If your child's college search process has snuck up on you and you realize you may not have as much saved up as you would have liked by this point, don't panic. It's not too late to put some more money away to get you into a comfortable position for when that first tuition payment comes up. Here are some top tips to get you on track to obtain a robust savings account for your child's education.
Open a College Savings Plan
Every state in the country offers a 529 college savings plan. Even if your child is starting high school or already in high school, you can still open a 529 plan and begin contributing to it every month. Even small contributions will add up quickly. The 529 plan also comes with a number of tax benefits, including growing on a tax-deferred basis and allowing money to be withdrawn from the account without paying taxes. The money in the account directly must be used for qualified higher education expenses, but this can include everything from tuition to books and fees. The plan also has a wide scope – it can be used for any institution that participates in federal financial aid, which can include trade schools, community colleges, and even some foreign institutions.
Keep Saving Throughout College
Many parents think of the first day of freshman year as the cutoff for saving for college. However, you and your child will reap the benefits if you continue to save even after you've begun paying tuition. The 529 plan allows you to continue to contribute once your child has started school, and you can withdraw at any time, not just at the beginning of the semester. If you started saving late and didn't have as much put away at the beginning of college as you would've liked, continuing to save can help you better afford future tuition payments and help reduce how much your child has to borrow.
Bring Your Child Into The Conversation
Being honest with your child about the state of their college savings is difficult but important. They deserve to know where things stand because it affects their financial future as well. Work with your child to create a family budget between now and when they go off to college and determine how much will be put away towards their educational costs each month. Calculate how much they may need to borrow in student loans. This will not only teach them about financial responsibility but will also establish a trust between you because you are being upfront and honest with them even when it is difficult. You can also discuss a plan to have your child contribute to their own savings. If they are working, you can encourage them to put a certain chunk of every paycheck away into their 529 account or into their own savings account, to use for either tuition payments or other expenses like spending money once they get to college.
Explore Your Options
Federal financial aid, grants, and student loans are not your only options when it comes to lowering tuition payments. There are thousands of scholarships from public and private organizations outside of the university that your child can apply for that are offered to a variety of students, not just the top scholars and elite athletes.
Don't Forget to Keep Your Retirement Savings In Tact
Your retirement savings should always be your top priority, so think twice before borrowing from your retirement plan to pay for your child's education. Your child will have more options to save up for college than you do in saving up for retirement.