By Annie Stuart
Want to save for college, but just don’t know how to get started? Take a deep breath and take the first step. The sooner you do it, the better. This college savings checklist can help you navigate the process.
Gather up all of your financial documents listing your assets and debts. Consider meeting with a financial planner to see how saving for college fits your overall financial picture.
Calculate how much you’ll need for college, given annual increases in tuition and related costs.
Explore online financial calculators to help with budgeting. You can find a few at the Motley Fool, Bankrate or ClearCheckbook.
Discuss college costs with your teen, including private vs. public vs. community colleges, out-of-state tuition, living at home, work-study and part-time jobs, and transportation costs.
A prepaid tuition plan and a college savings plan both offer great tax savings. Study both to figure out which will work better for you and your child.
Study your state’s 529 plans and get more information at the College Savings Plan Network.
Find out how your taxes will be affected. Also be sure to understand any related fees and expenses, limitations, withdrawal restrictions, investment options and impacts on financial aid eligibility.
Start making regular contributions as early as you can.
Learn about Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) that let you make an annual nondeductible contribution to a special trust account.
Check out eligibility and contribution limits.
Compare the advantages of an ESA with a 529 plan. For example, you can use an ESA for K–12 and college. You can only use 529 plans for college, but these don’t impose age or contribution limits as do ESAs.
Find out if you’re eligible for an Individual Development Account (IDA) that helps low-income families save for college by matching each dollar saved. There are roughly 540 community-based and funded IDA programs in the U.S.
Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
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