Throughout my career, I’ve worked with countless families navigating college financing with their savings, and they all started to save at different times. Thankfully, it’s never too early or too late to save. And I’d say the same thing to a high school family as I would to middle school or younger: Just start.
There’s plenty of headway you can still make during high school — whether you use college savings for freshman year or later. Money saved today is less borrowing tomorrow. Period.
If you have a high school student, this list is for you! Use these 5 savings tips to make the most of your time.
1. Start saving. Today.
It’s true: Every dollar saved is a dollar less you have to borrow. If you haven’t started saving for college, no worries. It’s never too late to start. Any amount helps cover future college expenses. And don’t forget to continue saving even after your child enrolls in their freshman year.
2. Revisit your savings strategy
For those already saving, keep it up. Continue setting aside as much as you can. If you’re saving in a 529 plan, great! Unlike traditional savings accounts, you won’t pay taxes on the earnings when the money is used for qualified education expenses.
Most families are familiar with state-based 529 savings plans. However, there’s a second option under the 529 umbrella: prepaid plans.
Prepaid plans offer less risk because the redemption value is not dependent on market rates. Instead, your savings lock in current rates at participating institutions. If your student is interested in public college, see if you live in one of the eight states currently offering a prepaid plan for in-state schools.
And you don’t have to choose between a 529 savings or prepaid plan. Both plans work well together. Prepaid lets you lock in tuition and fees, while a savings plan can be used for room and board and other educational expenses. And both plans offer the same federal tax benefits.
If you’re thinking about private college, you may want to consider another option. Private College 529 Plan allows you to prepay current rates at nearly 300 colleges across the country. The value of your prepaid tuition increases as tuition rates increase. There are no fees, and your prepaid tuition is guaranteed by the member colleges in the plan.
4. Seek guidance from professionals
As college gets closer, talk to your financial advisor for advice on the best investment approach. Typically, you want to minimize risk to avoid taking a significant loss when it’s time to pay the bill. As your college list tightens up, you may consider moving funds into a prepaid plan that isn’t market dependent.
5. Involve your student
Saving for college shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the adults. Students will need to pay for books, supplies, and personal items, and they’ll also need spending money. You could borrow to cover these expenses, but from my experience, students who use their own savings from a summer gig or part-time job are glad they helped to reduce or completely avoid student loan debt.
I encourage high school students to deposit part of every paycheck into a regular savings account. It’s rewarding to watch it grow, and they’ll be happy to have that money set aside for when they need it.