Important Steps to Take When Saving for College

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It’s time to look at some important steps to take when saving for college. The time to save is right now. It’s never too late to state a plan. Consider these tips for education savings.


Step 1.  Start early. The sooner you start saving, the less you’ll need to save each year to reach your goal. The day your child arrives is not too soon to begin saving! You can take advantage of investments that promise greater returns. You can take advantage of volatile investments that are too risky for short-term college savings.


Step 2.  Set up a budget. You should make a savings goal. Look at the Internet for a college cost calculator to get a rough idea of what you need to save. Then figure out how much you can put away each month to reach this goal.


Step 3.  Save regularly. Get into the habit of investing a set amount of money monthly. This will set the habit of education future planning. Not a good saver? Have an automatic payroll deduction made or an automatic deposit withdrawn. This way the money is out of your checking account before you can use it.


Step 4.  Use professional assistance. That’s what they’re there for. Unless you are a financial wizard yourself, talk with an experienced accountant, financial advisor or lawyer. Ask what they are doing for their children. It helps to know that your advisor can personally relate to your college savings strategy.


Step 5.  Think about a 529 plan. Even if you haven’t started saving as early as you had planned a 529 plan or even a Coverdell ESA are still useful. The 529 plans offer many tax advantages. Your money will actually grow in a tax-deferred style and if your withdrawals are qualified, they will be exempt from federal income tax. Many states even give tax deductions from state income tax. Check with your state’s 529 provider for more details.


Step 6.  Save in the parent or guardian’s name, not the child’s. This minimizes the impact of the fund on need-based financial aid. Also, this will prevent an irresponsible child from using their education savings fund or 529 for non-qualified purchases.


Step 7.  Diversify your investments. For example it is better to invest in mutual funds than just stocks. Mutual funds spread out the risk over many stocks, which can prevent the drop in value of one stock from ruining the value of your whole portfolio. Or invest in both stocks and bonds. A good plan would be to have a mix of high and low risk investments. An age-based 529 savings plan is a simple way to balance your portfolio. Younger children have a higher percentage of high-risk investments than older children. As children are just a few years from college, an age-based 529 plan would have almost all funds invested in low risk investments.


Step 8.  Be flexible. A great new college program may be available just a few short years from now. Tax laws will change and your income circumstances may change, too. Review the steps you’re taking from time to time and be willing to make adjustments. If you find that the assumptions behind your investment plan are not correct or your tolerance for risk has changed, you may need to change your investments. Don’t sell an investment just because the market is low; sell because of how the investment is predicted to do in the future.

There are so many important steps to take when saving for college. Any money you are able to tuck away today makes the road to college that much smoother for your child.