MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Federal Student Loan Rate dropped by half a percentage point on July 1, down to 4.53%.

Experts say that makes taking loans out for college a little less expensive, and should also be taken as an important reminder for families who have a student heading to college within the next one to three years.

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Cozy Wittman with College Inside Track helps families navigate how to pay for college and urges parents to add two strategies to the college search. The first one has to do with the search itself.

Wittman emphasized narrowing visits down to schools with the right academic rigor, social environment and price point. She says she often consults with families who haven’t put much thought into paying for tuition beyond the first, freshman year, and that it’s best to start crunching numbers early.

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“I would encourage families to start at the beginning of their search and think about the parts of the puzzle that are going to come together,” Wittman said. “Create your budget for college. Most families don’t think about budgeting for college either.”

She advises starting with the amount of money already saved up through college funds, then incorporating what family members would contribute, if anything.

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Then, when looking at specific schools, she suggests considering what grants are available—whether need or merit-based. After that, factor in loans.