When should you start planning for college?
Everyone is aware that college costs continue to spiral upward. So, the short answer is, the sooner the better. We have found that preparing for college should ideally start as early as possible, and in conjunction with your other financial objectives. If you started planning late, it’s not a hopeless situation by any stretch. Starting planning later can still help you lessen the impact of sending a child to college.
How does a 529 work?
A 529 is a tax-advantaged investment account that allows contributions to grow tax-free. Some states offer a tax break for the contributions themselves. Distributions from the account are not taxed if the money is used for qualified k-12 or college expenses.
How does an educational IRA work?
An education IRA allows you to save and withdraw funds tax-free when used for educational purposes. These accounts are also referred to as “Coverdell accounts” or education saving accounts (ESA). Even though such accounts informally carry the “IRA” moniker, they are for educational expenses only, not retirement savings.
What’s the difference between an Education Savings Account (ESA) and a 529?
The most significant difference is the way you invest the money. With an ESA, you can choose almost any kind of investment option, including stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. In contrast, 529 plans are state sponsored, so your investment choices are limited to what that state allows. Another difference between the two is that an ESA offers more flexibility and more freedom to customize the account to your risk tolerance; however, with a 529 plan, you can contribute more each year to the account.
How do I know if my family is eligible for federal financial aid?
You will not find out how much financial aid you qualify for until you complete the federal government’s official aid application, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (also known as the FAFSA). However, the federal government has an online tool, the FAFSA4caster, which you can use ahead of time to see if your child might qualify for financial aid.
Even if you do not think your family is eligible for federal financial aid, it is important to complete the FAFSA form. By completing the FAFSA, undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at least half-time will be automatically eligible for the federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan. This low-interest federal student loan is not based on financial need.
How does the Federal Financial Aid process work?
The first step in the federal financial aid process is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. You will need to provide specific income and asset information for both you and your child. Next, a formula is applied that calculates a figure called the Expected Family Contribution or EFC. This figure is the amount of money your family must contribute to college expenses for that year before the federal government awards financial aid. Your child’s financial need is equal to the difference between the cost of attendance at your child’s college and your EFC. If the Expected Family Contribution is less than the school’s cost of attendance, your student qualifies for financial aid. Your financial adviser can guide you through the financial aid process and help you determine the best college funding method for your family.