It’s after dinner and the kids are in bed…and work beckons. You take out your laptop, and so does your spouse. Sitting in front of the fire, it looks like you’re playing a quiet game of Battleship. But really you’re just trying to tame the beast of work so you can settle in for the night. After a while you start to talk. The kids are doing so well in school. That feels good to both of you. But you can’t help but wonder how you’re going to do it. How the heck are you going to afford to send these kids to college?
This scenario is playing out for families across America, and it causes us an inordinate amount of stress. Fortunately, there are things we can do to minimize that stress and to maximize the return on our investment.
5 top tips to help make it happen:
1) Get organized and educated. It’s the first thing you do in any kind of financial planning. Call your advisor and get some keyword terms to research, like “529 plan” or “college savings.” Then go online and find out why they’re important. The sooner you start your research, the better. It’ll make you a more educated consumer when you sit down with your advisor.
2) Automatic Monthly Installments. I love this strategy. Figure out how much you’ll need to put away each month in order to educate your kids. Consider having it transferred automatically each month to a 529 college savings plan or a CD.
I’m not making any recommendations here. I’m simply encouraging you to save monthly and to do it consistently over time.
Learn all your options first. If your child is a sophomore in high school (or younger), I say the time to educate yourself is now. (See #4 below.)
3) There are two types of 529 plans to choose from: college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans.
College savings plans let you use funds for expenses at any college, including tuition, fees, room & board, books, and other school supplies.
The money you invest in this plan could grow over time. And as long as it’s used for post-secondary school education – for books, room & board, etc… – it’s free from federal tax. Also, for estate planning purposes, it is not considered part of your estate.
Prepaid tuition plans are not as flexible. They let you lock in tuition at a state school at today’s prices. It’s an incredible value, it’s low-risk, and guaranteed by each state. The drawback is that you limit your child’s college choices. But you might find it’s what works best for your family.
Please learn the rules, restrictions, fees, and disclosures for all these products before making any decisions.
4) Start the real college planning with a college planning specialist when your child is a sophomore in high school (Or earlier).
Hire a qualified advisor who specializes in college planning. This advisor should be able to help you sort out the process, from the first explorations you make, to the first tuition check you write, and all the way through until the last check you write your child’s senior year.
You want to really explore the numbers, and look at your current investment strategy. If you and your child have particular colleges in mind, I suggest working with an advisor who will know something about those schools. You want someone with intimate knowledge of how the whole system works.
5) Enjoy the process with your children. Go to a college football game at a cool school in a great city where you child may want to be. Tour the campuses, tour the cities or towns they’re set in, and really get a feel for the place. Have fun with your child without putting any pressure on them. This is the realization of a dream for both of you, a scenario that does not take place in many other countries. For your child, life’s learning curve is about to get steeper. At some point they’re going to turn around and thank you for the sacrifice you’ve made. They’ll thank you even more if you tell them now how much you really believe in them.
Click below to hear Win Damon and i chat about college planning on 1450 am WNBP Newburyport
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. Prior to investing in a 529 Plan investors should consider whether the investor’s or designated beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other benefits that are only available for investments in such state’s qualified tuition program. Withdrawals used for qualified expenses are federally tax free. Tax treatment at the state level may vary. Please consult with your tax advisor before investing CD’s are FDIC Insured and offer a fixed rate of return if held to maturity.
Securities and advisory services Offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC