Friday, April 2, 2021

How Can I Help My Kids Avoid College Debt?

The cost of going to college has soared in the last 25 years. For kids who who need financial help, loans are the first, and often last, resort to pay for an education. So if you have kids or grandkids or are the legal guardian of some college bound children, here are a few tips that may help ease the burden.

There are several things to consider when planning to fund your kids' education.

1. How much of the cost do you want? Some parents want to pay the full cost of tuition, while others say they want their children to at least pay some portion. I've had clients tell me they refuse to pay any of the costs. 

One of my clients used the last bit of logic with me one day, stating "I paid my way through college and she can do the same." I asked what the parent paid and found that father's tuition was never more than $500 a semester. Today, his child is looking at over $2000 each semester. When we added in books, room and board and other living expenses, that cost was closer to $5000. It was an eye opener to the parent who said, "I don't have that kind of money." Should we expect an 18 year old to have it?

2. No one has a crystal ball. I've heard parents say things like "My kid will get a football scholarship" or "She's going to Harvard". Mind you, the child is barely walking.  It's great to have hopes and dreams for your child, but be realistic.

Even though your child may still be in diapers you can still start a small savings account with some discipline. That means that you may have to treat it like a monthly bill and throw an extra $50 or $75 in each month. If, for some reason, you feel your child is not college material, you can use those funds for other expenses. On the other hand, if your child starts showing signs of brilliance in grade school you can move that money to a college savings plan gives tax breaks like a Coverdell IRA or a 529 plan.

3. 529 plans are great, but have drawbacks. For instance, when applying for financial aid or a scholarship, you have to disclose any and all college savings plans. If your 529 is loaded, it could keep you from getting that scholarship. Also, if your child doesn't go to school, you can transfer the funds to another child, but if used for something other than education expenses, expect a tax penalty on those monies.  Finally, remember that those funds are typically invested in the stock market. If your child is ready to go off to school and the market drops, that when you'll remember the...

4. Two-bucket approach. Some folks will partially fund a 529 plan and then have a second "bucket" of money, usually an overfunded cash value life insurance policy (see the next entry). If the market drops, you can use the life insurance cash value to pay for a year or so of college until the market rebounds. If you die, the death benefit can be used for college funding as well. Also, you don't have to disclose life insurance when applying for financial aid.

5. Life Insurance. Whole life has been sold for years as a "forced savings plan", which is a good concept but may be too conservative for the kind of growth you made need. If a parent is healthy and doesn't smoke (this is life insurance after all, so there is underwriting involved), we typically suggest a Indexed Universal Life (IUL) policy. With an IUL you can "over fund" it by paying additional premiums that are capped by the IRS. 

I recently had an appointment with a single father whose daughter was in the first grade. He truly wanted to help her fund her education (as much as possible) so we looked at an IUL on him. The cash value grew well up to age 18, when his daughter would be going to school, but the cash value grew even more between the ages of 18 and 22, when she would be (hopefully) graduating. Since repayment of college loans wouldn't start until she graduated, she could secure loans and repay them all at once when she left school by using her dad's policy.

6.  Roth IRA. Did you know that you can withdraw money from your Roth IRA for education costs without a tax penalty? And if your kids don't go to school, you can use that money for your retirement.

In this economic environment we are experiencing currently budgets are tight. For those who are fortunate enough to have a little bit extra each month it can be tough to decide where to allocate it. Most of us who are "forward thinkers" are trying to plan for several things at once, like our kids' educations, retirement planning and more enjoyable things too, like that once in a lifetime vacation.

I once had a conversation with a client who had enough in the budget to pay for either retirement or college funding.  She said, "My child can borrow for college, but no one is going to loan money for my retirement."  She had a point.

If you have questions about helping to fund your child's education, let us see if we can help out by booking an appointment from our website. In the meantime, stay healthy.

Chris Castanes is the president of Surf Financial Brokers, helping people find affordable life and disability insurance coverage. He's also is a professional speaker helping sales people be more productive and efficient and has spoken to professional and civic organizations throughout the Southeast. And please subscribe to this blog!

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