“A recent survey by TD Ameritrade made headlines, with its finding that 1 in 5 young Americans (Generation Z, defined by the researchers as ages 15-21, and young millennials, ages 22-28) may opt out of college. A deeper look shows that much of what drives that thinking, is the price and debt that come with it.”
It’s been a common path for millennials and their predecessors to go to a four-year college and get a job. If they were short on funds, they’d take out some loans. However, there have been some signals that this norm is changing.
With worries about a student debt crisis and with the experience of recent graduates, new college-age students are increasingly turning to alternatives to the established route to create their own debt-free future.
Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “How to Stay Flexible in Saving for Your Child's Future” says that student debt is leading to obstacles, when it comes to achieving major milestones of financial freedom. Of the young millennials surveyed, nearly half (47%) said they delayed purchasing a home because of their debt, 40% delayed saving for retirement and 31% waited to move out of their parents’ home. A total of 28% of parents said they delayed saving for their own retirement, to pay for their children’s education.
Saving for a child’s future now looks different than when these 18-year-olds were born. It certainly will be the case, when they leave the nest. As a result, it’s critical for parents to try to give them help, by learning how to adapt to the changing times.
With the gig economy and digitally enabled side jobs, parents have more flexibility to maintain their financial goals, while preserving their personal lives.
When considering flexibility, especially when saving for a child’s education, it’s actually one of the big benefits of a 529 plan. Although you’re responsible if you make a withdrawal that isn’t for a qualified education expense, the penalties aren’t too steep. Federal income tax is imposed on the plan’s growth, plus a 10% penalty on the growth. Therefore, depending on the amount withdrawn, the penalty may be very little.
Nonetheless, the tax penalties may worry parents enough that even when their goal is to save for their child’s education, they want to spread their savings into multiple accounts. This has some clear advantages, when the child decides not to go to college after high school. The good news is that there are plenty of options to account for both possibilities.
- Other investment accounts: You could also create a brokerage account with money earmarked for a child. This gives parents complete flexibility in how the money is used. The money can be used for expenses other than education, but the downside is not having the tax benefits of the 529 plan (tax deferral and potential tax-free growth).
- Trusts: a trust allows parents to keep complete control over the funds and lets parents provide instructions to the trustee, on how the trust can be used.
- Custodial accounts: These accounts are managed by a guardian (or custodian), until the child is an adult. These accounts are pretty easy to set up but don’t have the restrictions that can be placed on trust funds.
The digital world has changed everything, including how we plan for our children and their future. Be flexible and make your plans accordingly.
Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 27, 2019) “How to Stay Flexible in Saving for Your Child's Future”