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Online Colleges Offering Flexible Monthly Tuition Payments

Much of the attention given to paying for college revolves around financial aid such as grants, scholarships and loans. While the discussion about financial aid is deserved, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way current and prospective college students can pay for the cost of college. To help students budget and pay for college without parents, many online colleges now offer payment plans. Tuition saving plans and knowing which schools offer the “biggest educational bang for your tuition buck” can help students pay for and afford college. These plans can also be set to work with each student’s needs, whether they’re looking for help paying for their tuition and fees, school supplies and books, or even housing and the associated cost of living. Once students have a better understanding of their college expenses, they’re ready to begin researching and comparing payment plans. Continue reading to explore the fundamentals of payment plans how to choose the best plan for you.

Tuition Payment Plan Basics

Many prospective students know to look into financial aid to help pay for college, but not as many are aware of tuition payment plans, let alone how they work.

Getting Started

We have compiled a list of the most affordable online four-year colleges, considering factors such as graduation rate, student-teacher ratio and percentage of student receiving financial aid. However, the list below ranks the top 20 public, four-year schools serving non-specific student populations in the U.S. by lowest net price.

Break down your current financial situation, and receive a college tuition estimate you can afford to pay.

Online Degrees with Monthly Payments

RankSchoolIn-State Net Price after Scholarships & Grants 2013-2014State
1South Texas College$1320TX
2California State University-Dominguez Hills$1640CA
3Indian River State College$1807FL
4CUNY Lehman College$2327NY
5Palm Beach State College$2467FL
6Elizabeth City State University$2490NC
7California State University-Los Angeles$2735CA
8University of Texas-Pan American$3006TX
9Chipola College$4418FL
10Gulf Coast State College$4577FL
11Texas A&M International University$4639TX
12Lake-Sumter State College$4653FL
13Florida Gateway College$4677FL
14Clover Park Technical College$4807WA
15Seattle Central College$4953WA
16Daytona State College$5064FL
17Brazosport College$5178TX
18Peninsula College$5246WA
19South Florida State College$5436FL
20California State University-Fullerton$5542CA

Source: College Affordability and Transparency Center

Payment Plans Available Through the School

Standard Plans

A tuition payment plan allows the student to spread out tuition payment over several months instead of providing a full tuition payment at one time. For example, if a student’s annual tuition cost is $15,000 per year, instead of paying $15,000 at the beginning of the school year or $7,500 at the beginning of each semester, the student will have the $15,000 fee broken up over several months. This may be 10 months for two semesters and five months for a single semester. In this example, the student would make 10 $1,500 monthly payments or five $1,500 monthly payments in a semester plan. Not only does a tuition payment plan spread out the tuition costs over a much longer period, it’s cheaper than obtaining alternative financing. This is because tuition payment plans charge no interest, just a small enrollment fee, which is far less than any interest charges the student would otherwise have to pay with a conventional student loan.

Deferred Plans

Some schools call their standard tuition payment plan a “deferred payment plan” or a “deferred plan,” but it works the same way as a standard tuition payment plan. In other schools, the deferred payment plan is actually a different plan where the tuition payment is split up into two or three payments. For example, at NYU, the fall semester’s tuition is broken up into three payments. Fifty percent is due in the summer, 25 percent is due in the middle of the fall semester and 25 percent is due near the end of the fall semester.

Just like the standard tuition payment plan, a deferred plan requires a small enrollment fee, which is the same or comparable to a standard tuition payment plan enrollment fee. However, unlike standard tuition payment plans, schools may charge interest if the final payment is not made on time.

Tuition Stabilization Plans

A tuition stabilization plan protects students against future tuition rate hikes. Instead of paying for each semester or school year at the beginning of each term, the student will pay for several semesters all at once. Most schools require students who want to take advantage of a tuition stabilization plan to prepay for a minimum of four semesters, but no more than eight semesters. The tuition stabilization plan applies to the cost of tuition only.

Direct Bill Plans

Direct bill plans are useful when a third party, such as an employer, is paying for the student’s tuition. These plans allow the school to directly bill the third party instead of the student. Additionally, the direct bill plans allow the third party several weeks into the school term before the full tuition payment must be made. Even though direct bill allows someone other than the student to pay for tuition, the student is still responsible for ensuring tuition has been paid in full by the deadlines.

Service Companies Offering Tuition Payment Plans

Many schools offer tuition payment plans but don’t administer the plan themselves. Instead, they outsource the payment plan processing to a tuition payment plan company. There are several popular service companies available. Here are a few.

Higher One

Sometimes referred to as TuitionPay, Higher One is one of the major tuition payment plan service companies that administer tuition payment plans on behalf of schools. The exact process will depend on the school’s requirements, but typically, payments are made in three, five or 10 increments for an enrollment fee. The payment methods will depend on the school, but a check or electronic debit from a checking account are two common options.

Nelnet Business Solutions

Nelnet Business Solutions provides a school-specific webpage with plan details for each school. There are also instructions on how to enroll, which usually begins by signing up on the school’s website.

Tuition Management Systems (TMS)

Another popular company is TMS. Similar to Higher One and Nelnet Business Solutions in that its tuition payment plan options will depend on the participating school’s details, TMS is unique in that it offers BorrowSmart, a special program that allows students to combine a tuition payment plan with a traditional school loan. Every month, the student’s monthly payment will include both a loan payment and tuition payment.

10 Colleges Offering Online Degrees and Payment Plans

CUNY is the city of New York’s public university system. It has two special schools offering online degrees and programs: John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the School of Professional Studies. CUNY’s tuition payment plan is administered by Nelnet Business Solutions and allows students to pay their tuition over the semester. McKinley College offers 11 online associate degree programs in various business and healthcare areas. McKinley College’s tuition payment plan is different from most in that an outstanding balance does not prevent students from registering for additional classes. NYU is an elite university offering hundreds of courses either completely online or in a blended format. NYU has many certificate and degree programs offered completely online as well. It offers several tuition payment plan options, including traditional and deferred. The traditional tuition payment plan is administered by Higher One with a $50 enrollment fee. Rutgers offers a number of complete online degree programs including nursing, engineering, business administration, accounting and public administration. Rutger’s tuition payment is run by Tuition Management Systems and has a $60 per year or $50 per semester enrollment fee. For students seeking a wide range of online degree and certificate possibilities, the University of Arizona is a good choice. Online programs include communication, history and industrial engineering. The University of Arizona offers its own deferred payment plan which allows students to split up their semester tuition payment into three payments at a cost of $75 per semester. The University of Nebraska is a leading public state university with both undergraduate and graduate online programs. Nelnet Business Solutions administers the deferred tuition payment plan. It charges a $20 enrollment per semester and offers three total payments over the course of a semester. At UND, students can choose from a large selection of online courses, certificates and degree options in areas such as electrical engineering, nursing, aviation, teaching and public health. UND’s tuition payment plan is run by Higher One. In addition to tuition, UND allows students to include books, room and board in the payment plan. However, student fees and rent cannot be included. VSU offers SmartPath Core, which provides students an efficient way to complete the core components of their degree online. Students can choose from a wide range of graduate, undergraduate and certificate online programs. VSU’s tuition payment plan is administered by Nelnet Business Solutions, requires a down payment, and an enrollment fee of either $60 or $70, depending on when the student enrolls. Most academic offerings are on campus, but Villanova University also has an extensive number of online degree and certificate offerings in engineering, nursing, professional studies, business and law. Villanova University’s tuition payment plan is administered by Tuition Management Systems with a $45 and $70 enrollment fee for semester and full year payment plans, respectively. A largely traditional university, WMU offers several dozen undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates online, such as nursing, art education and gerontology. WMU’s tuition payment plan provides students the choice between making four or six payments over the semester. The enrollment fee is $35 per semester. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What happens if you don’t make your payments?

The consequences for not making payments will depend on each school and how a payment is missed. If a payment is submitted, but it is returned for insufficient funds, there will usually be an additional fee, often around $30 or so. Additionally, the school might reserve the right to terminate the tuition payment plan if a payment is returned on multiple occasions. Once the tuition payment plan is terminated, any remaining balance will be immediately due.

When a student misses a payment, a common result is the imposition of a monthly late fee for each month the payment is late plus a hold placed on the student’s account, which will prevent them from registering for classes or graduating.

When people think about college costs, the first thing that comes to mind is tuition. But in many cases, other significant costs can rival tuition in terms of financial burden on the student. And often, financial aid or scholarships will not cover these costs.

Resources for Understanding College Costs

The US Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center is an excellent online resource that allows prospective students to more effectively compare schools based on their costs of attendance. The following is a list of available tools from the College Affordability and Transparency Center:

Other online resources to help determine the true cost of attendance of college:

What Makes College Affordable?

Besides getting scholarships and grants to pay for college, below is a list considerations to weigh when seeking out an affordable college.

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