Funding Future Education Expenses

Summer is coming to a close (Ok, Ok - Winter is Coming!). A lot of families have switched from juggling careers, vacations, and summer camps to juggling careers, school schedules, and kid’s sports.

It’s usually a bit of a shock when a child goes from elementary, to middle, and then on to high school. And then there’s college… It happens faster than we’d like to admit. This is a common time of year for many people to have school and future education funding on their mind.

Many parents I work with are dedicated to providing some education support to their children. There are several different options for funding education, so let’s review some of the basics.

Pay out of pocket as expenses occur

If you have the cash flow, great! But many people don’t, especially with multiple children in school at the same time. Also, by waiting to save, the potential for future income fluctuations may impact later years. This option also does not have the tax advantages of a Coverdell or 529.

Coverdell Education Savings Account

If you’re planning to send your child(ren) to a private primary/secondary school, this is one to check out – unlike 529’s withdrawals for qualified education expenses can include K-12 expenses in addition to college and graduate school. Its main drawback is that only $2,000 per year can be contributed per child, and there are income phase-outs for the ability to contribute. IRS Coverdell Information

Also keep in mind that contributions must be made before the beneficiary reaches age 18, and the account holdings need to be used before the beneficiary reaches the age of 30.

In terms of investment options, Coverdell accounts are very flexible, although the relatively low balances may limit some investments to maximize diversification.

For purposes of financial aid, the balance of the Coverdell is considered an asset of the parents.

529 College Savings Account

529 Plans offer higher non-deductible contribution limits than other options - some plans allow $300,000+ per beneficiary. Earnings are excluded from income when used for qualified higher education expenses including: tuition, fees, books, computers and related equipment, supplies, special needs; room & board for at least half time students.

Contributions are subject to the annual gift tax limits (currently $14,000), however, the IRS allows pre-gifting up to 5 years, if no other gifts are made to the beneficiary during the 5-year period and the donor lives 5 years. Parents, aunts/uncles, friends (very good ones!), and grandparents can all contribute! Another bonus – there are no income phase-outs or limitations on income to contribute.

Balances can be used for undergraduate and/or graduate programs. Beneficiaries can be changed within the family. If there is a remaining balance, or a child decides not to attend college, that’s a handy option!

Investments for 529 accounts are limited to mutual funds available in the plan chosen. Since only one rollover to a different plan is allowed per year without triggering a 10% penalty on earnings, it’s important to carefully evaluate fees and investment options for the plan chosen.

For purposes of financial aid, the balance of the 529 is considered an asset of the parents.

529 Prepaid Tuition Plans

Just a quick note for these plans – many states have discontinued Prepaid Tuition Plans. Generally, they are more restrictive than College Savings Plans and that has led to their decline. If you have specific questions regarding the differences between a 529 College Savings and Prepaid Tuition plan, please contact your financial advisor or plan administrator for more information.

Financial Aid/Scholarships

As of 2012, 57% of undergraduate students received some form of federal financial aid, including federally subsidized loans, work-study funds, and grants. When it comes to aid, the devil really is in the details! Use the resources of high school counselors, community resources around the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and resources from the college of choice.

Don’t let the sticker price of a college or university keep you from looking into it. Research their typical aid packages. Sometimes the out of pocket cost to a higher ‘sticker price’ school can be less than the out of pocket cost for another school with lower published rates! Check out this site to search by several factors, including the availability of aid: Big Future by The College Board

Every parent’s dream is to have their child qualify for a scholarship! A question that comes up often is, “what happens to a 529 if my child receives a scholarship?”. Great question! You have a lot of options: you can change the beneficiary to someone else in the family, keep the 529 in place in case the scholarship recipient decides to go to graduate school, or withdraw the funds. Receiving a scholarship is one of VERY few exceptions to a 10% penalty on earnings when funds are withdrawn for anything other than qualified higher education expenses.


Before you begin: As a parent with the best intentions and wishes for your child(ren), take a moment to answer this question: Will my financial stability be compromised (now or later) by contributing to this education fund?

It’s incredibly hard to use Spock-like levels of logic when making decisions about your children’s education. However, at the end of the day, there are a lot of ways to pay for education, but only one way to pay for retirement and health related expenses. Please consider your own financial health a top priority!


All written content is for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are solely those of Bridge Financial Planning, LLC, unless otherwise specifically cited.  Material presented is believed to be from reliable sources and no representations are made by our firm as to another parties’ informational accuracy or completeness.  All information or ideas provided should be discussed in detail with an advisor, accountant, or legal counsel prior to implementation.