The rising cost of college graces headlines often and hits
parents' pocketbooks even more frequently. Mounting piles of
student loan debt not only speak volumes about the
unaffordability of college, but also the unavailability of a
family piggy bank for higher education. Families could use a
Let's first address the costs of higher education, then I'll
provide three strategies to help with some of the heavy
The price of higher education
"In the coming decade, 60% of new jobs will require more than a
high school diploma," President Obama recently said. "Higher
education is not a luxury. It's an economic imperative that every
family in America should be able to afford." But, in reality,
many families can't afford college, so students are graduating
with record levels of
student loan debt
Over time, college costs have been rising at twice the rate of
inflation and show few signs of slowing. Parents of a newborn
need to diligently save more than $300 every month for 18 years
-- in an investment returning 8% no less -- to pay for college.
Even more shocking, this assumes a modestly priced college with a
current $15,000 annual price tag.
Solutions for those still trembling from sticker shock
The only way to outpace the cost of college is by investing in
stocks, exchange-traded funds, or mutual funds. Consider the
following three strategies to help you save for your child's
Money in a custodial account can be invested in many different
securities, including CDs, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, and
the assets don't have to be used exclusively for college. But
once you've transferred money into a custodial account, you're
not permitted to take it back. When your child turns 21 years old
(or a younger age, in some states), the account becomes an asset
of the child. Never transfer money to a custodial account unless
you are 100% sure you won't need that money later.
You can open a custodial account at just about any financial
institution, including banks, credit unions, mutual fund
companies, and brokerage firms. There's typically little or no
fee to open an account, but fees or commissions are assessed when
purchasing securities in the account.
Coverdell education savings account
Originally known as education IRAs, Coverdell accounts provide
significant tax benefits. Even though you don't get a tax break
when you contribute, earnings in the account are not taxed and
may be entirely tax-free. Distributions from the account can fund
education expenses from kindergarten through college.
However, tax-advantaged withdrawals on K-12 expenses and other
favorable Coverdell provisions will disappear after Dec. 31
unless extended by Congress. Currently, you can only contribute
$2,000 annually per beneficiary in a Coverdell, but this annual
limit will drop to $500 after year-end. If you own a Coverdell
account, make sure you are aware of these upcoming changes,
although you can roll over a Coverdell into a 529 college savings
plan in the future if the changes outweigh the benefits.
Shopping different brokers can give you a variety of choices
for a Coverdell investment. For instance,
) is just one of many brokers that does not charge a fee to open
or maintain a Coverdell. Like many of its peers, Schwab offers
inexpensive online stock trades and free Schwab ETF online
trades, and all it takes to open an account is a commitment to
set up monthly transfers of $100 or more. Similarly,
) offers Coverdell accounts through ShareBuilder where you can
invest in stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds at low cost with no
529 college savings plan
Long considered the prettier sister to the less desirable
Coverdell, the 529 plan boasts much higher contribution limits
than Coverdell accounts. The 529 plan allows individuals to save
and invest on a tax-advantaged basis to fund future college
expenses. You don't pay federal or state taxes on 529 plan
withdrawals as long as the money is used for qualified, higher
education expenses including trade school, vocational school,
junior college, and universities.
Investing in your state's sponsored plan may offer another
layer of tax benefits, as many states offer tax deductions up to
a certain amount on contributions to their state-sponsored 529
plans. For example, the West Virginia 529 plan offers West
Virginia taxpayers state income tax deductions in the amount of
) manages the program, which mostly offers loaded mutual funds,
but no-load funds are available to residents of West Virginia.
While state-sponsored plans are a great way to go, you can
generally enroll in any 529 plan regardless of where you live.
You can find out about 529 plans offered in your state here.
) offers a 529 plan filled mostly with its own professionally
managed mutual funds. Franklin's 529 plan charges a $25 annual
account maintenance fee and assesses various sales charges for
particular classes of the plan's loaded mutual funds. You can
open a Franklin 529 plan with as little as $50 if you commit to a
monthly automatic investment program.
Save early, save often, and start today
Don't let the rising cost of college frustrate you. The worst
college savings plan is the absence of one. Take action to secure
your kiddo's future, and consider these three solutions
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