You've been doing the right thing financially for many years, saving for your child's education and your own retirement. Yet now, as both goals loom in the years ahead, you may wonder what else you can do to help your child receive a quality education without compromising your own retirement goals.
Knowledge Is Power
Start by reviewing the financial aid process and understanding how financial need is calculated. Colleges and the federal government use different formulas to determine need by looking at a family's income (the most important factor), assets and other household information. A starting point is calculating the cost of attendance (COA), which will obviously vary from school to school. Your expected family contributions (EFC) are also evaluated. The EFC is subtracted from COA to arrive at the need-based aid.
A few key points:
- Generally, the federal government assesses up to 47% of parent income (adjusted gross income plus untaxed income/benefits minus certain deductions) and 50% of a student's income over a certain amount. Parent assets are counted at 5.6%; student assets are counted at 20%.1 This is significant piece of the overall financial aid plan—try to keep assets out of your children’s names.
- Certain parent assets are excluded, including home equity and retirement assets.
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) relies on your income from two years prior (the "base year") and current assets for its analysis. For example, for the 2023-2024 school year, the FAFSA will consider your 2021 income tax record and your assets at the time of application.
Strategies to Consider
Financial aid takes two forms—need-based aid and merit-based aid. Although middle- and higher-income families typically have a tougher time receiving need-based aid, there are some ways to reposition your finances to potentially enhance eligibility:
- Time the receipt of discretionary income to avoid the base year.
- Have your child limit his or her income during the base year to the excludable amount.
- Use countable assets—such as cash savings—to increase investments in your college and retirement savings accounts and pay down consumer debt and your mortgage.
- Make a major purchase, such as a car or home improvement, to reduce liquid assets.
Many colleges use merit-aid packages to attract students, regardless of financial need. As your family explores colleges in the years ahead, be sure to investigate merit-aid opportunities as well. Also, be sure to actively search for scholarships—there are many out there that often go unclaimed. You can also purchase a book about scholarships which provides valuable tips on everything from categories to investigate to how to create a top-notch application and essay.
Don't Lose Sight of Your Retirement
What if you've done all you can and still face a sizable gap between how much college will cost and how much you have saved? To help your child graduate with as little debt as possible, you might consider borrowing or withdrawing funds from your retirement savings. Though tempting, this is not an ideal move. While your child can borrow to finance his or her education, you generally cannot take a loan to fund your retirement. If you make retirement savings and debt reduction a priority now, you may be better positioned to help your child repay any loans later.
You don’t want to have to depend on your child in the future for your lifestyle. At this point, you may be slowing down and have less time to make up these premature withdrawals. Your child, however, is just getting started and has the potential to build their financial future. No one wants to see their child saddled with education debt, but perhaps a little can keep them focused on getting the most out of their education.
Withdrawals from traditional IRAs and most employer-sponsored retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income and may be subject to a 10% penalty tax if taken prior to age 59½, unless an exception applies. IRA withdrawals used for qualified higher-education purposes avoid the early-withdrawal penalty.
Consider speaking with a financial professional about how these strategies may help you balance these two challenging and important goals. There is no assurance that working with a financial professional will improve investment results.
To learn more about the custom solutions and tailored advice offered by Busey Wealth Management, visit us at busey.com/wealth-management.
This is not intended to provide legal, tax or accounting advice. Any statement contained in this communication concerning U.S. tax matters is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding penalties imposed on the relevant taxpayer. Clients should obtain their own independent tax advice based on their particular circumstances.
This material is provided for educational purposes only and should not be construed as investment advice or an offer or solicitation to buy or sell securities.
This presentation is for general information purposes only. It does not take into account the particular investment objectives, restrictions, tax and financial situation or other needs of any specific client.
Investment products and services through Busey Wealth Management are:
Not FDIC INSURED | May lose value | No bank guarantee
1 College Savings Plan Network, 2021