With the hustle and bustle of life with young children, it can be hard for us, as parents, to give much thought to things that seem far away. One thing that is often put off or not given the attention it deserves is saving for college. However, the closer your children get to high school, the more important this topic becomes. After all, talk of college is typically followed by thoughts of how to pay for it. The thing is, saving for your child’s education isn’t as scary of a topic as most parents think it is, and automating it early on, when kids are young, takes a lot of the stress out. It also ensures that the savings method you choose has enough time to accumulate funds deep enough to make a dent in their college costs. This article covers a few of the very best methods I have found to save for college, all of which can be automated.
This couldn’t be an article about saving for college without a discussion of the benefits of 529 college savings plans. These are also known as Qualified Tuition Programs, and they allow parents to invest after-tax money into the plans for future use. The amazing benefit of 529 plans is that funds can be used tax-free later on to pay for qualified college costs, and that includes not just the original amount invested but also any gain on the investment. These plans make the return on investment tax-free for you and your child. Each plan is different and they are offered by the states, so find out about options to automate this type of investment with your employer and CPA. More than likely, you can have money taken from each paycheck and automatically deposited into a 529 plan account.
Prepaid College Tuition Plans
Prepaid college tuition plans allow parents to lock in tuition prices today in order to avoid price hikes and inflation later. Much like 529 plans, not all states offer these programs, although most do. One caveat is that these plans are designed around big state universities, so if your child is still young it can be very difficult to guess whether they will want to go to a particular school. The good news is, these plans are usually transferable to a sibling (as are 529 plans, above). If you do decide to enroll in a prepaid tuition plan, talk to your employer and CPA about automating the process with direct deposit from your paycheck or primary checking account, so that once you set it up you no longer have to think about it.
Registering with Upromise is sort of a no-brainer. The company, which has been around since 2000, operates the Upromise Rewards Program, a loyalty program which allows customers to transform their reward credits earned on everyday purchases into cash invested into 529 plans. Eligible purchases include groceries, online retailers, restaurants, and even travel expenses. The next time you book a vacation, it could result in extra money toward future college expenses—automatically!
Invest Your Spare Change
These days, there’s an app for virtually anything you want to track or do, from finances to fitness. Saving for college is no exception. One app that I discovered recently and love to use is Acorns! It automatically invests your spare change from purchases into a portfolio that is customizable by you. Anything that automates saving is wonderful in my book, and although the funds are not going into a college savings plan per se, this is still an easy and useful way to save for future expenses. Acorn even lets you set up recurring daily, weekly, or monthly investments and make one-time deposits into your investment portfolio. Referring friends to Acorns is another way to grow your savings. And if you aren’t comfortable with using apps for this, some banks offer similar “round up” programs that will round up your checking account purchases to the nearest dollar and deposit the difference into a savings account. This makes saving little-by-little very easy and it adds up over time.
Although there are lots of specialized options out there, you don’t need anything fancy in order to automate college savings for your child. Almost all employers will help you arrange for a portion of your direct deposit paycheck to be diverted into a savings account, which can be held for future college expenses. Once your balance becomes significant, it will make sense to put money into a long-term CD or investment portfolio, but in the meantime it’s an easy way to ensure you get the ball rolling.
Dave Chen got his start into the persona finance game when he began freelance writing out of college. This led him to start his own blog: MillennialPersonalFinance.com. Now he blogs about all things finance during his journey out of debt.