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Importance of Saving for College

Although most parents are extremely committed to providing for their child's education, they are falling short on their goals.  In fact, most do not really understand what they need to do to save effectively or they are not saving at all.  As a result parents are scrambling to gather the necessary funds when their child starts school. 

Why Save for College?

Realize that saving for college is as important as saving for retirement.  Skyrocketing college cost make this endeavor a high ticket item.

Estimated cost of 4 years of college

2006 Approx $52,000 Approx $125,000
2024 Approx $126,000 Approx $300,000

How Do I Finance College?

First and foremost you should work with a financial advisor to determine your saving needs and the investment strategies required to meet these goals.  Saving for college may seem overwhelming but doing nothing or waiting to start investing are costly mistakes.  Certain available degree tracks are more expensive than others; not saving can be disastrous.

It is important for parents to realize that the balance of risk to reward in your account is extremely important.  Many times parents will take an extremely conservative approach to saving for college, it is important that the funds have the greatest potential for growth.  If your child is young when you start this savings process you can invest more in stock and then as they approach college age the investments become more conservative.

The reality is that saving for college saves parents money.  If in fact you have a smart investment strategy that includes tax-advantaged savings such as a 529 plan, time will work to your advantage and with compounded interest you will spend less to get more.  You must consider the situation where two or more children are in college at the same time.  You do not want to have to liquidate other investments that could have a serious tax effect on you to collect the cash required.

What Are 529 Savings Plans?

There are smart ways to save, for instance a 529 plan, will have advantages when it comes to your child's eligibility for financial aid. A 529 plan allows you to save money specifically for college with tax advantages and potential for growth.  With a 529 savings plan, the federal income tax on earnings is deferred and you have the ability to make tax-free withdrawals for qualified higher education expenses in the future.  The person who opens the account is the account holder however anyone can contribute to the account.  They simply designate a beneficiary for whose higher education funds will be used.  Money can be deposited in a lump sum or over time.

529 plans can allow parents or relatives to gift up to five times the annual gift tax exclusion in one year and still avoid federal gift tax. A one time gift can be deposited and prorated over five years without incurring federal gift tax.  There are rules and stipulations that you need to be addressed with your financial advisor prior to any deposits.  Just to give a simple example a grandfather wished to gift his grandson $40,000 for higher education.

2008 gift year $ 8,000
2009 gift year +1 $ 8,000
2010 gift year +2 $ 8,000
2011 gift year +3 $ 8,000
2012 gift year +4 $ 8,000
Totals 5 years $40,000

How Does Money Saved Hinder Financial Aid?

The fear that many people have is that if they have money saved for their child's education it will hinder their ability to receive a good financial aid package.  The truth is that greater assets will impact but the most critical factor that determines financial aid is the parent's and student's income.  Your expected family contribution is determined predominantly by parental income not parental assets.  Remember that financial aid is not only scholarships and grants but also student loans.  Education loans have to be paid back. 

I Think That My Child Will Get a Scholarship....

It is important to realize that counting on scholarships as a method of saving for college is not a sound strategy.  Although there are scholarships available that reward students for a variety of reasons including: musical talent, sports abilities, athletics, academic excellence and more does not necessarily translate into enough money for your child's education.  Most parents overestimate the amount of scholarship money their child will receive.  In fact, statistics show that less than 10% will receive a fully paid scholarship.

In Conclusion...

Remember that it is never too late to start saving.  Anything that can be invested in advance will offset the cost in the future so begin today by understanding your college needs and contacting a financial advisor.

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