March 5, 2014

THEIR VIEW: Start saving for college now

For many juniors and seniors, now is a stressful time. They’re starting to think about post-secondary options which includes college for some of them. Some students might be taking college visits while others are applying. All students interested in college should be filling out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). This tool can help a student receive federal, state or even institutional aid, but only if he or she fills out the form.

For parents of these students, this is a stressful time as well, especially trying to figure out how to pay for their child’s education.

There are many parents out there, however, who don’t have high school juniors or seniors. Perhaps their students are in middle or elementary school. Perhaps they are in kindergarten, preschool or are still toddlers.

For those parents, our advice is start saving now.

As we have said in the past, the cost of attending college has skyrocketed in the past 30 years, going from an average per academic year of about $3,100 in 1980-81 to about $19,300 for 2012-13.

Due in part to this increase, total student loan debt has surpassed total credit card debt in the nation. Coupled with a still uncertain economy, this can create difficulties for new graduates and can put college out of reach entirely for some.

Some young parents may have experienced this firsthand.

Fortunately, there are options available. One option is a 529 Plan, which can help parents put a little away to help their children pay for college.

Earnings accumulate tax free, withdrawals are federally tax-free if used for “qualified higher education expenses” and there are sometimes incentives for investing in a resident’s state 529 plan, according to an Edward Jones website.

What’s even better is that parents can shop for options in other states with 529 plans. For example, if Ohio’s plan has a better return or has lower fees, Indiana residents can sign their student up for that plan. In addition, whether a student wants to attend school in Indiana, Ohio or Alaska the plan can still help pay for their college.

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