Smart College Planning for Your Kid

4 Minute Read

No parent wants to send their kid out into the world unable to experience the joys of life as a working adult. But that’s exactly what’s happening to many young adults who graduate from college. With an average of $27,000 in student loan debt, they’re delaying major life milestones like starting a family, buying a home, and even saving for the future.

And somehow, we’re made to believe this is normal.


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You might think college can’t be done without debt, but Rachel Cruze, Dave’s daughter, begs to differ. She shares the secret to making it happen in a new book she wrote with her dad called Smart Money Smart Kids.

“I believe the two keys to graduating debt free are pretty simple: hard work and preparation,” Rachel says.

Savings Plans That Make the Grade

If you’ve got some time before your kid graduates from high school, start by investing in an Education Savings Account (ESA). An ESA works a lot like a Roth IRA because your savings grow tax-free. You can contribute up to $2,000 per year per child. Use your ESA to invest in good growth stock mutual funds with a history of strong returns. Income limits do apply, so talk to your investing professional to see if you qualify.

If you want to invest more than $2,000 per year, a 529 plan is a great option because it also grows tax-free. Just be aware that bad 529 plans exist. Avoid pre-paid tuition plans and those with fixed investment options. A good 529 plan lets you control which funds to invest in and how much you invest in each type.

Before you put any money away for college, you should be out of debt with three to six months of expenses in your emergency fund. You should also be contributing 15% of your income into retirement. Yes, your nest egg comes first! Retirement is certain; college is not. If you don’t have the money to fund both, you’re not a bad parent. Your kid can either pay for college now or your retirement later. You can bet college is the cheaper option.

Late Start? Let Junior Pitch In

So what if you’re the parent of a high school senior? Time may not be on your side, but that doesn’t mean hope is lost. With a little skin in the game, Junior can still get a great debt-free education. Here’s how:

Choose an Affordable College: It’s time to stop thinking of college as a right and start to realize it’s a major purchase. So treat it like one and shop around. In-state public universities offer a great education for a fraction of the cost of out-of-state or private schools. Junior can save even more by knocking out his first two years of prerequisites at a local community college then transferring to a state university to complete his last two years.

Apply for Scholarships and Grants: Senior year gives Junior the opportunity to earn free money by applying for scholarships and grants. And he doesn’t have to be a straight-A student to take home the prize. Dig deep and you’ll find all sorts of opportunities to save a buck. Encourage Junior to start early and submit as many applications as possible. A little hard work on the front end pays off in the long run!

Get a Job: If you think Junior’s grades will suffer if he works his way through college, think again. A part-time job could actually help! Research shows that students who work 10–19 hours a week have higher GPAs on average than those who don’t. Being financially invested in his own education just might be what Junior needs to kick it into high gear and graduate in four years!

A Future You Can Feel Confident About

If you really want to be smart about college planning, enlist the help of a pro. A good investing professional will look at where you are today and help you come up with a plan for tomorrow. Don't know where to start? Find an investing professional in your area.

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