Parents can advance their college saving strategy even before their child enters high school by reviewing their current plan and involving their children in the savings process.
For families who started saving early, when the child reaches elementary or middle school, it’s an opportune time to review the plan to determine if the strategy is on track to meet your goals. Any changes in employment or overall financial situation can impact a college savings plan.
Considerations for a plan review:
- Set up automatic 529 plan payments. Some plans offer automatic payments as well as incremental increases in contributions. Keep in mind that an increase in income may warrant a change in contribution amounts.
- Identify matching programs from your employer. You may want to see if this is available at work, especially if you have changed jobs.
- Assess investment allocations and level of risk. Some parents opt for an age-based 529 plan that will adjust risk as the child moves closer to the college years. Still, it’s important to periodically review the current investments and level of risk, and rebalance if necessary.
- Confirm that college is the objective. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expanded eligible uses of 529 plan assets to include K–12 school expenses. A parent considering a private or religious high school may want to weigh this option with a financial advisor. They will also want to find out if their state offers an income tax deduction for 529 contributions, or imposes taxes on withdrawals for K–12 expenses.
Talk to children about saving
As children get older, many parents decide to engage children in the process of saving for college. While many parents believe the student has some or all of the responsibility for paying for college, just 54% of parents surveyed have discussed that expectation with their children, according to a 2016 study from Sallie Mae.
Ideas for getting the conversation started:
- Discuss how saving for college fits in with the family’s overall household priorities.
- Ask children about interests and careers they might like, and explain how a college education can help them get there.
- Encourage good savings habits. For milestone events, put cash gifts towards college savings accounts and engage the child in this process.
- Set up a matching program to encourage saving. As children earn money from chores, such as babysitting or yard work, ask them if they are interested in putting money into a long-term account to save for something special. Encourage them to save at least half of the money, and then you will match those contributions. Take them to the bank to open the account and keep them updated as their savings grow.
- Explore the Federal Student Aid checklist for elementary and middle school students.
When considering changes to savings plans or objectives, it is helpful to understand how they may affect your overall financial plan. Before your child enters high school, it is important to position accounts and strategies for growth. Meeting with a financial advisor who understands your individual financial situation can help in pursuing this goal.
For more information on saving for college and planning strategies, read Putnam’s investor education piece, “Early college planning for a growing family.”