How do I pay for college without robbing retirement?
Many of our clients list their children’s and grandchildren’s education near the top of their financial goals. This shared family value is passed from one generation to the next through humorous stories, poignant memories, stated expectations … and college savings.
At the same time, new challenges continue to spring up. From creating a college list to navigating need-and merit-based aid, not to mention athletic scholarships and your student’s list of dream schools, it’s a bumpy path from here to a four-year (or graduate) degree. Many families wonder whether their current savings strategy is sufficient. And, is it efficient? Perhaps most importantly, they ask us, “How do I pay for college without robbing retirement?”
For new clients, we first assess the family’s retirement readiness. This allows us to get a basic idea of whether current assets and income can be diverted to paying for college, or if retirement savings should be the focus. Next, we look at the five sources of college funding for each family:
That last category may include financial support from extended family members, local and employer scholarships – even your state!
We’ll sum these resources to arrive at a four-year budget. Similar to a home-buyer getting pre-approved for a mortgage, this four-year spending target for college keeps your student safe from a debt burden out of line with his or her earnings potential. Without ruling out any undergraduate institution, we can act as a buffer between the business side of American universities and your family. This saves relationships and minimizes heartache for parents and students alike.
Mike and Kate came to us having just turned 50. They had enrolled both of their sons in a local private high school that aligned with their values and goals for their sons. However, high school tuition cost more than they’d expected; their sensible money habits left them ineligible for much aid there. Now the money they’d set aside from the sale of a rental property was being depleted, and the boys hadn’t even started college yet!
Fortunately, Mike and his employers had been contributing to his 401k plans for three decades, and it showed. The couple realized they could ease up on their retirement savings for the next six to eight years without jeopardizing their financial security. They navigated the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), then started adjusting their family balance sheet in tax-efficient and aid-favorable ways. We helped them establish accounts in alignment with their goals. We also encouraged the family to keep an open mind about the schools on their son’s list, once he’d been accepted.
They were able to appeal the financial award from their son’s dream school, which came back with a better offer. Initially dismissed as ‘too expensive,’ that school’s additional financial awards brought it within their family’s four-year college budget. Off he goes … We’re almost as excited as Mike and Kate!