If you’ve spent a few nights worrying about how to pay for college you’re not alone. The cost of college is a major concern for most families with good reason as it is increasing at a faster rate than inflation. Over the past 30 years the average cost of in-state tuition has risen by 146% for private four-year institutions, 150% for two-year colleges, and 225% for public four-year schools*. While many parents want to know how much they’ll need to save for their child’s education, getting an exact number can be difficult. There are lots of factors to consider including where the student will attend school and the type of institution. Use the information below to help in your planning.
*Baum, Sandy, and Jennifer Ma. Trends in College Pricing 2014. N.p.: The College Board, 2014.
Current College Costs
You can get an idea of how much to shoot for based upon the current costs of college and increasing it by 5% each year between now and the time your child plans to start college. Each college publishes their “cost of attendance” to help parents and students preplan the expenses associated with attending that college. This information can help you to determine whether or not the college is in reach for you financially. Remember, you don’t have to save 100%. The more you can save the less likely you will need to rely on financial aid, scholarships, loans and other sources.
The chart below uses data collected by the College Board to show the difference in total costs for colleges and different types of schools in selected regions of the United States.
Source: The College Board, Trends in College Pricing 2014. Assumes public two-year school costs are for in-state resident and commuting. Assumes public four-year school costs are for in-state residents living on campus. Assumes private four-year school costs are for living on campus.
Use Time to Help Reach Your College Savings Goals
Although saving for college might feel unattainable, like any major financial goal, it’s much easier to potentially achieve over time. In fact, time is one of your most valuable assets when it comes to saving for college. The more you invest and the earlier you start, the more opportunity your money has to grow.
This chart assumes a $5,000 lump sum investment, a $100 monthly investment and 6% annual rate of return. The calculations are for illustrative purposes only and the results are not indicative of the performance of any investments. The calculations do not reflect any plan fees or charges that may apply. If such fees or charges were taken into account, returns would have been lower. With any long-term investment, investment return may vary. Such automatic investment plans do not assure a profit or protect against losses in declining markets. This chart is for illustrative purposes only. Account value in the Investment Options is not guaranteed, and will fluctuate with market conditions.
If you don’t have an opportunity to save early, don’t despair. There’s no such thing as too late to start. Even if your child is starting college in two years, the way MESP works you could still have up to six years of account growth before your child graduates. And small amounts can make a difference. Every dollar that’s saved upfront is equal to more than two dollars needed to repay student debt over the life of a 25 year loan.
Remember, you don’t need to go it alone. Think about the grandparents, aunts and uncles, and close friends who give your child gifts. Tell them you’ve opened a 529 college savings plan and ask if they would be willing to give the gift of an education by contributing to the account on holidays and birthdays.