Invest in your kids

John Osbon - April 24, 2012

529 plans, also known as “qualified tuition plans” have been available since 2001 and are designed to encourage saving for higher education through tax deferral. In my opinion, they are one of the sweetest deals around.  It’s no wonder 529s have grown to total more than $144 billion.

Here are some client comments about 529s, and why they use them.

College costs may make you dizzy

With the cost of one year of private school college tuition and room and board now over $50k in many cases, new parents may not even want to think about how much they’ll eventually pay. But they should. Today’s newborns may face four-year college costs from $280k – $550k in 18 years!

I know.

On the other hand, a college degree is valuable. Graduates earn significantly more and have more career choices. Here’s what the Census Bureau has to say about the value of a college education:

Value Of A College Education

LEVEL OF EDUCATION AVERAGE ANNUAL EARNINGS
Grades 9–11

$25,100

High School Graduate

$32,200

Some College, No Degree

$38,900

Associate Degree

$41,200

Bachelor’s Degree

$54,800

Master’s Degree or Higher

$72,200

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006, PINC-03

With all these numbers in mind, I polled Osbon Capital clients about their use of 529 plans. (This SEC site is a great reference explaining 529 plans, by the way.) The responses I received showed admirable foresight and highlighted the long-term benefits of 529s.

A tax incentive that works

Respondents stressed the tax benefit as a big part of their decision to use 529s:

J: “We have 529s because of their tax advantages. We use our home state’s plan because of the extra state tax deduction.”

D: “529 plans are an example of a tax incentive that works.”

C: “I love having something that’s tax free!”

I agree completely. There are fewer and fewer tax breaks available to investors.  Contributions to retirement accounts (tax-deferred) are limited by amount and income. Tax, interest, medical, and charitable deductions have become progressively more limited. Tax shelters are a thing of the past.

529s help you save for one of your most important life expenses and do it free of taxes, both as you accumulate and spend higher education dollars. It’s an obvious win-win.

Save now. Benefit later.

Clients recognized the importance of saving, even when college is many years off:

J: “We’ve ‘front-loaded’ our elementary-school-aged children’s 529s with what we expect will be all the money they’ll need for college, to get the maximum benefit of the tax-free growth. If we’ve put in too much, the penalties for withdrawing it for other purposes don’t seem too severe.”

C: “Having these accounts with the money segregated offers me some peace of mind.”

D: “As to how much I invest, like most other people, not enough.”

For grandparents too

One of the most interesting responses to my informal poll was this story about the potential multigenerational benefits 529s can have:

C: “The reason I started with the 529 plans was for my parents to have a vehicle to invest and contribute to their grandchildren’s education.   Education was an extremely important theme in my dad’s life. (He was basically an orphan from age 2 and went to MIT on scholarship, received a PhD in chemical engineering and made a wonderfully happy, productive and successful life for himself and his family.) He was looking for a vehicle like the 529 plan. He didn’t want his money going to his grandchildren’s pursuit of a BMW!”

 
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