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How to Cover the Rising Cost of College

One of the most common questions I receive is how to most efficiently save for education expenses. And I understand why – it’s a daunting prospect! The cost of college continues to rise, and student loan debt can plague you for decades following graduation. There is also a growing realization that college is not for everybody. How do you prepare for an expense that might not actually occur? However, it doesn’t have to be such an intimidating process. In fact, there are several effective strategies you can deploy to efficiently – and effectively – save for your child’s education expenses.

First, you need to determine how much you’ll need to save. Do you plan to cover the whole cost of school or just a portion (for instance: undergrad only, or will you cover grad school expenses for your child(ren)? Once you’ve set a number, your financial planner can assist in calculating a monthly savings rate required to work toward that goal.

The next step is deciding what type of savings account(s) to use. There are different accounts that are specifically designed to save for college, for example: 529 plans and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. Below are some of the reasons why a 529 Plan and/or investment accounts may be a better solution.

A 529 plan allows you to contribute to an account on behalf of a named beneficiary (in this case, your child). Because the government wants to reward saving for educational expenses, contributions to 529 plans receive preferential tax treatment and are able to grow tax-deferred. You can use the money in the account to pay for qualified educational expenses, tax-free. Contributions to these accounts are also typically deductible on state tax returns. The drawback to a 529 is that the money must be used for qualified education expenses – or you will face tax penalties.

An individual/joint investment account is an account owned by yourself or jointly by you and your significant other. Money invested in this type of account does not receive preferential tax treatment; however, your money can be withdrawn for any reason without tax penalties.

Given the shifting trends in higher education, it is my belief that a combination of 529 plan contributions and individual/joint account contributions will help to save for college education. This form of education planning allows for flexibility; for instance, if your child(ren) decide(s) against traditional higher education, you won’t have to pay tax penalties on all of your education savings, as a portion of that savings is held in an individual/joint account with no restriction on how the assets are used.

While education planning is important it is only one component of a full financial plan. If you would like to talk more about education planning and its impact on your personal financial plan please contact me at


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 what is appropriate for you, consult a qualified professional.

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