Archive for College Planning

Mid-Year Financial Check-Up: 4 things you should think about now

financial check-up

It’s July already????

 

Yikes, 2017 has gone by quickly!  Time to do a financial check-up on those New Year’s Resolutions to see how you are doing.  I don’t know what your resolutions were, so here are a few common ones that there is still time to tackle.  BEFORE you are making your resolutions for 2018, that is.

 

College

 

  1. Starting a 529 plan for your kids’ college. It doesn’t have to be much.  Just $50 to start and $25/month can get you going in a Colorado Direct Investment portfolio managed by Vanguard.

Retirement

 

  1. Increasing your 401(k) contribution at least 1% from last year. Most plans let you go online and change your savings amount any time during the year.  Don’t delay!  Save more today!

Health Benefits

 

  1. Use your Flexible Benefits Account money. Did you set aside pre-tax money this year to finally get those glasses, map those moles, fix that tooth, or other medical procedures you’ve been putting off?  That money has to be spent by year-end, so get those appointments made!

Budget

 

  1. Use an app to see how much you are really spending on…clothes, liquor, lunches out, fishing gear, workout clothes, kids’ sports, whatever! Try mint.com, youneedabudget.com, mvelopes.com for free and easy ways to track spending.

 

Okay, that’s enough for now.  If you do even two of those four items before the Fourth of July fireworks, I’ll consider it a victory.

What are the Odds? A look at sports scholarships.

sports

Are you game?

 

I admit it. Often when we go to my kids’ sports games I bring along a guy who yells at my kids from the sidelines.  He is their father, so I don’t have much choice.  Occasionally, I’ve been known to say a few loud-ish words myself.

 

Why do we put such importance on performance in sports?  For our family, we are mostly concerned with the effort the boys are showing.  If they just sit back and chew their nails during a game, we are irritated even if the team won.  If our boys display hard work and effort, we are happy even if the team loses.

 

Some parents are hoping their little Bo Jacksons will do them the favor of paying for college tuition with their athletic efforts.  If that’s the case, you may want to know which sports to concentrate on to have the best chance.

 

Odds are….

 

From a study done by Patrick O’Rourke and quoted in this article of Market Watch, here are the sports in which kids are statistically most likely to earn scholarships (talent and effort not included).

 

For men, the best ratios of college scholarships to high school athletes are

  • gymnastics (20:1)
  • fencing (22:1)

The worst odds are in

  • wrestling (176:1)
  • volleyball (177:1).

 

For women, the highest odds are

  • rowing (2:1)
  • equestrian (3:1)
  • rugby (9:1)

(Of those, only rugby probably wouldn’t cost you a fortune before college.)

The worst odds are

  • track and field (64:1)
  • bowling (94:1)

 

The biggest surprise here is that you could possibly get a bowling scholarship at all.

 

Whatever the reason, we parents should just chill out and stop yelling from the sidelines.  Concentrate on who is bringing the after-game snacks for the kids and the during-the-game beer for the parents.

Kristi’s Quotes: Giving the Gift of Financial Well-Being

Financial Planner

This one came out around Christmas from Fox Business, but it’s a concept worth thinking about whenever gift-giving opportunities arise.

 

While it’s long been possible to hand out cash, buy stock or contribute to college savings plans, financial institutions and retailers are making it easier to bestow a gift with lasting value.

Among them is Stockpile, a company that sells gift cards that can be redeemed for stock, which is rolling its products out to more than 14,000 stores this holiday season after seeing success at other retailers. College savings plan administrators, which see contributions peak at the holidays, have been adding new ways to donate. And Gift of College, which helps people to contribute to college savings plans or pay down student loans, began selling gift cards at Toys R Us and Babies R Us nationally this month.

 

Click here for more….

How Does Your College Savings Account Affect Your Child’s Eligibility for Financial Aid?

It’s almost back to school time!  To me, that means back to homework time for parents.  And why do we do all of this nagging and whip cracking to our kids about grades?  So they can go to college and hopefully get some scholarship money to pay for it.  The ultimate goal being, of course, that your children get good jobs and move out of your house as soon as possible.

 

A question I get a lot about college savings is whether having a 529 college savings plan will ruin the kid’s chance at getting financial aid.  The answer is no, usually what ruins the chance of getting need-based financial aid is the parents’ income.

 

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) calculates your expected family contribution (EFC). The EFC is the amount of money that the parents and student together should pay toward college expenses, based on the cost of attending a particular school. The higher the EFC, the less financial aid you can expect to receive.*

 

When calculating for the EFC, different assets and income have different emphases.  The biggest driver of the formula is parents’ income.  Some of student income can also be expected to cover college costs.

 

Fifty percent of assets in the student’s own name (this includes the child’s checking/savings accounts and any UTMA or UGMA investments) are expected to be used toward college costs each year.  Yikes!

 

However, only 5.6% of parents’ assets are used in the EFC.  529 accounts count as a parental asset because the beneficiary of those accounts can be changed at the whim of the parents.  In other words, 529s are owned by parents, not kids.

 

Also, relax, Mom and Dad.  Your home equity and retirement accounts are NOT counted toward the EFC.

 

So, if you are using the excuse not to save for college that it will hurt your chances for financial aid, it’s just that – an excuse.  Instead, go to www.collegeinvest.org and get yourself signed up for a monthly automatic contribution to a 529 account.  Even if you can only afford $50/month you won’t be sorry to have that money when Junior heads to college.

 

*Source:  www.fidelity.com

Is Your Kid Really Going to Get a Sports Scholarship?

As I write this blog (I write them in advance of them coming out), I’m waiting for yet another cancellation notice for my sons’ games this weekend due to weather.  We will be playing spring sports make-up games until August at this rate.

It’s not so disruptive to my schedule because I am a very relaxed mom when it comes to kids’ sports.  I don’t care if their teams win or lose.

My main concerns about my children’s athletics are these:

  • Are practices and games convenient to my home? Walking distance is preferred.
  • Is the time commitment reasonable? No more than 6 hours per week is ideal.  Tournament avoidance is desired.  Overnight travel is not tolerated.
  • Are the coaches competent but not abusive?
  • Are the other parents people I like to hang out with? If so, I will provide the drinks and snacks!
  • Is the registration cost reasonable?

 

Of course, you can always find something on the internet to support your way of thinking.  And so I did:

  • Travis Dorsch (former kicker for Purdue and the Cincinnati Bengals) conducted a study that found spending on youth sports has grown to up to 10.5% of family gross income.
  • The percentage of kids who get college scholarships to play sports is low – 3% – 5%, so putting a ton of money to sports hoping for a payoff later is not a great investment.
  • Putting too much pressure on kids for something that is supposed to be fun is emotionally damaging. The best memories of professional athletes of playing sports as kids are often of unstructured games with friends.

 

The source for these juicy tidbits is a New York Times article by Paul Sullivan (no relation!), “The Rising Cost of Youth Sports, In Money and Emotion,” published January 16, 2015.  Check it out for the full quotes and sources.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/17/your-money/rising-costs-of-youth-sports.html?_r=0


 

If these topics sound like they would be of interest to your employees, sales conference, or professional organization, contact me at 303-324-0014 or kristi@sullivanfinancialplanning.com for more information.

 

Better Income through Education

Every parent has probably had this conversation with their school aged child.

 

Kid:  I hate school.  I can’t wait until I’m a grown-up and don’t have to learn or do homework.

Parent:  Guess what, chief.  You are never done learning and doing homework.  I still have to learn new things all the time so I can keep my job.

 

So true, but how many of us are going the extra mile to invest in ourselves?  As a Certified Financial Planner licensee, I’m required to document 30 hours of continuing education every two years.  Lawyers, CPAs, doctors, and many other professions have specific education requirements to keep their licenses active.

 

What if you are in a profession that doesn’t have a specific education requirement?  You can still engage in learning a new skill or enhancing your current ones.  Who wouldn’t want to hire or promote that person who went out of their way to better themselves professionally?

 

With online courses, getting top notch certifications is more accessible than ever.  Harvard Business School is now offering an online course called Disruptive Strategy under the HBX label with variety of courses still to be offered.   I’ll bet having a Harvard certification under your belt wouldn’t hurt your chances of getting a raise.

 

What if business isn’t your bag?  Have the fashion bug?  Get a certification and become an Image Consultant.   Do you like to be hands on and create things?  Take an advanced Lego or robotics course.  How about you sales people who want to earn more by closing more and bigger deals?  There are abundant online and local classes for that if you just use your favorite search engine.

 

Sure, after we’ve dragged that cursed science fair project to school for our 5th graders, we hardly have the energy to go do our own homework.  However, if you just did one online course per summer (when your kids don’t have homework), think how great that would look on your resume.  Of course, don’t forget to tell your boss, too!

 

If these topics sound like they would be of interest to your employees, sales conference, or professional organization, contact me at 303-324-0014 or kristi@sullivanfinancialplanning.com for more information.

The Generous Generation and Saving for Grandkids’ College

Seventy two percent of grandparents polled in a 2014 Fidelity survey felt it was important to help pay for grandchildren’s’ educations.  Wow! That is a very large number.  For those who are in a position to chip in a little (or a lot) for college for their grandchildren, here are a couple of ideas.

  1. Open a 529 in your home state.

    • This option allows you to take a state income tax deduction (where offered) on 529 college savings deposits.
    • You can open an account with yourself as the owner and a grandchild as the beneficiary. This works very well if you are worried about the spending habits of your children and want to protect the money for its intended use.
    • 529 plans have easy, target date investment options so you don’t have to stress about choosing a mix of mutual funds.
    • You can change the beneficiary to any relation out to first cousin. This is nice if Grandchild #1 is more interested in body piercings than Bachelors of Arts.  The money can be used by your other grandchildren.
  1. Open a Uniform Transfer to Minor Account (a.k.a. UTMA or Custodial Account).

    • For those of you who have appreciated securities you would like to gift to grandchildren or just like more investment flexibility, this may be a more interesting option for you.
    • Money put into these accounts is an irrevocable gift to that child, so there is no changing your mind as in a 529 account.
    • UTMA accounts can be used for any benefit of the child, including private high school, summer camp, car purchase, wedding, or help buying a new home. This is more flexible than the college-only 529 account.

There is no right or wrong account to use.  Each has its benefits and restrictions.  Many people use a combination of both.  For a nice table view of the differences, check out this page on Fidelity’s website:

https://www.fidelity.com/saving-for-college/compare-plans

 

If these topics sound like they would be of interest to you, your employees, sales conference, or professional organization, contact me at 303-324-0014 or kristi@sullivanfinancialplanning.com for more information.

Your Plan for College Funding Is Probably Not Happening

That’s right, I said YOUR plan, because I already know my kids aren’t getting any athletic or academic scholarships.

At a Financial Planning Association meeting I picked up this flyer from the nice folks at College Invest.  In the flyer there are several interesting statistics:

  • 83% of Colorado parents expect their child to receive a scholarship to pay for their higher education (source FinAid.org).
  • In reality, only 10% of students receive non-athletic scholarships (source NCAA.org).
  • A measly 2% of high school graduates receive athletic scholarships.

So, what’s a parent to do?

  • Save what you can for college, but not at the expense of your retirement savings.
  • Educate your child on the various costs of higher education as compared with the income he/she may receive for different careers.  A $250,000 tab for college does not justify a job that tops out at $50,000/year earnings.  I don’t care how prestigious the school.
  • RELAX and enjoy your kids’ sports activities.  Don’t be that parent yelling at the referees/coaches/umpires/other team/your own kid.  It really is just a game, not an income stream.  Let it sports be fun, not driven to that scholarship that your kid is 98% likely to not get.

 

If these topics sound like they would be of interest to your employees, sales conference, or professional organization, contact me at 303-324-0014 or kristi@sullivanfinancialplanning.com for more information.

Can I use One 529 College Savings Account for All of my Kids?

I recently had friend ask me this question.  The answer is “yes, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it.”  There are main reasons for this:

Investments:  529 College Savings plans are generally invested in pre-packaged funds whose aggressiveness is based on the child’s age.  The younger the child, the more stocks are in the portfolio.   As the child ages, the account is automatically shifted to more bonds and cash.  So, unless all of your kids are the same age, having only one account means that the investments are only right for one of your kids at a time.

Beneficiary Changes:  529 accounts allow for one named adult and one beneficiary (usually a child) on each account.  This beneficiary can be changed only once per year.  If you have more than one child in college at one time, you can only pay for one child’s tuition per year out of the account.  Maybe they can take turns going to school every other year?

529 college savings accounts are designed to be for one student at a time.  You can combine accounts to one, but it is probably more trouble than it’s worth.


If these topics sound like they would be of interest to your employees, sales conference, or professional organization, contact me at 303-324-0014 or kristi@sullivanfinancialplanning.com for more information.

College is REALLY Expensive! What’s a Parent to Do?

college savings

First, let’s talk about what a parent is NOT to do.  Please do not stop saving for retirement, or worse, take money out of your retirement accounts to pay for your kids’ college expenses.  You have only one shot at saving for retirement, but your kids have many ways to pay for college.  Some examples:

  1. Work during college to help pay for tuition/books/living expenses
  2. Pick an affordable college
  3. Relentlessly search for and apply for scholarships and grants

A note on point #3.  In April I had the opportunity to speak to students at the Community College of Denver for Financial Planning Week.  The topic was how to pay for college.  Shannon, the lovely woman from CCD’s financial aid office, shared with the students that there is lots of scholarship money available to students, but much of it doesn’t get awarded because people just don’t even apply.

Many of the awards are based on the essay written, not on grades or test scores.  So, with just a little effort on the student’s part, there is money out there to be claimed.

Of course, many parents want to help their kids with college costs.  Or pay for all of it.  However, that may be like transportation choices.  You need a way to get around.  You’d like that ride to be a Lamborghini, but you can afford a Honda.  Well, guess what?  Enjoy that Honda, because that will get you there at a reasonable cost.

The most important thing a parent can do is be up front with their children starting early in high school about how much the parent can (or is willing to) pay toward college and how much will be the child’s responsibility.  That will lead to realistic decisions when applying for schools and maybe even motivate your student to work for higher grades!


If these topics sound like they would be of interest to your employees, sales conference, or professional organization, contact me at 303-324-0014 or kristi@sullivanfinancialplanning.com for more information.