Several years ago, I attended a first birthday party for a friend’s daughter. There were typical gifts of clothing, toys and stuffed bears; however, amongst the pile of presents, one unique gift stood out. A card from a grandparent containing paperwork for a 529 College Savings Plan*. The card read, “Whenever you can, birthdays, holidays, or at any other time, put some money in here as a gift and encourage others to do the same.”
My initial thought was it is kind of early to be thinking about college. Then, as I added up the costs of the gifts in front of me, my analytical side began to think what would $450 invested over 17 years be worth? I pulled out my mobile phone and went to my bank’s website to access a handy financial calculator to find the answer, $1,000.
Later that week I began thinking about my own child’s college savings. We have a kids savings account for birthday money; however, we did not have a plan for college.
With the help of Google, I did some research to learn more about the average cost of a college education. According to the College Board, the average cost in 2016 was $32,405 at private institutions, $9,410 for in-state colleges, and $23,893 for out-of-state students attending public universities. These figures do not include housing, meals, books or other expenses!
While I was conducting my research, I knew Independence Financial Advisors, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Franklin Savings, offered 529 College Plans, so I went to their website and found all kinds of great information on tax advantaged ways to save, financial aid, different college savings vehicles, as well as a handy Saving for College Calculator. The calculator lets you input the current cost of college, inflation rate (about 4%), how many years you have to save, how much you can deposit monthly, along with an estimated rate of return – all captured in an easy to understand chart.
Utilizing this calculator to establish a goal was a real eye opener for me. Needless to say, procrastination can be costly! The difference in starting early and waiting may be the difference between graduating with a little student loan debt, a lot of debt, or somewhere in between.
So, take my advice – if you have children and have not given college savings a thought, make a plan now. If you are a parent or a grandparent of a young child, I am a true believer in that the greatest birthday gift you can give is a college education!
*A 529 Plan is an education savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs and has great tax benefits.