As the father of two grown children, I would like to offer a little advice to those of you who are new to parenthood. Do not wait until your children are in high school to start thinking about how you are going to pay for college. In fact, start saving before you even think about where they are going to go for kindergarten.
I encourage you not to file this away with a vague idea of starting a college savings plan in January, when you make your New Year’s resolutions. Start now, in September, which is College Savings Month.
College is expensive. In Louisiana, we have TOPS, but TOPS does not pay for everything. Also, more and more kids are not settling for a bachelor’s degree. They want to aim higher by going to law school or getting a master’s degree.
Here is another bit of advice: Do not be intimidated by the thought of saving for college. The 529 plans, like Louisiana’s Student Tuition and Revenue Trust (START) program, make it easy to manage monthly contributions while also juggling a mortgage, car payment and the other household bills. You can open an account with as little as $10.
A 529 plan is a state-sponsored college savings plan. Most states have one. The tax and investment advantages make a 529 plan preferable to simply opening a savings account at the bank.
Louisiana’s START Saving program allows you to make regular deposits that you can deduct from your Louisiana income taxes. The state of Louisiana invests the money, allowing it to grow. If the money is used for qualified education expenses (tuition, room and board, fees, books and supplies), the earnings are exempt from state and federal taxes.
START does not require you to make all of the investment decisions, but you are still in control of the approach. You can be conservative or aggressive. It is up to you.
Our children grow up fast. One minute, you are wondering if they will ever sleep through the night. The next minute, they are applying for college.