Your own financial stability is the greatest financial gift you can give to your kids. Making sure that you're fully on track for retirement should be your top priority.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't open a college savings account; it just means that you should put "token" amounts in it while you shore up your retirement savings.
One benefit of college savings accounts is teaching your kids financial literacy
There are demonstrated benefits to having a college savings account, even a small one. You can start a great conversation with your child about the value of education and how you're saving for college. Whether you start by saving $10 or $150,000, it doesn't change that important conversation.
Be realistic about financial aid vs. expected family contribution
Getting an idea of what college is likely to actually cost your family is a really important priority. Many families have wildly inaccurate expectations about how much aid they might receive. This is understandable—the rules are pretty complicated, and there are multiple different calculations schools run.
Here's a quick general benchmark: many families with annual household income up to the low $200,000's will receive some aid under FAFSA. Above that, it's far less likely, though having multiple children in college at once can result in some aid up to closer to ~$300,000 annual household income.
But I don't want to mislead you: the amount schools will expect from your family (the "expected family contribution") is meaningful. Saving in advance is far more advantageous than trying to meet 100% of the expected contribution from that year's income. A strategy of "not saving in order to maximize aid" is ill-advised and will not reward you or your child. Learn more here.
An awesome thing about retirement accounts is they do not "count" as assets for financial aid calculations. They're a great way to build your wealth without negative impact on your child's financial aid.
Keep in mind that there are many ways to contribute to your child's education:
- Do everything you can to start early, but not at the expense of your own retirement
- Realize you will be expected to contribute a portion of your annual income to tuition
- Help your children pay down loans after graduation
There are many paths to success—the critical first step is to develop a plan ASAP. Our Financial Action Plan is a free and quick jumping off point you can use to get customized recommendations for college savings, life insurance planning, retirement, debt management, and more.
Or get started with our interactive AboveBoard College Savings Guide.