Helping Your Grandchildren With College Costs
With graduation season approaching, questions about helping grandchildren pay for college have started to trickle in from several members.
These all come as a result of one of the three biggest goals I’ve found our Relaxing Retirement members have, and that is helping their children and grandchildren get off to a better start than they did.
There are several factors that go into selecting the best way to go, such as the child’s age, and thus proximity to college, the family’s financial aid strategy, and the amount of money you’re looking to invest.
However, in the overwhelming majority of cases with our members, the answer is pretty straightforward: 529 College Savings Plans.
And, I will focus on them in this edition because it really is the only way you can exercise control.
A strategy of hoping for financial aid is just that: hoping. As you know, the priorities of the government change all the time so counting on financial aid is not a sound long term strategy.
Let’s take a look at the benefits of 529 Plans:
- 529 plans are set up with you (or your child) as the ‘custodian’ and the grandchild as the beneficiary. You may have all investment statements and correspondence sent to you exclusively, or to your grandchild as well.
- You retain control of how the money is invested in the plan. Most plans offer a large selection of investment options as well as ‘age based portfolios’ where the company automatically adjusts the allocation of the investments to coincide with your grandchild’s age and years remaining before the money is needed to pay for college.
- All money deposited into the plan grows tax deferred just like your IRA. This is the first BIG long term benefit. You will not receive a 1099 each year to report gains on your tax return.
- As long as the money is used to pay for education expenses, such as room, board, tuition, books, etc., all money is withdrawn from the plan tax free, similar to a Roth IRA. This is the biggest benefit. Imagine how 18 years of growth would be taxed under normal circumstances!
- If your grandchild decides not to go to college, you have two choices:
- you may transfer the balances in the plan to another grandchild without paying taxes, or
- your grandchild will pay taxes on the gains generated in the plan over the years when he or she withdraws the money to pay for anything other than college.
- Plans have become very liberal, so your grandchild may use the money to pay for virtually any college. In other words, most plans don’t have a limited “approved” list such as in-state schools only.
- The last big benefit is that it’s an estate planning tool for you. All funds deposited into a 529 Plan are considered a gift and are removed from your taxable estate. Over the years, many Relaxing Retirement members have used this technique to systematically move funds out of their estate which would otherwise be taxed as high as 50% when they pass away.
The last factor you’ll want to consider is which 529 college savings plan to invest in. There are several good ones out there. Take your time to evaluate the quality of investment options offered and the fees they charge to run the program.
Tax deferred or not, what drives the real value of these plans, like all other investments, is the quality of the underlying investments themselves.
Then, once you’ve set the plan up, step back and feel great about the fact that you’re helping your grandchildren get off to a better start than you did.
Imagine how your grandchild may feel someday when he or she finds out that the reason they’re able to go to the school they want is because you helped pay for it by investing for them!
That will make it all worth it.
Committed To Your Relaxing Retirement,
The Retirement Coach
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