It's been a long haul. You've spent a great deal of time planning for the day your son or daughter would go off to college – and that time is approaching rapidly. Now that all your preparation is almost over, what should you do next? Below are 6 things to consider as your children begin life after high school.
Regardless of how much money you've been able to set aside for college, you can continue contributing to education savings accounts, within limits, after your children are enrolled in classes. This is a good time to talk with your financial advisor about any adjustments that might be needed in your accounts, and to see if you should explore additional funding options.
If your family has a 529 college savings plan, withdrawals can be made tax- and penalty-free as long as they're for qualified expenses at an eligible institution. Qualified expenses include tuition, room and board, transportation, books and supplies. If you're paying college costs using your investment portfolio, however, all earnings are taxed at the usual rate, except you're not limited by how much you can contribute each year. Talk with your financial advisor and tax professional about what will work best for your family.
It never hurts to investigate what kind of aid is available from federal, state, local and private funding sources. A good place to start is www.studentaid.ed.gov/funding, which provides information and links about student financial assistance. Complete all necessary financial aid forms, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You also can estimate how much aid your child might qualify to receive at www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov.
Depending on the institution, payments can be handled in different ways, so the earlier you become familiar with the policy at your child's chosen college, the better. Are you able to transfer money electronically from your account to the school, or will you have to request a check payable to you, the student or his or her university? Are payment plans offered at the college or university, or will you be required to pay expenses by the semester? The bursar's office should be able to shed light on these and other financial considerations prior to your child's enrollment.
Now that your son or daughter is almost ready for the college experience, it may be time to discuss putting a budget in place. First, you should go over spending expectations and how much you will be providing for his or her expenses. Are you paying for everything, or just tuition? Is your child planning to live in campus housing, or will he or she choose an off-campus location – or continue living at home? Depending on how much money is available and what you agree to do, the student might need a part-time job to help with bills.
Now that your child is heading off to school, you're likely to spend less on items such as groceries and utilities. You might even want to downsize your home. If any of that is the case, it might be possible for you to begin depositing more money into your employer-sponsored or individual retirement account (IRA). Depending on your age and the plans you have, you can make larger catch-up contributions to help fill any gaps that might have occurred while you were saving for your child's education. Talk with your financial advisor to see what you can do to maximize your retirement savings now that your children are spreading their wings.