Many parents have questions about how soon they should start contributing money towards their child's college savings plan, and how much they should set aside each month. Before we get to that math, there are a few questions you need to answer first.
How much do you intend to contribute to your child's college savings plan?
Do you intend to cover your child's full cost of tuition, room, and board? If not, what can you afford to contribute each year? Is a private college or university education off the table? According to the 2017 edition of Sallie Mae's annual study “How America Pays for College”, parents' savings and income only accounted for 23 percent of the sources used to pay for college. If you are unable to help finance your child's full education in your college savings plan, it's important to be open with them about financial aid options.
How much will college cost?
According to Buzzfeed News, the cost of a four-year college in 18 years could add up to $500,000 for a private college or $250,000 for a public university. There are several handy online tools available that you can use to estimate your child's future cost of tuition, as well as the amount of money you will need to start saving per month to cover the amount you intend to contribute. The College Board's College Cost Calculator and SavingforCollege.com's World's Simplest College Cost Calculator are two examples.
Does that magic college savings number work for you?
The sticker shock you're probably suffering from is normal. If the numbers you see just aren't feasible, then it's time to investigate other financial aid opportunities. Student loans for college are always a viable option for both students and their parents, and of course, there are a wide range of scholarship opportunities available. You can learn more about the different types of financial aid and how student loans work in the Protective Learning Center.
Should you start saving money for college now?
The sooner you can contribute to your child's college savings, the longer you'll allow any returns to accrue, and the more money you could have to contribute to your child's academic career. According to an article from Business Insider, you will need to set aside $374 a month for 22 years to I just to cover a four-year, in-state college tuition. Even if you can't save the fully amount, it's a good idea to begin saving as much as you can. Here's a handy primer on the 529 College Plan.
If you aim to cover as much of your child's college expenses with your college savings plan as you possibly can, it's important to start now. If you can't afford to set anything aside at the moment, be aware that the longer you wait to start saving, the more you'll have to save per month in the future.
NOTE: As of 2018, the IRS has amended the term “qualified higher education expense” to include a limited amount of annual expenses from a 529 Plan for tuition at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school. Source: www.irs.gov/newsroom/529-plans-questions-and-answers.