If you are a parent, you have many priorities. Raising a happy, healthy child is top of mind of course, but another thought that has likely crossed your mind is how you will pay for your child’s college when the time comes.
Now, if you’ve got a high school student and you haven’t saved much for college education, don’t worry. There are a few tips toward the end of this article just for you (and lots more on our blog).
For parents with children who will head to college within the next 15 years, here are five college savings strategies:
Open a 529 plan for your child now.
Individual states offer 529 college savings plans (which are run by mutual fund companies or brokerages) that allow you to save for your child’s college expenses and grow the fund tax-free. Earnings on 529 plans are not taxed if withdrawals are used for qualified college expenses (tuition, fees, and room and board). Best of all, 529 plans have no income limits for contributors and most states give individuals tax deductions for their contributions.
Here in Colorado, you have three options for college savings plans you can purchase directly:
- Direct Portfolio College Savings Plan (uses Vanguard mutual funds)
- Smart Choice College Savings Plan (through FirstBank)
- Stable Value Plus College Savings Program (through MetLife)
One thing to keep in mind is that just because you’re a resident of Colorado does not mean you have to invest in a Colorado college savings plan. If you find that another state’s 529 plan has lower fees and performs better, it may be worth considering. Don’t disregard the state tax deduction or credit that your own state’s 529 plan may offer you for your contributions, though. Learn more here about buying 529 plans in other states.
Invite family and/or close friends to contribute.
If you’re comfortable suggesting it, invite grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, or others to contribute directly to your child’s 529 account. For Coloradoans, those contributions are deductible from Colorado state income tax, and there are no age or income limits. The CollegeInvest website has much more information about the tax and estate planning benefits of contributing to a 529 plan. Grandparents and other close family members or friends might be happy to contribute to a college fund (instead of spending the same money on presents), especially if it benefits them on their tax returns.
Consider prepaid tuition programs.
Several states allow people to purchase future college tuition at today’s prices. This can be a huge benefit for families that are sure that their child will attend a school within the state they choose. One flexible example is the U.Plan Prepaid Tuition Program, offered through the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority. You don’t have to be a Massachusetts resident to participate, and funds saved today can be used at 80 colleges and universities in Massachusetts.
Set up a Coverdell Education Savings Account.
This trust or custodial account is established for a designated beneficiary and covers qualifying education expenses. Down the road, withdrawals will be tax free as long as the money is used toward education expenses (and some K-12 education expenses count, too). You can contribute up to $2,000 a year while the beneficiary is under age 18 and any family member can contribute. Learn more at the IRS website or at SavingforCollege.
Sign up for a credit card with cash back.
There are several credit cards out there with which users can earn a percentage back on purchases and have those rewards deposited directly into a 529 plan (or other brokerage account or IRA). It’s a great way to earn money toward your child’s college by making purchases you make anyway. Check out the Upromise World MasterCard or the Fidelity Rewards American Express. While it is unlikely you’ll be able to save a significant amount this way, it is easy money—and the dollars add up.
Parents of tweens/teens: Is it too late to save?
Your time is definitely limited, but you can certainly still get started and open a 529 plan or other type of account. Keep in mind, however, that there are a number of financial aid avenues to help fund your child’s college if you don’t have a large fund set aside right now:
- Parent PLUS Loans – Parents can borrow money through a Federal PLUS loan, which is a less expensive way to take out a loan on behalf of your college student.
- Federal Direct Stafford Loans – These low-interest loans can be taken out by your student to pay for education-related expenses, and they don’t need to be repaid until your child graduates.
- Grants – Students with financial need can receive federal grants, which are basically funds you don’t need to repay. Colorado residents, there are other types of grants available to you as well.
- State aid – Each state has different types of aid available to its residents. Here in Colorado, there’s the College Opportunity Fund, which pays a portion of the cost of undergraduate education for students attending Colorado public colleges and universities or one of three private universities.
- Work-study – Work-study programs award students money in exchange for employment on campus or within the community. Students must be enrolled in school to earn the money.
The key to saving for college is obviously to start sooner than later. Sit down and take a look at your budget. Even setting aside a small amount each month can make a difference in the long term. Explore some of the above options and by the time your child is ready to apply to college, you’ll have saved enough to at least help him or her get started.