If you’re a parent, it might be hard to think about the future between cereal spills and crayon masterpieces on the wall.
But the cost of college is rising. By 2030, it’s projected to cost more than $205,000 for four years at a public college.
So, how do you prepare for your child’s future now? One of the best ways is with a 529 plan.
What is a 529 plan?
A 529 plan is an investment vehicle that allows you to save for your child’s education. There are two types: a college savings plan and a prepaid tuition plan. This article will focus on the former, which is more popular. But if you’re curious, you can check out the differences between 529 plans.
With the 529 college savings plan, you contribute money throughout your child’s life into an investment account. Then, when your child is ready to attend college, they can use the money for tuition, books, room and board, and other related expenses (even a computer).
The difference between a savings account and a 529 plan is the latter is invested into the stock market — which means it has the potential to earn more returns than a savings account.
Let’s say you contributed $100 per month for 18 years. Using our simple savings calculator, here’s what you’d end up with:
- In a savings account at 1.00% interest (which you’d get only with a high-yield savings account), you’d have $23,655 by the time your child went to college.
- In a 529 savings plan that earned average returns of 7 percent, you could have nearly double that amount: $43,072.
And don’t worry: It’s not like you’ll be picking and choosing stocks yourself. Each state’s 529 plan is managed by financial advisors. Most plans will start out riskier (more stocks and fewer bonds) and become more conservative (fewer stocks and more bonds) as your child nears college age.
Of course, you always expose yourself to risk when you invest in the market. If the ups and downs make you nervous, check out these alternatives to 529 plans.
The pros and cons of 529 plans
Consider these pros and cons when deciding if a 529 plan is right for you.
- Tax-free for education: Your child can remove the money for qualifying education expenses and won’t have to pay taxes on the earnings.
- State tax credits: Some states offer a tax credit for a percentage of your contributions. Here’s more on the tax benefits of 529 plans.
- Minimum deposits: Some states require you to open a 529 plan with at least $1,000 or fund the account with a minimum amount per month.
- Limited to education expenses only: If your child doesn’t attend college, your 529 plan’s earnings will be subject to taxes and a 10 percent penalty. One way to use the leftover 529 plan (and avoid the fees) is by passing it on to a sibling.
How to sign up for a 529 plan
Here are the steps you should follow when you’re ready to sign up for a 529 plan.
1. Choose your 529 plan
Since each state has its own 529 plan, most people sign up for the 529 plan where they live.
Although you’re welcome to cross state lines when you sign up for a 529 plan, most states won’t give you a tax credit if you use an out-of-state plan. That said, if you’re in a state that doesn’t levy an individual income tax or offer tax benefits for 529s, then you should shop around for the plan with the lowest fees and highest returns.
To compare plans, try this tool from SavingForCollege.com. It offers in-depth information about each state’s plan and allows you compare plans side by side.
You also can open a 529 plan through a financial advisor — and not the state — but doing so usually means higher fees.
2. Open and fund the 529 plan
Once you choose the 529 plan that’s right for you, all that’s left to do is open it. You usually can do so online, and it’s helpful to have personal information — like Social Security numbers and birthdays — on hand.
You’ll also need to fund the 529 plan with a transfer from your checking account. Many states have no minimum contribution amount, but others require a transfer of at least $250.
One thing to note is you shouldn’t be saving for your child’s education over your retirement.
Although it might seem selfish, it makes financial sense. There are many ways to fund a college education (loans, scholarships, etc.), but no one can fund your retirement except you. So, only create a 529 plan if you’re already making good headway with your retirement fund.
3. Set up automatic contributions
Now is also a good time to set up regular contributions to your 529 account — even $25 per month adds up over the years. To see how much you should contribute, use this college cost calculator.
Going forward, you could ask family members to donate to your child’s 529 plan in lieu of gifts. Although it might take some getting used to, your child will be grateful by the time college rolls around.
Education is one of the best gifts there is. And if you’d like to help bestow it upon your child, a 529 plan might be the way to go.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
|1 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or Nationwide Bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 11/1/2018. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
2 Important Disclosures for Discover.
3 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for PNC.
PNC Bank is one of the nation’s largest education loan providers. For over 40 years, PNC has been committed to helping students and their families make possible the adventure of college.
6 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2018 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
9 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|3.94% – 12.78%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.06% – 13.06%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.34% – 12.99%2||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 11.10%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.03% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.12% – 13.13%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.62% – 10.01%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.93% – 9.81%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.26% – 12.13%9||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|