Sallie Mae, the nation’s No. 1 financial services company specializing in education, encourages families to have a family savings summit this September during National College Savings Month. Parents overwhelmingly say higher education is important, yet nearly half of undergraduate college students and their parents do not have a plan for how to pay for it, according to Sallie Mae’s 2012 “How America Pays for College” study, conducted by Ipsos. “Higher education is a major financial investment. Thoughtful goal setting and realistic planning can significantly help families achieve their goals,” says Joe DePaulo, executive vice president, Sallie Mae. “The best action a family can take is to set aside time to discuss school choices, understand future costs and create a plan to pay for college.” To help guide the discussion, here are some important points to consider:
- What is it going to cost? To create a plan, the first step is understanding the future cost of college. Parents of infants and high school students alike can estimate future college costs using Sallie Mae’s Education Investment Planner. The free tool helps estimate the cost of attendance at over 5,500 colleges and forecast future costs.
- Get cash back for college on your everyday spending. Upromise can bolster savings with 5 percent or more cash back for college when you make eligible purchases through Upromise.com from hundreds of companies such as Target.com, Gap.com or Apple.com. Joining is free and the cash back you earn from eligible spending with Upromise partners can be transferred from a Upromise account and invested in a tax-advantaged 529 plan administered by Upromise Investments*, subject to applicable minimum transfer requirements, deposited into a Sallie Mae High-Yield Savings Account, or used to help pay down an eligible Sallie Mae loan. Since 2001, nearly $700 million has been earned with Sallie Mae’s Upromise, more than $180 million of which has been contributed to Upromise Investments-administered 529 accounts.
- Use a dedicated college savings account to save. 529 plans are a tax-advantaged way to save for college with many states offering a tax incentive or other benefits to encourage residents to save for college.* This past academic year, 11 percent of parents used a 529 college savings plan to contribute an average of $6,616 to pay for college, according to Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for College 2012” study.
- Anyone can open a 529 plan. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and close friends—virtually anyone who is a U.S. citizen or resident alien with a valid Social Security or tax ID number—can open a 529 plan. Account owners control the funds and when it is time to pay for college there are important financial aid benefits. Assets can be used federally tax free at any eligible school nationwide or abroad, and funds can be used towards eligible room and board costs in addition to tuition and fees.**
- Get children invested in their savings and future. According to the College Savings Foundation’s 2012 “State of College Savings” survey, 69 percent of parents expect their children to contribute to their college costs. This year the Sallie Mae study found just that. To get started preparing, encourage school-aged children to save money for their own education. Whether from a weekly allowance, baby-sitting or a summer job, each small contribution can add up over time and serve as a reminder of the goal to attend college. Consider matching your child’s contributions to further encourage saving.
- Put your savings on cruise control. Studies consistently demonstrate that savers who set up an Automatic Investment Plan (AIP) to put away money each month are the most likely to accomplish their savings goals.*** An AIP can start with as little as $25 a month.
- Ask and you may receive. Talking about money can be challenging, but family and friends often want to give meaningful gifts. It is easy to start the conversation and give the gift of college with Ugift®, an online gifting tool that enables family and friends to contribute directly to a Upromise Investments-administered 529 plan account. Families using Ugift have received more than $40 million in gift contributions since 2008.
- Check your state for tax incentives for saving for college in a 529. Many states provide income tax deductions or credits for contributions into 529 plans. Information on each state’s 529 tax advantages is available at 529.com.
- Choose the right investment option for you. Choose from an age-based portfolio or from a range of individual portfolios including more conservative FDIC-insured high-interest savings accounts now offered in certain 529 plans.
Please read the applicable 529 plan’s Program Description, which includes investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other important information; read and consider it carefully before investing or sending money.Consider before investing whether you or the designated beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other benefits that are only available for investments in such state's qualified tuition program. *The availability of tax or other benefits may be contingent on meeting other requirements. ** Earnings on nonqualified withdrawals may be subject to federal income tax and a 10% federal penalty tax, as well as state and local income taxes. Tax and other benefits are contingent on meeting other requirements and certain withdrawals are subject to federal, state, and local taxes. ***A plan of regular investment cannot assure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. Upromise and Ugift are registered service marks of Upromise, Inc.