrow money, aiming first for federal student loans (visit StudentLoans.gov for details). Once you've exhausted possibilities there, fill the gap with private college loans. Sallie Mae can get you started here, or you can talk to your bank or credit union.

Talk to your employer. Many companies offer tuition assistance programs. They're a great recruitment tool for firms looking for top-notch talent. Companies often offer tuition help for employees and dependents of employees. According to FinAid.org your company might offer you and your family up to $5,250 in employer education assistance benefits for undergraduate or graduate courses tax free each year, per Section 127 of the Internal Revenue Code.

The moral of the college tuition story? It's not as late as you think.

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