Think about this: College tuitions, books, fees and housing continue to increase at a rate faster than inflation in general. Based on current trends, the cost of sending just two kids to a private or elite college for a total of eight years will cost more than $360,000 if paid after taxes. This means that those in the 28 percent tax bracket need to earn more than $500,000 in order to meet the costs from cash flow.
Regardless of where you send your kids to school, the bottom-line fact is this: How you pay for college impacts how much you save for retirement. For every dollar that you save on college costs means more for your personal retirement down the road.
There are a number of strategies you can use to improve your chances at a better retirement and a solid education at a lower personal cost.
There are more than thirteen strategies for increasing needs-based aid. There are at least a dozen cost-cutting ways that any family - regardless of income, savings or school you're considering - can use to improve their bottom line.
Ultimately, it depends on how well you know how to use the IRS code for your advantage to lower your own Expected Family Contribution (or EFC in financial aid parlance).
Regardless of whether you expect to qualify for needs-based aid or not, here are some examples of cost-cutting strategies available to you.
Strategy 1: Get College Credit Through Exams
By taking Advanced Placement exams or even a “challenge” exam for basic college courses, a student can get through school quicker potentially saving thousands in tuition and fees. Opportunities are available for Advanced Placement (AP), College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) or DSST exams for 37 different courses. For more information on these, check out www.collegeboard.com or www.getcollegecredit.com.
Strategy 2: Stay Local
In-state tuition and fees at a public higher education institution is a bargain compared to the elites and even crossing the border to go to another state’s public college. If you are considering going across the border or away, consider having your child establish residency in that state. Find out what the residency requirement are ahead of time by contacting the admissions office.
Strategy 3: Get the Credit You Deserve from the IRS
Use the Hope Education Credit, renamed the “American Opportunity Tax Credit.” This was recently increased to $2,500 (from $1,200) and now applies to all four years of college, not just the first two. In addition, forty-percent of the credit is now refundable. Another helping-hand comes in the form of the Lifetime Learning Credit which is available for one family member and allows you to take up to 40% credit on educational expenses up to $10,000. Income limits apply so be sure to consult a qualified tax professional or visit www.irs.gov.
Strategy 4: Employ Your Child
If you own a business, work as an independent contractor or own rental real estate, consider hiring your child to work for you. Maybe your child can provide administrative support or help with marketing or real estate related chores. By hiring a child and paying him or her, you will lower your own personal taxable income through a business expense deduction and provide income for your child. In addition, the child can use the earnings to open a Roth IRA, a tax-favored retirement account which is not assessed as an asset for financial aid purposes. And if needed, a child can withdraw a portion of the proceeds to pay for qualified educational expenses. There are certain limits and time restrictions that apply.
Strategy 5: Establish a Section 127 Educational Assistance Plan
As a business owner you can establish a Section 127 employer-paid tuition benefits program for your employees. This plan allows the business owner to pay up to $5,250 per year to employees (including employed children) as a qualified tax deductible expense. This can be used for both undergraduate and graduate programs of study. Assuming that Junior was going to work in the family business during the summer and throughout the year, Junior can earn a wage (deductible expense for the business) which he can use for his own support and Roth IRA contribution (which may be eligible for paying educational expenses) and earn a tuition benefit (another deductible business expense). If you were going to give the child the money anyway, you may as well structure it to be tax deductible.
Consider this: There are more than 110 different other strategies for you to consider. All the more reason to have a coordinated plan in place by speaking with a professional advisor who can help evaluate these options with you.
More food for thought:
- Encourage your pre-teen to open a Roth IRA with earnings from their paper route or other jobs.
- Consider hiring your child to work in your business or help with chores related to your investment property.
- Use a CollegeSure CD issued by an FDIC-insured bank to accumulate savings
- Think about using a fixed income annuity to hold a portion of money for college to avoid the potential loss in principal that can happen with a 529 plan invested in mutual funds.
- Consider tax-shifting by gifting highly appreciated assets (like that Apple stock you own) to your child who can sell it to fund school and pay capital gains at a lower tax rate.
- Pursue private and merit-based scholarships (For more information on some of these options, check out www.fastweb.com, the CollegBoard and www.scholarshipexperts.com .
- Contact a qualified financial planning professional who can help prepare a custom College Funding and Tax Scholarship Plan.