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Juggling Retirement and College Savings

Aug 17, 2007
Most parents want to pay for their children's college education, or at the very least help pay for college. While it would be great for your children to be able to start like after college without student loans to pay off, the cost to parents may be too high.

The average annual cost of a 4-year public college is $12,127 (source: The College Board's Annual Survey of Colleges, 2005-2006), with 4-year private schools averaging $29,026 a year. College costs have been outpacing inflation by rising over 5% per year.

On the other hand, saving for retirement has become even more important as companies have started freezing or eliminating pension plans, and the future of Social Security continues to be uncertain.

Paying for both college and retirement will be challenging for most parents. Here are some suggestions to help you to achieve both goals:

* Have a plan. You should determine how much you will need for retirement and how much you anticipate your children will need for college.

* Start saving as soon as possible. Time is your greatest ally, whatever your savings goal. Figure out how much you are able to save each month, and setup an automatic plan as soon as possible.

* Prioritize - if you can't afford to save for both goals, retirement should take priority over saving for college. Your children can always borrow for college or earn scholarships; you can not borrow money for retirement.

* Save for both. Ideally, you'd like to be able to save for both goals at the same time. If you're able to, allocate money to both goals. You may wish to visit with a financial planner to determine how much should be allocated to each goal.

* Research - there are several different types of college savings accounts available. Find out which type of account will benefit you the most before you invest.

* Use retirement accounts to save for retirement and college. Retirement accounts can be tapped into to help pay college bills (IRA withdrawals can be taken penalty free for college expenses; Roth IRA contributions can be taken penalty and tax-free). However, you should only do this if it will not sacrifice your retirement savings.

The bottom line to getting the most out of your savings - prioritize your savings goals, have a plan in place, and start early.
About the Author
Kristine A. McKinley, CFP, CPA, and founder of Beacon Financial Advisors, offers financial and tax planning on an hourly, fee-only basis.

To sign up for free financial planning tips, worksheets, checklists and more, visit http://www.beacon-advisor.com.
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