College Planning

Getting a Head Start on College Savings

The American family with a child born today can expect to spend about $233,610 to raise that child to the age of 18. And if you’ve already traded that supercharged convertible dream for a minivan, you can expect your little one’s college education to cost as much as $198,000.

But before you throw your hands up in the air and send junior out looking for a job, you might consider a few strategies to help you prepare for the cost of higher education.

First, take advantage of time. The time value of money is the concept that the money in your pocket today is worth more than that same amount will be worth tomorrow because it has more earning potential. If you put $100 a month toward your child’s college education, after 17 years’ time, you would have saved $20,400. But that same $100 a month would be worth over $32,000 if it had generated a hypothetical 5% annual rate of return. (The rate of return on investments will vary over time, particularly for longer-term investments. Investments that offer the potential for higher returns also carry a higher degree of risk. Actual results will fluctuate. Past performance does not guarantee future results) The bottom line is, the earlier you start, the more time you give your money to grow.

Second, don’t panic. Every parent knows the feeling – one minute you’re holding a little miracle in your arms, the next you’re trying to figure out how to pay for braces, piano lessons, and summer camp. You may feel like saving for college is a pipe dream. But remember, many people get some sort of help in the form of financial aid and scholarships. Although it’s difficult to forecast how much help you may get in aid and scholarships, they can provide a valuable supplement to what you have already saved.

Finally, weigh your options. There are a number of federal and state-sponsored, tax-advantaged college savings programs available. Some offer prepaid tuition plans and others offer tax-deferred savings. (The tax implications of education savings programs can vary significantly from state to state, and some plans may provide advantages and benefits exclusively for their residents. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. Withdrawals from tax-advantaged education savings programs that are not used for education are subject to ordinary income taxes and may be subject to penalties.) Many such plans are state sponsored, so the details will vary from one state to the next. A number of private colleges and universities now also offer prepaid tuition plans for their institutions. It pays to do your homework to find the vehicle that may work best for you. Click here to visit a past blog article to learn more about Saving with 529 Plans.

As a parent, you teach your children to dream big and believe in their ability to overcome any obstacle. By investing wisely, you can help tackle the financial obstacles of higher education for them – and smooth the way for them to pursue their dreams.

Take Charge of Your Student Debt Repayment Plan

Student loans are a lot like a ball and chain, slowing down what could be a perfectly good financial plan. Outstanding student loan debt in the United States has tripled over the last decade, surpassing both auto and credit card debt to take second place behind housing debt as the most common type of household debt. Today, more than 44 million Americans collectively owe more than $1.4 trillion in student debt. Here are some strategies to pay it off.

Look to your employer for help

The first place to look for help is your employer. While only about 4% of employers offer student debt assistance as an employee benefit, it's predicted that more employers will offer this benefit in the future to attract and retain talent.

Many employers are targeting a student debt assistance benefit of $100 per month.3 That doesn't sound like much, but it adds up. For example, an employee with $31,000 in student loans who is paying them off over 10 years at a 6% interest rate would save about $3,000 in interest and get out of debt two and a half years faster.

Understand all your repayment options

Unfortunately, your student loans aren't going away. But you might be able to choose a repayment option that works best for you. The repayment options available to you will depend on whether you have federal or private student loans. Generally, the federal government offers a broader array of repayment options than private lenders. The following payment options are for federal student loans. (If you have private loans, check with your lender to see which options are available.)

 

Standard plan: You pay a certain amount each month over a 10-year term. If your interest rate is fixed, you'll pay a fixed amount each month; if your interest rate is variable, your monthly payment will change from year to year (but it will be the same each month for the 12 months that a certain interest rate is in effect).

Extended plan: You extend the time you have to pay the loan, typically anywhere from 15 to 30 years. Your monthly payment is lower than it would be under a standard plan, but you'll pay more interest over the life of the loan because the repayment period is longer.

You have $31,000 in student loans with a 6% fixed interest rate. Under a standard plan, your monthly payment would be $344, and your total payment over the term of the loan would be $41,300, of which $10,300 (25%) is interest. Under an extended plan, if the term were increased to 20 years, your monthly payment would be $222, but your total payment over the term of the loan would be $53,302, of which $22,302 (42%) is interest.

Graduated plan: Payments start out low in the early years of the loan, then increase in the later years of the loan. With some graduated repayment plans, the initial lower payment includes both principal and interest, while under other plans the initial lower payment includes interest only.

Income-driven repayment plan: Your monthly payment is based on your income and family size. The federal government offers four income-driven repayment plans for federal student loans only:

 
 
  • Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

  • Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

  • Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

 
 

You aren't automatically eligible for these plans; you need to fill out an application (and reapply each year). Depending on the plan, your monthly payment is set between 10% and 20% of your discretionary income, and any remaining loan balance is forgiven at the end of the repayment period (generally 20 or 25 years depending on the plan, but 10 years for borrowers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program). For more information on the nuances of these plans or to apply for an income-driven plan, visit the federal student aid website at studentaid.ed.gov.

 

Can you refinance?

Yes, but only with a new private loan. (There is a federal consolidation loan, but that is different.) The main reason for trying to refinance your federal and/or private student loans into a new private loan is to obtain a lower interest rate. You'll need to shop around to see what's available.

If you refinance, your old loans will go away and you will be bound by the terms and conditions of your new private loan. If you had federal student loans, this means you will lose any income-driven repayment options.

Watch out for repayment scams

Beware of scammers contacting you to say that a special federal loan assistance program can permanently reduce your monthly payments and is available for an initial fee or ongoing monthly payments. There is no fee to apply for any federal repayment plan.

Still Need Help?

Student loans can be complicated and can have a significant impact on your long-term financial success. It’s important to develop the right plan for your unique situation. Don’t let your student loan debt derail your financial progress Contact Us for a free consultation.