Did you know the average American college student is now graduating with $33,000 in debt? And with more than half of parents placing higher value on college savings over retirement, learning to save smart is more important than ever, says nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling (ACCC).
One way to do so is with a 529 plan–an investment plan operated by a state or educational institution, with tax advantages and other incentives to make it easier to save for college for a designated beneficiary, such as a child or grandchild. Operating similar to IRA and 401(k) plans, 529 college savings plans allow parents to save for a child's education tax-free through an array of investment options.
There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and savings plans. The plans are named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code and are administered by state agencies and organizations.
In addition to enrolling in a 529 savings plan, students and families can save for college and manage expenses during school by:
Learning to Budget Now – Developing a realistic and manageable budget is a valuable lifelong skill that is essential for anyone in college, preparing to go to college, or just graduating. Start by using a budgeting worksheet for students to get an accurate picture of your income and expenses. By comparing and contrasting your total income and expenses, you will be able to create a feasible budget plan. By sticking to your budget, you will avoid going into any unnecessary credit card debt.
Being Wary of Credit Card Debt – Credit card companies target college students because they have little experience managing their money. If you sign up for a credit card, don’t get carried away. Get your payment in by the due date or you'll be slapped with late fees and create additional debt for yourself.
Working – Consider a part-time job, tutoring, paid internships or work-study programs to earn and save money while in school. If you’re looking to get an apartment after graduation, make your student loan payments, or relocate for a job, saving for your future will help you in the long run.
Using Your Student ID for Discounts – Not only will you need it to enter your dorm, the dining hall, and the library, but your student ID can also earn you discounts at hundreds of retailers nationwide. If you are not sure if a company offers a student discount, just ask. You can also find a list of discounts at ConsumerCredit.com.
Taking Stock of Your Financial Situation – Too many students graduate from college without any idea of how much they’ll have in student loans, or how much to expect to make at their first job. Make sure you know how much school costs per year, what your parents are covering, what you’ll be expected to cover, and budget for rent and living expenses accordingly.