Failing to save enough money for your child’s college probably scares you. However, following the simple rule, “The earlier you start setting aside, the better” usually pays off.
What most parents find challenging is the onset. College cost has been growing steadily, so there’s no doubt you have many dilemmas. Should you choose an in-state or out-of-state public or private university? Will your child get a scholarship or a grant?
Luckily, you don’t need to bother with all these issues to get started. Our helpful strategies should help you decide how much to save for college. So, start saving today and deal with the rest when the time comes.
Table of Contents
- 1 When Should You Start Saving For College?
- 2 Determine How Much To Save For College Tuition
- 3 Average Cost Of College
- 4 Methods To Save Money For College
- 5 Account Types To Save For College Tuition
- 6 Tips For College Students To Save Money
- 7 Bottom Line
- 8 FAQs
When Should You Start Saving For College?
Setting money aside for your child’s future is a smart move, but only after you stabilize your finances. Meaning, you must have an emergency account first and possibly an established retirement savings plan. Also, consider reducing your debt to a manageable level before you set off on the saving-for-college journey.
Financial experts believe that the most significant mistake of parents is not beginning early enough. The expression “The sooner you start saving, the better” is entirely valid here.
So, what’s the best age for parents to open a 529 plan? Since there’s no one-fits-all solution, it’s best to consider your situation. Yet, for most people, the ideal time to begin saving for college ranges between 25 and 34 years of age.
Suppose you start setting aside when your child comes to this world. You open an account and decide to save $30 a week for the first nine years of your child’s life. The total savings will amount to $14,000, and in 18 years, that sum will double. If you earn 6% in interest a year, you’ll have saved about $45,700.
Conversely, you can wait nine years before you start setting aside and only save $30 a week until your kid reaches 18. Factoring in the $14,000 investment and 6% return, you’ll accumulate about $17,000 by the time college comes. Thanks to the power of compounding, the first scenario is super favorable for any parent.
Determine How Much To Save For College Tuition
“How much to save for college” is not an easy question to sort out? Every family is different, with unique habits, circumstances, and objectives. Hence, each household should pick a strategy that best fits its budget and then commit to saving for college.
Before determining the amount to save or contribute, you’ll need to gather some basic information.
- Child’s age: The time you have to save for your child’s education will define your saving strategy.
- Predicted income: Establish how long you will remain in employment. Retiring earlier while the kid is still in college means you’ll have to save more before higher education comes. Here, you might want to consider some passive income ideas.
- Tuition and fees: Tuition varies across schools, but the national average stands at $35,720 per year. Also, most colleges charge fixed fees. Such costs may include student activities, transportation, and laboratory fees.
- Food and accommodation: Parents must consider the student’s room and board. Your college of choice will probably give you cost estimates for on-campus students. Yet, off-campus students also have living expenses. It’s mandatory to factor in meal plans and grocery expenses.
- Living cost: Besides food and housing, students make additional expenses. They need clothes, a cellphone, school supplies, and pocket money.
- Textbooks: College textbooks can be quite expensive. The average cost of books and other supplies per year is $1,240.
- Transportation: On-campus students need a travel budget to run errands. Off-campus students need a car, bike, or public transport. Plus, all students need money to come home during breaks and holidays.
Average Cost Of College
Taking all types of higher education into account, the national average cost is $35,720 per year. Yet, the equation doesn’t end there. This amount averages the standard cost for in-state, out-of-state, public, and private universities. All these institutions have widely varying fees. Plus, the price fails to factor in inflation or potential scholarships and grants.
So, how much do I need to save for my child’s college? It’s no secret that higher education costs are rapidly rising. The latest data shows that the average cost of attendance for full-time students ranged from $18,550 to $54,880 per year in 2020. The amount includes tuition, fees, accommodation, food, books, supplies, and transportation.
Depending on the institution, here’s how the cost breaks down:
- The average annual attendance cost for an in-state public college is $107,280 over four years.
- The average annual attendance cost for an out-of-state public college is $173,120 over four years.
- The average annual attendance cost for a private nonprofit college is $219,520 over four years.
How much money you need for your kid’s college education depends on many factors. Consider them all to get an estimate of what you’ll need.
Methods To Save Money For College
Once parents combine all college expenses, they will understand that covering 100% of college costs is almost impossible. What comes to mind is to set a savings goal. Before anything, parents must determine what percentage of their kid’s education they can fund.
Luckily, several formulas can help troubled parents estimate how much they should save. It’s up to you to opt for a saving strategy that best fits your budget and stick to it. Here are the most popular ones that give satisfying outcomes.
The “Just Start Saving” Method
So, how much to save for kids college? With college expenses on the rise, saving now will surely pay off later. The reasoning behind this is because early savings allow your investments to grow over time. Setting aside several dollars a week can make a huge difference in meeting future education costs. Every grand saved is one less you will later need to repay with interest.
If fixed-amount rules don’t seem right, there’s nothing wrong with putting away as much as you can. Invest into a 529 plan or open a savings account. Most people prefer this open method because they save based on how much they can afford. So, if you’re practical and consistent in your goals, don’t hesitate to pursue this strategy.
What you’ll be economizing on depends on you. Whether you’ll reduce electricity consumption, buy less clothing, or entertainment, it all helps. However, remember to take care of yourself before putting aside. Investing regularly when the circumstances allow is crucial for success.
The 1/3 Rule
For those that need specific college savings guidelines, the 1/3 rule may be the perfect starting point. At least, it will help you understand how much cash college requires. The 1/3 rule divides the cost of your kid’s college into three segments:
- 1/3 of the price gets covered by past income or savings,
- 1/3 gets covered from income at the time of college,
- 1/3 comes from loans or grants.
Most people cannot settle significant expenses in one lump sum. College tuition is one such expense that requires a lot of planning. Thus, by spreading the cost over time and combining savings and loans with current income, you can reach the ultimate target.
The 1/3 rule urges parents to save only a third of the college cost for each child. Hence, the more they put aside, the less they’ll have to borrow when the time for college comes. Even if you can’t afford another third with current income, the saved cash would still be a significant amount.
However, determining the one-third amount of college costs can be tricky. It may be helpful to use online tools and college cost calculators to come to a rough estimate. Indeed, sticker prices of schools are far from close to the ultimate price you’ll pay.
Overall, families using the one-third rule should set aside about $3,000 per year for an in-state public college. The amount hits $5,000 a year for an out-of-state public college and $7,000 for a private college.
The 50/30/20 Rule
Most families manage to save about a third of future college costs for children. Yet, others only set aside about 10% of the total price until the child turns 18, falling short of the goal. That is why you should take each saving method with a pinch of salt.
If you wonder how much to save per month for college, consider the 50/30/20 rule. This strategy is a set of guidelines on budget planning that is both easy and convenient to adopt. By applying this set, parents allocate the entire after-tax income to three different categories.
The first category consists of needs you can’t survive without for long. Hence, dedicate 50% of your earnings to rent, utilities, debt payments, healthcare, and groceries.
The second category includes all the wants you can survive without. It’s advisable to set aside 30% of income on hobbies, vacations, restaurants, digital and streaming services. The last category, or 20%, involves your financial goals. Make sure you put all college savings for your kids in this category every month.
On the flip side, parents with many future goals like early retirement and buying property may find that 20% isn’t enough. Also, if you earn only to make ends meet, you may struggle to save 20% of your income when supporting a family.
Fidelity’s 2K Rule Of Thumb Equation
Families trying to figure out how to save for a child’s college may find Fidelity’s $2K rule very helpful. The rule urges parents to set aside $2,000 every year of each child’s life. The 2K technique assumes the student will be attending a public 4-year college and will spend about $21K per year for four years. In case your costs vary, check out the college savings calculator to create a customized estimate.
This fundamental rule of thumb can help you stay on track with savings. If you start saving once the kid is born, the saved amount should cover 50% of a 4-year public college cost. To boost the benefits, families can contribute the yearly savings into a 529 account.
Your ultimate gain is the power of compound interest and growth. Your investment in a 529 plan will grow tax-deferred and bear no taxes when used for qualified educational expenses.
Moreover, you don’t have to save alone since grandparents and other family members can contribute, too. Parents agree that college savings contributions are an ideal alternative to traditional gifts.
The Formula Of 10
Last, why don’t you set a monthly savings goal depending on how much the family can afford? Adhere to this approach if your budget is tight and there’s not much room left for nest eggs. Of course, what’s doable will vary across families, and that’s acceptable. The initial step involves breaking savings down using Lumina’s Rule of 10.
At first, the formula targeted colleges planning to expand access to higher education. Yet, once it proved practical, many families adopted this approach to funding their children’s college. The strategy involves the following benchmarks:
- Parents save 10% of their discretionary income;
- Parents set funds aside for ten years; and
- Students work 10 hours a week while attending college.
Discretionary income is what remains after-tax except food, utilities, medicine, housing, and transportation. Lumina Foundation considers any income above 200% of the federal poverty level fit to adopt these benchmarks. The threshold income for a four-member family in 2020 stood at $52,400.
For example, let’s take a family that earns $100,000 a year. If they set 10% of the discretionary income each month, they’ll have $400 saved or $48,000 over ten years. With a student working 10 hours a week at the current $7.25 minimum wage, that’s an additional $3,625 a year. The total contribution of $62,500 over four years should be enough to cover about half the in-state college cost.
We offer you several proven strategies for saving for your children’s education. Pick the one that suits your budget and lifestyle the most.
Account Types To Save For College Tuition
How much to save for kids’ college is the ultimate question that bothers parents. Yet, when it cоmes to college savings, most people immediately think of 529 plans. Indeed, these have been among the best tools to cover higher education costs, but not your only option. Besides 529 schemes, other alternatives can prove more beneficial when building a fund for your child’s education.
If you’re struggling with ESA limits, a 529 plan can be a real life-saver. Most 529 schemes allow savers to choose the funds they invest through the account. Here, we suggest you avoid 529 plans that automatically change investments based on your kid’s age.
Look for a plan that enables you to change the beneficiary if the need arises. So, if your firstborn receives a scholarship or decides not to go to college, you can repurpose the funds for the next kid in line. No annual contribution limits exist, but aggregate limits of 529s range from $235,000 to $520,000.
The ultimate perk of 529 plans is that anyone can set up a plan regardless of income. Typically, there aren’t income limits or age restrictions, and funds grow tax-free. Plus, most states grant tax benefits on contributions.
As for the downsides, some people may not like 529s due to the lack of flexibility. Meaning, if you don’t use the funds for educational purposes, you’ll owe income taxes and 10% penalties on earnings.
UTMA Or UGMA (Uniform Transfer/Gift To Minors Act)
Unlike ESAs and 529 Plans, holders of UTMA/UGMA or custodial accounts don’t need to open them for education savings only. The account you open will be in your child’s name and under the control of a custodian. Typically, the parent will manage the funds until the child reaches 18 or 21, depending on the account type. Then, the control transfers to the children, and they can use it the way they prefer.
Owners prefer custodial accounts because funds can get used for anything and not college expenses only. Also, there are tax advantages for the contributor as assets are the property of the minor.
On the flipside, UGMA/UTMA accounts lack most tax advantages of 529 plans. You won’t earn tax deduction or credit with contributions, and the account’s earnings are taxable. Also, selected beneficiaries can’t get changed and may use the funds for irrelevant things once they reach legal age.
Most people believe that Roth IRAs are only retirement vehicles, but they can also help you save for college. Young investors can particularly enjoy Roth IRAs’ benefits since they pay taxes within the low tax bracket.
Eligible savers can contribute at any age, provided they have taxable income and earn a little. No minimum distributions are applicable, so you can keep money in the account for when you need it.
Another upside of Roth IRAs is that contributions can get used at any time on any grounds. Plus, you don’t pay the standard 10% early withdrawal penalty if you spend funds on qualified higher education expenses. Also, all contributions and earnings can grow tax-free.
However, Roth IRAs have drawbacks, too. The annual contribution is low, unlike 529 plans, and invested money doesn’t give you tax deduction or credit. In short, contributions cannot exceed $2,000 a year, and withdrawals count as financial aid income.
Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA)
What else than an ESA can teach you better how to save for a child’s college? Similar to Roth IRAs, ESA accounts will allow you to save $2,000 per year. Known as education IRA, ESAs grow through tax-deferral if the funds get used for educational purposes. Hence, starting to save at childbirth means you will have invested $36,000 until the kid reaches 18.
ESA growth rates depend on the account’s investments, but return rates are higher than with a regular savings account. Coverdell funds can cover many expenses, including tuition, equipment, books, and academic tutoring.
Conversely, investors must be within the income limit to be eligible. Plus, Coverdell funds must get spend until the beneficiary reaches 30. If not, taxes and penalties will follow withdrawals.
Prepaid Tuition Plans
Falling within the 529 plans, prepaid tuition plans follow different rules than the standard saving options. The underlying feature of these plans is that you pay for future tuition at current rates. Locking in future college bills would mean significant savings along the way.
States that allow prepaid tuition plans cap the total allowable account balance. Still, limits are relatively generous and range from $235,000 to over $500,000. Also, using this method to pay for tuition costs brings you tax-free earnings.
The drawback of prepaid tuition plans is that they typically apply to specific colleges and universities. Plus, only nine states currently offer prepaid tuition plans to new enrollees. Finally, unlike 529 savings plans, which can cover various expenses, prepaid tuition plans can settle the tuition bill only.
US savings bonds are state tax-free and federal tax-deferred. Plus, anyone can use the education savings bond program. Such taxpayers get exempted from interest earned upon redemption of bonds from annual gross income.
Moreover, the bond owner must be over 24 when purchasing the bond to qualify for the program. On top of that, holders must have Series EE and Series I bonds issued after 1989. Such bonds must get used to cover tuition-related expenses like college courses and lab fees.
Yet, these bonds cannot cover textbooks or room and board. If owners don’t use bond proceeds on tuition and fees, earned interest becomes subject to tax. Last, the annual investment limit caps at $10,000 per owner, per bond type.
Saving for college isn’t only the parents’ responsibility. Kids can also help by getting a job early or applying for grants.
Tips For College Students To Save Money
Parents don’t have to take the burden of college savings alone. Children should also become involved in the effort as this concerns their future. Picking up healthy saving habits early on will teach your kids how to be responsible with money in the future. To learn how much to save per month for college, students should check out these practical college saving tips.
Apply For Scholarships And Grants
Scholarships and grants are an immense source of free money for college that you don’t have to pay back. Though many believe that applying for grants is before college, the reality is different. Students may apply for scholarships and grants throughout their college years, too.
Many scholarships go unclaimed, so why don’t you benefit down the road? Yet, you need to dedicate time to apply, so you can get yourself decent money to pay for school.
Filter available scholarships by ethnicity, state residence, and study field when applying. Also, those who excel in sports, academics, or extracurricular activities can get various grants.
Apply For Federal Student Aid
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can grant you access to many federal grants, loans, and work-study funds. Plus, most colleges use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for state and school aid. Submitting correctly filled applications is crucial to get grants, scholarships, and federal student loans.
To begin the process, students must complete the FAFSA application every academic year. You won’t need more than half an hour to fill in the necessary information. Then, learn how much you can afford to borrow depending on your financial circumstances. Being rejected in the first year doesn’t mean you won’t get financial aid next year.
Get A Job
Often, knowing how much to save for college doesn’t add up in the end. Luckily, there’s an easy solution to this even after your child enters college. Encourage your kid to find an on-campus job to avoid traveling expenses. Plus, they will have more flexibility to finish their assignments on time.
Moreover, students can take on a full-time gig during summertime. Whatever the choice, working in college will teach students valuable life skills. Besides saving money for college costs, your kid can gain work experience, too.
Open A Savings Account
Students serious about saving during college need a safe place to invest the money. Hence, students should look for accounts with easy access and without extra fees. Meaning, the ideal savings account should entail no transaction and withdrawal fees.
Most banks offer accounts tailored for students only. These waive monthly maintenance fees and minimum balance requirements. Last, parents should consider being joint account holders for underage children.
Create A Budget To Stick To Priorities
Since college education deprives you of obscene amounts of money, curbing your spending habits is essential. Hence, think about setting priorities while in college. Skip eating at restaurants, but learn to cook and limit alcohol consumption. Instead of splashing out on entertainment, attend free campus events, use the campus gym, and watch TV shows online.
Moreover, avoid malls and find free hobbies. Share the cost of video games, and be more active outdoors to reduce your spending urges. Visit the library more often and sell used textbooks. Last, use gift cards, coupons, and other discounts to take full advantage of student benefits.
Work-study programs can be federal or state-funded. They aim to help college students get decent part-time jobs. Though these programs won’t cover the total college cost, they can be beneficial for eligible students. Also, qualifications required for work-study jobs differ across roles.
Qualifying for a work-study job means you’ll earn at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. If the state minimum wage is higher (for example, $10 in Minnesota), you’ll earn that much. In 2020, the average work-study earnings for students with eligible jobs stood at $1,847.
Skyrocketing college costs shock most parents, but often, the amount you need to save can be lower. There’s no uniform response to the question, “how much do I need to save for my child’s college.” The best approach is to start setting aside regularly from childbirth.
Yet, even if you have postponed economizing for college, specific strategies can help you put aside a substantial amount in a shorter timeframe.
What about you? When did you start saving? How do you manage to save for your child’s higher education? Share your thoughts with us and register for our newsletter for more saving ideas.
What’s better than a 529 plan?
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to save enough money for college. Though 529 plans seem appealing for many parents, considering a prepaid tuition plan is worthwhile, too. Also, custodial UGMA and UTMA accounts can serve many purposes, including education. Finally, Roth IRAs have tax benefits similar to 529 plans, and if used for financial aid purposes, they don’t count as assets.
How much should I put in my child’s 529?
The amount essential to enroll and support your children in college depends on their age and the college type. Once you establish these benchmarks, start working on college savings by opening a 529 account. At the age of nine, the lower end is $13,755, whereas at the age of 18, about $37,328. If your current 529 plan cannot achieve these targets, roll it over to another scheme next year.
How much is four years of college on average?
The average college cost in the US currently stands at $35,720 per year. Yet, you must always bear in mind the annual growth rate of 6.8%. The average in-state student at a public institution will spend $25,615 per academic year. In-state tuition alone will cost parents $9,580, while out-of-state tuition averages $27,437. Students at an average private university will spend $53,949 per academic year. Factoring in loan interest and income loss, the total cost of a bachelor’s degree can exceed $400,000.
How much do parents typically pay for college?
Tuition at a private college averages $48,000 a year, yet, the typical family pays half the cost. Besides saved money, parents also use borrowed funds to cover some education costs. On average, 10% of the total amount comes thanks to borrowed funds. Then, 14% gets covered from other debt-forming sources. The remaining 29% of the college’s cost gets settled by scholarships and grants. Ad hoc family members cover the final 2%.