Before college

 
Ready to get a head start on saving for college? Here are five strategies to help keep you on the right track.
1

Understand college costs

Think college is too high-priced? Calculating the cost of college depends on which school you choose and how much financial aid you'll receive. Tuition and fees take the lion's share of your income, with annual costs rising 6%—more than twice the rate of inflation. Start comparing public, private, community and in- and out-of-state schools to get a ballpark figure on cost. Then you can start to estimate how much you need to invest based on your timeframe and budget.
Before you go into sticker shock, here's good news: Many families rely on a number of sources to help pay for college.
View the Paying for College infographic to see how they typically do it.

Tip: Ask friends and family to get involved

College savings tip
Instead of giving a traditional gift, grandparents, relatives and friends can contribute to a child's college investing account on holidays, birthdays and special occasions. You can even get your children involved in saving by contributing a portion of their allowance or job earnings toward their future.
2

Start saving now

With college costs on the rise, saving now can pay off later. That's because starting early allows more time and opportunity for your investments to grow—and can reduce the amount you have to borrow. Setting aside even a little can make a big difference in helping you meet the future cost of college. Remember, it's never too soon or too late to start saving. Every dollar saved is one less you may need to repay with interest.

Tax-free growth makes a big difference

The tax-advantaged structure of a 529 savings plan can help your money grow
Source: Merrill Lynch Wealth Management®, 2013

Tip: Put your savings on autopilot

College savings tip
Make contributions directly into your savings or investment account with automated bank transfers or payroll deductions so you never have to worry about missing a payment.
3

Explore 529 plans and custodial accounts

Whether you're investing for a child, grandchild, family member or even yourself, you can find the right account to meet your college planning goals.

529 College Savings Plans

A tax-advantaged investment plan operated by each state with high contribution limits to help you pay for college expenses

Custodial Accounts (UGMA/UTMA)

A taxable account opened on a child's behalf that can be used for education or any expense that benefits that child
4

Fund a return to school

Thinking about getting an advanced degree or finishing an education? Get the know-how you need to reduce the cost of going back school—no matter your age or interest.

Grants and scholarships:

Federal and state governments are the largest providers of gift aid, but many colleges also offer grants and scholarships based on need or merit.

Employer-sponsored programs:

Many employers offer tuition reimbursement for career-related courses. Check to see if your benefits cover financial assistance for advanced learning.

Working while in school:

Taking a few classes a semester to finish a degree? You can scale back your hours at work and attend school part-time to qualify for government financial aid.

Tip: The more you learn, the more you earn

College savings tip
College graduates will earn about 84% more over their lifetime than someone with a high school diploma. And people with advanced degrees fare even better, earning as much as 47% more annually than those with bachelor's degrees.
Compare unemployment rates and median lifetime earnings by level of education
Source: Current Population Survey, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014
5

Balance college savings with other life priorities

Investing in your child's education is a goal that should be set with other life priorities, like retirement. Instead of tapping into your nest egg to cover tuition costs, consider all funding sources to avoid jeopardizing your own financial health.

Balance long- and short-term goals
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