With the costs of a college education rising every year, the keys to funding your child's education are to plan early and invest shrewdly. However, there are steps you can take if you get a late start. Moreover, there are a number of effective techniques for increasing financial aid opportunities and reducing taxes.
Savings And Investment Strategies
According to the College board, over the most recent decade, the largest one-year increases in average published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities were 11% beyond inflation in 2003-04, and 9.3% beyond inflation in 2009-10. The inflation-adjusted increase was under 1% in 2008-09, and is 4.5% in 2011-12. However, proper planning can lessen the financial squeeze considerably, especially if you start when your child is young. It should also be noted that in 2010-11 the average amount of aid for a full-time undergraduate student was about $12,455, including more than $6,500 in grants that don’t have to be repaid.
Here are some guidelines--geared to parents whose children are no older than elementary school age--for funding your child's education.
Start Saving Early
We cannot emphasize enough that getting an early start is basic to funding your child's education. The earlier you start, the more you'll benefit from the compounding of interest.
Planning Aid: For an estimate of the amount of money you would have at the time your child enters college if you begin saving now, see the Financial Calculator: College Savings Calculator.
When should you start saving? This depends on how much you think your children's education will cost. The best way is to start saving before they are born. The sooner you begin, the less money you will have to put away each year.
Example: Suppose you have one child, age six months, and you estimate that you'll need $120,000 to finance his college education 18 years from now. If you start putting away money immediately, you'll need to save $3,500 per year
for 18 years (assuming an after-tax return of 7%). On the other hand, if you put off saving until the child is six years old, you'll have to save almost double that amount every year for twelve years.
Another advantage of starting early is that you'll have more flexibility when it comes to the type of investment you'll use. You'll be able to put at least part of your money in equities, which, although riskier in the short-run, are better able to outpace inflation than other investments after time.
Find Out How Much You'll Need To Save
How much will your child's education cost? It depends on whether your child attends a private or state school. In the 2010-2011 school year, the total expenses--tuition, fees, board, personal expenses, and books and supplies--for the average private college are about $35,636 per year and about $15,213 per year for the average public college. However, these amounts are averages: the tuition, fees, and board for some private colleges can cost more than $55,000 per year, whereas the costs for a state school can be kept under $10,000 per year.
Planning Aid: To find and select the best colleges for your child from a database of over 3,200 two-and four-year colleges, see College Search.
Don't forget to add the costs of graduate or professional school to the amount your child will need.
Planning Aid: If you're trying to estimate future costs, you can estimate that school costs will grow by about two percentage points above the inflation rate. To be on the safe side, we suggest you assume costs will grow by at least 7% per year. For the most recent increases, refer to 2011 Trends in College Pricing.
Choose Your Investments
As with any investment, you should choose those that will provide you with a good return and that meet your level of risk tolerance. The ones you choose should depend on when you start your savings plan-the mix of investments if you
start when your child is a toddler should be different from those used if you start when your child is age 12.
Related Financial Guide: For a general overview of investing principles, please see the Financial Guide on our website: www.dellapostacpa.com :INVESTMENT BASICS: What You Should Know.
The following are often recommended as investments suitable for education funds:
Series EE Bonds are extremely safe investments. For tax treatment of redemption proceeds used for college, please see the Financial Guide: HIGHER EDUCATION COSTS: How To Get The Best Tax Treatment.
U.S. Government Bonds are also safe investments that offer a relatively higher return. If you use zero-coupon bonds, you can time the receipt of the proceeds to fall in the year when you need the money. A drawback of such bonds is that a sale before their maturity date could result in a loss on the investment. Further, the accrued interest is taxable even though you don't receive it until maturity.
CDs are safe, but usually provide a lower return than the rate of inflation. The interest is taxable.
Municipal Bonds, if they are highly rated, can provide an acceptable return from the tax-free interest if you're in the higher income tax brackets. Zero-coupon municipals can be timed to fall due when you need the funds and are useful if you begin saving later in the child's life.
Tip: Be sure to convert the tax-free return quoted by sellers of such bonds into an equivalent taxable return. Otherwise, the quoted return may be misleading. The formula for converting tax-free returns into taxable returns is as follows: Divide the tax-free return by 1.00 minus your top tax rate to determine the taxable-return equivalent. For example, if the return on municipal bonds is 5% and you are in the 30% tax bracket, the equivalent taxable return is 7.1% (5% divided by 70%).
Stocks contained in an appropriate mutual fund or portfolio can provide you with a higher yield at an acceptable risk level. Stock mutual funds can provide superior returns over the long term. Income and balanced funds can meet the investment needs of those who begin saving when the child is older.
Deferred Annuities provide you with tax deferral, but the yield may not be acceptable because of the relatively high cost of these investments. Further, amounts withdrawn before you reach age 59-1/2 may be subject to a 10% premature withdrawal penalty.
Related Financial Guide: For further information on investing in annuities, please see the Financial Guide: ANNUITIES: How They Work And When You Should Use Them.
If you have any further questions, please give our office a call: 508-540-3683 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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