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More than one way to finance an education

Creative financing isn't just for home buyers anymore. Colleges and universities are beginning to grease the way to graduation with a myriad of financial options for parents of college-bound students:

* Washington University in St. Louis has pioneered a tuition prepayment plan that allows students and parents to pay for all four years in one lump sum, prorated on the first year's costs.

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Most of the 60-odd colleges in the United States that offer this plan also help finance the large debt that is incurred.

* Northwestern University has developed a research model that considers a student's academic major and future earnings potential to determine the debt load the student will be capable of carrying, once he or she has entered the work force. The model is used for internal budget planning and is generally applied to a particular school in the university rather than individual students , who often switch majors.

* Baylor University in Waco, Texas, offers a guaranteed tuition plan; that is , a promise that the cost for an entering student will not increase over the term of the student's enrollment. Guaranteed tuition, which is available at about two dozen colleges nationwide, is paid each year rather than in one lump sum.

* The University of Pennsylvania is setting up what's being called a ''bank'' from which students may borrow money based on need. Still in the planning stages , the program will offer parents and student a wide range of financial options.

''We're seeing a whole change in philosophy on the question of financial aid, '' says Robert Zemsky, director of planning analysis at the university. ''The perspective now is that parents must finance an education, not just pay for it.''

The new creative financing alternatives by colleges mark something of a swing in the initiative on student financial aid away from the government and into the laps of colleges and universities.

In dollar terms, overall federal government programs have actually risen, from $7.2 billion in 1981-82 to $7.5 billion in 1983-84, according to Petor daughter, can produce substantial tax benefits.

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The Uniform Gift to Minors Act allows each parent to give a child up to $10, 000 (a total of $20,000) a year in nontaxable cash or securities. The money that eventually accumulates can be used for tuition without tax consequences for the parent.

Crown trusts allow a family to use its own or borrowed money to form a trust fund, then lend the money interest-free to their children. There is a double tax saving: for parents, and for the children who are free to invest the money in high-yield accounts. The IRS, however, is taking a close look at interest free loans among family members.

Another of the several options is a Clifford Trust. Instead of cash, stock or income-producing property is contributed to the trust. Sale of the property is not necessary, and the property comes back to the parent after 10 years.

''The number of options open to parents is phenomenal,'' says Alexander A. Bove Jr., a personal financial consultant and partner with the Boston law firm of Bove, Katz & Charmoy and author of a book on college financing. ''All it takes is a little investigation.''

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