Strategies for Paying
Persistence comes in handy when you're looking for ways to meet
There's little question that
529 plans and
Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs)
deserve the positive attention they receive. But they're not the only way to pay for college.
Parents were successful in finding ways to foot tuition bills long before these plans were
introduced, and some of those earlier methods still merit investigation.
Several of these approaches, like taking a
home equity loan, involve long-term
commitments and a level of risk you'll have to consider carefully. But it pays to
know about the choices you have, since one of them may just be the solution you're
GIVING GIFTS TO MINORS
If you want to give your child - or any minor - substantial financial gifts,
you can set up a custodial account.
You or a person you select controls the account until the child reaches majority, which can be 18, 19, 21,
or 25 depending on the state where the account is set up and the type of account it is. It doesn't
cost anything to set up an account and the only fees are trading costs when you buy or sell
securities and the fees attached to
mutual funds or other investment
products you own in the account.
Custodial accounts fall under either the
Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) or the
Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA)
and are generally known by those acronyms. The major difference is that UTMA contribution rules are
more flexible, permitting assets such as real estate and fine art that don't produce regular earnings.
You can contribute as much or as little as you like to an UGMA or UTMA account, though annual gifts
over $14,000 (or $28,000 if a married couple filing a joint return makes the gift) are potentially
taxable to the giver. You can invest the assets
as you see fit. Any income or capital gains
tax that may be due each year is figured at the beneficiary's rate once the child is 19, or 24 if a student.
For younger children, tax on investment earnings over the exempt amount is figured at their parents' rate.
TAKE A SECOND LOOK
Custodial accounts may work well as college savings plans because you have
enormous discretion over how to invest the assets. The more confident you are about choosing a diversified portfolio,
the more attractive this approach may seem.
However, UGMAs and UTMAs also have some potential drawbacks.
- If the
applies for financial aid, she or he
will be expected to contribute up to 35% of the balance each year in keeping with the standard
- When the beneficiary reaches majority, she or he has the
right to assume control of the account.
- Any earnings are taxable, unlike earnings in a 529 or ESA.
You can buy special certificates of deposit, called
CollegeSure® CDs, which
let you prepay future college costs at today's rates, plus a premium based on the child's age
and the amount you invest. The CDs, issued by the College Savings Bank of Princeton (NJ), pay
annual interest rates linked to increases in an index of average college costs with an issue
margin and interest rate cap, linked to the CD's term.
Your CDs are insured up to a total of $250,000, and at maturity you're free
to use the money as you choose.
While these accounts guarantee a specific level of return, you may be able to earn more in a
diversified portfolio you put together yourself. And interest on the CDs is taxable, unless
you own them within a Coverdell education savings account or participating state 529 plan.
For more information, go to
HOME EQUITY LOANS
Your biggest ace in the hole when it comes to paying for
college may be the equity you've
built up in your home. That's because you can usually borrow more cheaply with a
home equity loan or
home equity line of credit (HELOC)
than with any personal loan, and the interest you pay may be tax deductible in most
circumstances, lowering the cost of the loan even more.
If you bought your home when your child was small, the original
mortgage may be nearly paid off.
That makes it easier to arrange an equity loan. And writing a check to the lender every month won't
come as such a financial shock since you've been making mortgage payments all along.
Home equity loans are not a perfect solution, though. First, the money has to be paid back, usually
starting immediately. And, if for some reason you
default, or fail to pay back your loan, you run the very real risk of losing your home.
DEGREES FOR LESS
If you're looking for other ways to save money on college costs, you might
consider encouraging your child to consider an accelerated program:
Some colleges offer credit for high school advanced placement courses, which
could mean finishing a degree a semester, or even two, early.
Credits earned at local colleges during summer school may count toward
graduation and can reduce the number of semesters required.
Some colleges offer three-year programs that move students through their
required courses more quickly.
Two years at a community or junior college before transferring to a four-year
college or university will help lower the total cost of a degree.
A BOND DEAL
Baccalaureate bonds are something else to keep an eye out for. Some states issue special
tax-exempt zero-coupon bonds,
usually sold in small denominations so you can build up a portfolio of them on your own investment schedule.
Because the bonds mature on a specific date, you can time them so you'll have cash on hand every
semester or every year. Some of them provide an extra bonus if you use the money to pay tuition at
an in-state school. But if you sell these bonds before they mature, you stand a good chance of losing
money, as well as depleting funds you'll need for college.
WHAT'S NOT SMART
One of the conflicts you may wrestle with is whether
to use the money you've invested for retirement to pay for your child's
education. Most financial advisers think it's a bad idea because it
may leave you short of income later on. But if it makes the difference
between your child's going to school or not, you may consider a loan
from your employer's plan — if the plan allows loans — or
a withdrawal from your IRA.
The loan isn't income, so there's no tax. But if you leave your job
before repaying the full amount, the balance will be considered an
early withdrawal, subject to tax and a federal tax penalty if you're
younger than 59½.
If you take money from your traditional IRA, you'll owe income tax
on the earnings portion of the amount you withdraw and on the contribution
portion if you deducted it, though not a prepayment penalty. That's
because paying college expenses is considered one of the legitimate
reasons for early withdrawal.
If you withdraw only the contribution portion of a Roth IRA, no tax is due because
you have already paid the tax due. But if you also withdraw earnings, those amounts
will be taxable at the same rate you pay on your ordinary income. Here, too, there's no
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