If you’re a divorced dad who hasn’t started saving for college, you’re not alone. Most parents want their child to go to college, but less than 40% have a plan to pay for it. With less than 25% of funds currently spent on college coming from savings, it’s no wonder student loan debt is so high.
Annual college tuition and fees are now averaging nearly $35,000 at a private, four-year institution. They are almost $10,000 at a public four-year college and $3,500 at public two-year schools. As costs continue to increase the struggle to pay for them will too.
Results from the 10th annual study, How America Pays for College 2017, show parents are paying 31% of these costs through savings or loans, with students picking up 30%, family and friends covering 4%, and scholarships funding for the remaining 35% of advanced educations.
As a divorced dad, saving for college on top of child support payments, everyday living expenses, and your future retirement, may seem impossible. Yet, with a bit of planning and perhaps some creativity too, you can start saving today. Thus, making advanced education an affordable option for your children in the future.
It’s Not Too Late to Start Saving for College
Choosing to attend in-state versus out-of-state schools is one way students themselves can reduce the overall cost of college. Earning college credits in high school, or attending community colleges for one or two years before moving on to four-year institutions are others. Living at home instead of at college, or living with one or more roommates, help as well.
Applying for scholarships and working while in high school are additional ways your child can help. This will minimize the impact later on your wallet and theirs too.
Even if your son or daughter is now a sophomore in high school, it’s not too late to start saving for college. Any savings is beneficial but the sooner you start, the better of course. According to Finaid.org, stashing away just $50 per month from your child’s birth to the time they turn 17 would provide $20,000, assuming a 7% return on investment.
Before starting college savings, however, experts suggest:
- Paying off any credit card debt or other high-interest loans.
- Establishing an emergency savings account with 3-6 months of expenses accumulated
- Regularly contributing to your tax-advantaged retirement savings accounts – 401ks, Traditional IRAs, etc.
Additional College Saving Tips
Cut non-essential expenses to provide more money for savings. Track your spending to see if there are any expenses you can eliminate to increase your savings for college. Think cable TV, gym memberships, subscriptions you don’t use or eating out less. $5, $10, or $25 savings add up over time.
Increase your income. Ask for a raise at work or apply for a promotion. Seek a position at a competing company offering a larger salary and benefits. Turn an interest or a hobby into a side hustle and create an additional income stream or pick-up a part-time job.
Keep substantial savings in your name with your child as beneficiary, to avoid any loss of student aid. For every dollar above $3,000 saved in your child’s name, 20 cents is subtracted.
Make savings automatic. Make it easy on yourself by automatically depositing a portion of your paycheck into your savings.
Where to Stash Your Money
529 College Plans
More than 30 states offer a 529 college savings plan with full or partial tax savings benefits. Also known as Qualified Tuition Programs (QTP), 529’s are funded with after-tax money you’re allowed to withdraw later tax-free, including any gains, for use on qualified education costs, such as tuition, fees, and books. These state plans offer various investment options and expenses, and contribution limits vary.
A 529 account owner is allowed to withdraw funds at any time for any reason – but the earnings portion of non-qualified withdrawals will incur income tax plus a 10% penalty tax. Should your child not end up going to college, you can typically transfer the account to another beneficiary.
Most plans allow you to change your 529 plan investment options twice per calendar year and allow for a rollover of funds into another 529 plan once per 12-month period. 529 programs have no income, age, or annual contribution limits, but may have lifetime contribution limits – $235,000 to $500,000 depending on the plan.
Roth IRAs, popular as tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles, can also be used for college savings. As with a 529 plan, you contribute after-tax money to a Roth IRA, and any investment gains can later be withdrawn tax-free, typically for retirement after age 59-1/2. But a Roth IRA also allows you to remove funds tax- and penalty-free, after five years, when used to pay for qualifying educational expenses. Should your child not attend college, you can use the funds for your retirement.
There are income and contribution limits with the Roth IRA. Single taxpayers earning more than $129,000 per year are not eligible, and contributions are limited to $5,500 per year ($6,500 for those over age 50).
Coverdell Education Savings Account
Coverdell ESA’s may be used to cover not just college costs but also any educational expenses, including private school tuition at K-12 institutions. Like a 529 college savings plan, the Coverdell ESA is typically tax-advantaged when utilizing the savings for education expenses.
You may contribute $2,000 per child per year, although contributions phase out for anyone earning more than $95,000 per year.
Similar to the 529 and Roth IRA, money in a Coverdell ESA is considered your asset, not your child’s for financial aid purposes. Please note, however, funds not utilized before your child turns 30 may be subject to taxes and penalties.
Prepaid College Tuition Plans
Prepaid plans allow you to pay for a portion of your child’s college tuition today, locking in current costs and in turn protecting you from future tuition hikes. Like 529 college plans, monetary gains in these programs are typically exempt from federal taxes. A dozen plus states offer prepaid tuition plans but this not the most recommended method of saving for college, as it severely limits educational choices to the state they are purchased.
UGMA / UTMA Custodial Accounts
The Uniform Gift to Minor’s Act (UGMA) and Uniform Transfer to Minor’s Act (UTMA) accounts are custodial accounts to hold and protect assets for minors until they reach adulthood. Because the assets are considered the property of the child, they provide some tax benefits, but less than a 529 plan would. Additionally, unlike other saving plans, they can be considered your child’s asset affecting federal aid amounts your child qualifies for.
A custodian can initiate withdrawals for the child’s benefit provided the expenses are for a legitimate need. Unlike other college savings accounts, payments are not limited to education costs. Once your child becomes a legal adult, they may use the money for any purpose without custodian consent.
Other Ways to Save for College
- Sign up for Upromise – Register for a free at Upromise.com and earn cash back for college with your shopping, dining, and travel. You earn money by using your registered credit, debit, and loyalty cards at participating businesses. Accumulate savings in a savings account, a 529 plan, or have a check sent to you.
- Credit Card Rewards – Find a credit card specifically designed to earn college savings or use any cash back rewards card to amass savings for college. By using your credit card to pay for items such as your utilities, your cell phone bill, groceries, and insurance and paying off the balance in full each month, you’ll accrue some additional savings for college. Of course, utilize any credit card responsibly and don’t go into credit card debt trying to save.
- LEAF College Savings Gift Cards – Leaf provides family and friends a way to gift a monetary amount for your child’s education. A gift card is purchased via LeafSavings.com and sent to you via email, Facebook, or postal service. You then redeem the gift card on Leaf’s site and transfer it to your 529 college savings plan.
No matter how or where you decide to save for college, get started as soon as possible to take advantage of time and compounding interest. You and your child will be thankful you did. Remember, every little bit helps.
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