Having a kid? You'll need $500,000 for college

CNBC

Parents scraping together cash for this year's tuition bills may have it relatively easy. By the time today's newborns graduate from high school, the total cost to attend a four-year private college could tally nearly $500,000.

According to CollegeBoard’s 2012 Trends in College Pricing report, the average total cost to attend a four-year private institution is $39,518, including tuition and room and board. We plugged that number into the college cost calculator at Savingforcollege.com, to see how much parents of a newborn might expect to pay in 18 years. The calculator assumes, based on historical data, that college costs will increase by 6 percent annually over that period. The grand total: $493,447.

Intimidating? You bet. Manageable? Certainly--and it'll be a lot easier if you start early. 

(Read more: Rethinking that '4%' retirement rule)

I talked to certified financial planner JJ Burns of JJ Burns & Co. in Melville, N.Y., for some tips about what parents need to consider to get started, including where to stash that cash and whose name it should be in. (Hint: Not your child's.)

Burns also recommends signing up for rewards programs like Upromise, which generate cash back in a college savings account for purchases made on linked credit and debit cards. It might not amount to much extra, but that free money can make a big difference over 18 years of saving. 

(More from CNBC: Student debt will punish US for years, study says)

The total amount parents need to save might not be quite so high, either. Factors such as what college a child attends, and whether he or she gets scholarship money, can reduce the total needed by 50 percent or better.


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