Investing and Savings Moving Forward

How Much Do I Need to Save for College for My Child?

Last week I looked into when to start saving for college for your child(ren). I shared some financial milestones I thought parents need to be on top of before they sock away college money. Looking at the comments on the post, there were manydiffering and strong opinions. Some saying that it’s never too early to save and others say that parents aren’t under any obligation to pay for their child’s tuition. Please continue shareyourthoughts on the topic – I think looking at the different perspectives can help shape up your family’s financial plan.

This week I want to tackle how much parents should save for their child’s college fund based on Couple Money reader Becky’s question:

I was wondering if you were going to do a post on how you are preparing for the babyís future financially (college, etcÖ) We are expecting in August and are starting to plan for these types of things.

Our biggest worry/concern is starting to act now to plan for college for our child. We really donít want them to start their adult life with that debt hanging over their head. Any suggestions on that would be awesome.

I’m going to share what I’ve found, but I’d love to get your feedback on how you’re handling your own situation.

Rising Tuitions – Moving Target for Savings

Rising tuition costs have been in the news. Since costs does change drastically from time to time, itmakes it much harder to figure out a plan. Isearchedto see if there was some information on the topic and I did find some hard numbers. I decided if I can use a ballpark figure, it’ll make it much easier to come up with some sort of plan for college savings.

How much does college tuition cost? Without considering the cost of room and board, here are some average tuition costs.

  • Public four-year colleges charge, on average, $7,020 per year in tuition and fees for students who live in their state. The average surcharge for full-time out-of-state students at these institutions is $11,528.
  • Private four-year colleges charge, on average, $26,273 per year in tuition and fees.
  • Public two-year colleges charge, on average, $2,544 per year in tuition and fees.
  • Source:College Board

    For estimates later in the post, I’m using the public four year degree fees as part of my estimates. That gives us an estimated total of $28,000. If you want to instead use the private college costs, please adjust the numbers below.

    Options for College Savings – 529 Plans and Coverdell Education Savings Account

    One decision that you have to decide on is what tax advantaged savings plan you’re going to use. When looking at your options, you should consider the affects of the account(s) on your specific family’s financial circumstances and taxes. The IRS has Publication 970 that cover the topic in detail. Unless otherwise stated, I used it for the reviews below.

    529 Plans

    A 529 plan, also known as a Qualified Tuition Program (QTP) is a tax-advantaged savings plan. Contributions to 529 plans are not federally tax deductible, but qualified distributions are deductible. States can offer programs that allow parents to prepay tuition or invest their contributions for their children’s educational expenses.For many parents, it’s a better deal to not do the prepaidtuitionand instead invest their contributions.

    There are some nice advantages to 529 plans:

    Contributions to a QTP on behalf of any beneficiary cannot be more than the amount necessary to provide for the qualified higher education expenses of the beneficiary. The beneficiary generally does not have to include in income any of the earnings from a QTP unless the amount distributed is greater than the beneficiary’s qualified higher education expenses.

    Evanfrom My Journey to Millions shared why he chose a 529 plan for his adorable baby boy.

    Most, if not all, States have their own 529 Program, however, you are not forced to use one State over the other. Since Stateís know that there are some States which choose to provide bonuses upon sign up, or more importantly provideState Income Tax Deductions for 529 C0ntributions.

    Luckily,New York is one of those States that provide a State Income Tax Deduction..

    CoverdellEducation Savings Account

    Another option that some parentspreferis an ESA. The biggest difference I noticed right away was the contribution limit on the account.Here’s a bit more about the account from the IRS:

    The total contributions for the beneficiary of this account cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established. A beneficiary is someone who is under age 18 or is a special needs beneficiary.

    Contributions to a Coverdell ESA are not deductible, but amounts deposited in the account grow tax free until distributed. The beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if they are less than a beneficiaryís qualified education expenses at an eligible institution.

    There are contribution limits for taxpayers based on the contributorís Modified Adjusted Gross Income. Contributions to a Coverdell ESA may be made until the due date of the contributorís return, without extensions.

    As tax laws can change year to year, visit the IRS’ site to determine what the MAGI is for the current year.

    Decide Which is Right for You

    After examining the pros and cons of the 529 plans and Educational Savings Accounts, sit down and decide what’s best for your family.

    Looking at the Time Frame

    Now that we have a figure to work with, you have to examine your own personaltime frame. Obviously the more years you have between when you start investing/saving and when your child is going to college, the better for your finances.

    Let’s say you decided to just save the money and not invest it, here’s how it breaks down on a monthly basis:

    • 18 years -> $129.63/month ($1,555/year)
    • 15 years -> $155.55/month ($1,866.67/year)
    • 10 years -> $233.33/month ($2,800/year)
    • 5 years -> $466.67/month ($5,6000/year)
    • 4 years or less – As much as you can!

    A quick mention about investing versus saving- if your time frame is less than 5 years, it would be safer to save that money in a high interest saving and not invest that money.

    A Little Perspective

    Did you know that theaveragecar loan being around $26,300 ?Looking at it, $28,000 is like a big car loan.If you reallywantyour kid to have their college tuition paid, then dumpingyourcar loan looks like agreatway to free up your money for it. I’d also point out that if you get a tax refund, you could sock away some or all of that without hurting your monthly finances.

    I just wanted to note that perhaps the reason some are struggling to save is because they have too many obligations with their money. With a little fine tuning you may be surprised at how (relatively) easy it is to save for your child’s college fund.

    Thoughts on Saving for College

    I would love to get your feedback on this huge concern for many families. How many of you are starting to save for your childís college fund? How much do you think parents should help with college?

    Author: This article was contributed by Elle from Couple Money where she writes about building financial freedom together by living on one income and acheiveing your dreams with the second.

    Source: How Much Do I Need to Save for College for My Child?

    Elle helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second.

    About the author


    Elle helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second.


    • We had a baby last year and started investing in the 529 right away. I know college is not for everyone, but it’s better to have the option to go without racking up student loans. You can always transfer the 529 to someone else if needed. I would like to have 100,000 in the 529 in 18 years, but I don’t know if it will happen. Maybe if the stock market does really well in the next 15 years…

      • Thanks Joe for sharing your goal. I agree that racking up student loans can hurt college students for many, many years. 

        It’s great that you have some money tucked away for your little one 🙂 

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