Updated: Feb 17
The cost of tuition at public universities has almost tripled in the past 20 years. College students and their families have taken on more debt, and they are taking longer to pay it off. Up to 67% of the average borrower’s total cost of repayment is interest on the loan.
Remember how long it took you to pay off your student loan? Imagine it took 20 years and you were obligated to pay $460 each month. This is the reality for the average college graduate. Imagine what it will be like in 10 or 20 years.
What if you flipped the script and used compounding interest to your family’s advantage for your future student? A 529 plan is an investment account designed to pay education expenses for your future student.
I'm going to explain how a 529 college saving plan can be used to set aside funds for your future student. I will explain the benefits, who is eligible, and when you can take 529 distributions. A 529 savings plan may be a good savings vehicle for your family’s education goals and allows you to segregate funds from your own retirement needs.
Benefits of a 529 Plan
There are multiple benefits to funding future college expenses with a 529 plan, including:
1. The funds are dedicated to education expenses. Separately saving for education reduces the temptation to spend money for other needs and allows your family to track progress toward the college savings goal.
2. Compounded earnings growth. This means you will earn interest on the original investment as well as the interest earned over time. By making investments early on, it gives the money time to compound and grow.
3. Withdrawals for education are tax free. Growth within the account will not be taxed when the money is taken out to pay for qualified education expenses.
Who can open a 529 Plan?
Just about anyone can open a 529 plan. These college savings plans have become a popular choice for families because they’re easy to use, they offer tax-free investment growth and, in some cases, you can claim a state tax deduction for your contributions.
1. Parents: 529 plans can only have one owner, and that person is often the Mom or Dad of a future student. Parents can open a 529 plan when their child is very young, or even before they are born, giving their account plenty of time to grow.
2. Grandparents: Parents should not neglect their own retirement savings in order to fund their children’s education. Many grandparents enjoy helping out their children by investing for their grandchildren’s future education.
3. Friends or Relatives: Relatives and friends of future students may open a 529 plan for the student. Or, they may make contributions to a 529 plan opened by a parent or grandparent.
Educational expenses may include tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment. Room and board, K-12 tuition, and other fees may also qualify. Check with your 529 plan provider in the year before incurring such expenses so you can make a withdrawal plan to pay for eligible expenses.
Since the passing of the SECURE Act, 529 plan holders are able to withdraw up to $10,000 tax-free to put toward their own student loan debt, or that of their children, grandchildren, or spouses.
It is important to know how much your qualified education expenses will be before withdrawing the funds. If you withdraw too much, you may face a 10% IRS penalty. Keep good records of qualified educational expenses paid by the account owner or the beneficiary. It is very important that your expense records line up with the amount of 529 withdrawals during the same calendar year. A withdrawal request form through your 529 plan provider may be completed online, by telephone or by mail.
Plan for College Expenses
Is education one of the goals for your children? Due to the high cost of college, setting aside funds specifically for education each month should be part of your regular budget. If you can start saving when your children are young, you get the benefit of compounded investment returns on 529 plan contributions. Tracking your college savings each year, whether in a 529 plan or another investment account, can provide confidence in your family’s ability to meet the hopes and dreams for your future student.
Separating investment accounts and budget items for each goal allows you to track progress towards each goal.
What about your retirement?
It is important to create an investment and savings plan that sets aside funds for your own retirement and your future student’s education goals. Separating investment accounts and budget items for each goal allows you to track progress towards each goal. This can provide confidence in your ability to meet your own retirement needs as well as the education needs of your child.
While you may feel that putting off your retirement for a few years is an acceptable trade-off, you should not sacrifice your retirement savings to put your children through college. Remember that student loans are federally available. While you may not want your child to assume such a financial burden, you could always help with repaying the loan later. Also, by giving your child a portion of that responsibility, they may experience a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the value of their education.
From the moment your little one takes root in your heart, you work to build them a better future. Education is without a doubt an important part of that future. And while some debt is okay for new graduates entering the workforce, preparing for that future comes at a cost. With a little planning, though, you’ll be able to help your future student achieve their academic goals without sacrificing your own retirement goals.
If you are looking for a way to contribute to future education costs for a loved one in your life, a 529 College Savings plan may be the right direction for you.
Is your family prepared to support your children’s education expenses? Do you wonder if you will have enough money for retirement spending and children or grandchildren’s education? If you have a net worth of $2 million or more and need help from a wealth manager, the Peak Wealth Planning team can assist you.
Peak Wealth Planning specializes in helping high-net worth individuals and families plan for the future.
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About the Author
Peter Newman is a Chartered Financial Advisor (CFA) and president of Peak Wealth Planning. He works with individuals nationwide that have accumulated wealth through company stock, ESOP shares, real estate, or running a business. Peter applies his unique background to help clients achieve their specific goals and enjoy peace of mind.
Peak Wealth Planning provides concierge services to meet your wealth management needs. Services include: financial planning, investment management, esop diversification, retirement income, insurance, and estate planning advice. Peak Wealth Planning is a fee-based financial advisor based in Champaign, Illinois, and Fraser, Colorado.