11 Benefits of a College Saving Plan

Most states offer college saving plans, or 529 plans, that allow families to invest money that can later be used for qualified higher-education expenses. These plans offer savings and tax benefits over other ways of saving for college. Here are 11 reasons you may want to consider a 529 plan, such as a College Savings Iowa plan.

1. You can choose, and change, your investment strategy.

College saving plans offer a variety of investment tracks to allow you to decide how to invest contributions. You may choose from among recommended investment tracks based on the age of the beneficiary and your comfort level with risk. Or you may wish to choose from among individual portfolios of specific bond and stock funds.

After choosing your initial investment strategy, you can make changes over time. You may make changes to existing contributions twice a year.

2. You receive tax benefits.

Your 529 assets grow deferred from federal and state income taxes as long as the money remains in the plan. Many states also offer additional state tax advantages for in-state residents.

3. Qualified withdrawals are not subject to taxes.

Withdrawals used to pay for qualified higher-education expenses are also tax-free. This means any growth from your principal investments in a 529 plan used for qualified expenses will never be included in your income tax.

4. The assets are less impactful on financial aid.

The formula used to calculate financial aid treats 529 plan assets more favorably than it treats savings or investments owned by the student. According to savingforcollege.com, a maximum of 5.64% of all parental assets, including 529 plans owned by a parent or a dependent student, is counted toward the expected family contribution for college by the federal financial aid formula, compared to 20% of student assets.

5. Anyone can start or contribute to a plan.

You don’t need to be related to the student you name as the beneficiary of a 529 plan you open. This means you can be a parent, grandparent or friend of the student who will use the money, or you can be the student. There are no income limits, age limits or annual contribution limits for account owners.

Someone who would like to make a gift to the student can also make one-time contributions to an existing account.

6. Minimum investments are small.

College Savings Iowa allows initial investments or contributions of $25 or more and a minimum of $15 for employers that offer payroll deduction. Investments in 529 plans can be as large or small as comfortable for families.

7. You are not limited to your state’s plan.

You may choose to use any state’s 529 plan even if you don’t live there or the student doesn’t intend to attend college in that state.

8. The money can be used for attendance and other expenses at a wide variety of institutions.

The student beneficiary can use the money to attend any eligible two- or four-year college, postgraduate program, trade or vocational school, online college and university programs and even some international institutions or study-abroad programs.

Besides tuition, money can be applied to other qualified higher-education expenses like fees, books, housing, meals, supplies, computers and printers, software and internet access.

9. Plans are transferable.

If the student beneficiary named on the plan doesn’t need the money, it can be transferred to an eligible family member of the student, like a sibling, child, parent or spouse.

10. You can always withdraw the money if needed.

If the student earns a scholarship or enrolls in a military academy, you can withdraw up to the amount of the scholarship or the value of the education tax-free. If the student passes away or becomes disabled and is unable to attend college, there is also no penalty for withdrawals.

If you withdraw money for any other reason than these circumstances and the withdrawal is not used for a qualified higher-education expense, a 10% federal tax penalty will may apply to any earnings. (You would receive the full value of your contributions minus any administration fees.) A tax adviser can help you understand tax consequences of non-qualified withdrawals from a 529 plan.

11. A 529 plan may encourage college attendance and graduation.

Researchers have found that when money is set aside for college, families save more. Even when budgets are tight, families with even relatively small amounts of money earmarked for college find creative ways to save more. Additionally, the perceived value of higher education increased and a high percentage of parents felt their children would finish college.

By: Iowa Student Loan

High Schoolers: Start Saving Today

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Whether you’re planning on college next year or just starting your freshman year in high school, you can take steps to save money today that will help you with college costs in the future.

Open a Savings Account

If you don’t have your own savings account, now is a great time to get one. Ask your parents for advice or visit with an account specialist at a local bank or credit union. You will need to deposit some money to open a savings account, but that amount can often be as low as $5.

Even if you don’t add to your initial deposit, as long as you haven’t taken it out, that amount will increase by the time you’re ready for college simply because of interest accrual. This is one time interest will work in your favor.

You can save more, though, if you deposit gift money you receive into your account. If you really want to give your account a boost, deposit all your gift money to earn interest on every penny. If that seems like too much, think about depositing half of any gift money you receive. That way you can still spend some, but you’ll also earn interest on a bit.

Save Your Change

If you use cash for all your spending money, saving your change can really add up over time.

Take a jar, glass bottle or even a cleaned-out laundry soap container and put any loose change you have every day into the container. Once your change gets heavy, or if you are tempted to spend it, deposit it into your savings account. You’ll probably be surprised at the amount of money you’ve accumulated in just “spare change.”

Have a Sale

Look around your room. Do you have some childhood toys collecting dust or video games you never play anymore? What about clothes you haven’t worn in more than a year hanging at the back of your closet?

If you have no need for the items and your parents are OK with it, think about having a garage sale or putting items on a website like eBay. Do some research before you sell anything to see what prices others are getting for items sold online. Then decide where to sell.

If you want to have a garage sale but don’t think you have enough to sell on your own, see if your friends would like to sell some of their stuff too. To keep track of where the money goes, use different colored price stickers to indicate whose item is being purchased. After the sale, proceeds can be easily divided up between the different color stickers.

Get a Job

The easiest way to save money is to earn money. If your grades and extracurricular activities allow, get a summer job or a part-time job during the school year. Look for places that are willing to work with your schedule and then be responsible for showing up on time. Working while going to school is a great way to learn how to balance different responsibilities.

Having a job also means earning a paycheck. This is another way to take advantage of a savings account. If you set aside some of the money you earn for your savings account on a regular basis, it will start earning interest as soon as you deposit it.

Think about setting a savings goal too. If you get paid every two weeks and are able to put away $40 each payday for two years, you can save more than $2,000 to put toward college expenses. If you don’t work during the school year, what about trying to save at least $250 a month during the summer? In two summers, your savings can increase $1,500.

However you accomplish it, any money you save now is money you won’t have to borrow (and pay back with interest) in the future.

By: Iowa Student Loan

How Much Should You Save for College?

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At the start of your senior year in high school, how you’ll pay for college may not be a high priority yet. It’s something you should be thinking about, though, as you consider different colleges and the costs associated with attending each one.

A national study, How America Pays for College 2017, shows that the average student contributes 11% to the total cost of his or her college education. That is money from the student’s income and savings, not student loans.

So, how much should you plan to save for college this year?

That answer depends on a multitude of different factors, but the easiest response is “as much as possible.”

If you want a more precise number, though, there are things you can do now to determine how much you want to save during the next 12 months.

Create a Budget

Use an in-school budget tool to start forming an idea of how much money you’ll need to live on each month. It’s OK to guess right now and try out different calculations. How much will you cover with grants, scholarship and student loans, and how much will you need to have on hand each month for your extra costs?

If you live on campus in a dorm during your freshman year at college, many of your expenses will be set and you’ll be left with a smaller number of variable categories. But if you’ll be living off campus, you will have to calculate additional costs like your portion of the monthly rent, gas and car maintenance, and how you will fill a refrigerator.

Figuring out how much you will need each month can help you set a goal for the amount you definitely want to save during your senior year.

Compare Costs

While you’re creating different in-school budget scenarios, be sure to consider the costs needed for different schools you’re considering. Less-expensive schools might seem like the way to save money, but many times those institutions also have less money to offer in terms of scholarships and grants compared to more-expensive colleges or universities.

Anticipate that you will need more spending money than you think to ensure you don’t greatly underestimate how much you will need to save.

Reduce Expenses

Is your budget a lot higher than you expected? Check out these ideas for ways to save on supplies. Will any of those options help reduce your monthly budget?

You can also consider options such as:

  • Living at home and attending a community college for your first year or two to meet your general education requirements.
  • Planning to work part-time during college to help you cover some monthly expenses.
  • Cutting back on entertainment or other non-necessities to reduce the amount needed for spending money each month.

It may seem like a daunting task, but the more you’re able to save for college today means less that you will have to borrow in the future.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Building Good Credit as a Student

Credit is a tool and, similar to wielding many other types of tools, using credit can have both positive and negative results. Using credit positively can help young adults build a history that may enable them to get better terms for future credit, such as car or home loans.

Federal regulations limit the amount of credit available to teens and young adults. But, it’s difficult to qualify for loans or other consumer credit without a credit history. Here are some tips for students who want to ensure they’re building good credit.

Opt for a student card

Many national credit card companies offer a student credit card for college students, or those soon to be in college. These cards often carry more lenient requirements and low annual fees, and they may offer incentives for certain actions. For example, you may qualify for cash back for achieving certain grades or discounts on purchases.

Don’t go it alone

Work with your parents to become an authorized user on an existing credit account, like a credit card. This means you have a card with your name on it, but the account holder is still responsible for paying the bills. Be sure you understand the card issuer’s policy for reporting credit for authorized users.

Alternatively, look into credit cards that will allow a cosigner. A cosigner would be responsible for any debt if you don’t pay your own bills, so parents or other close relatives are generally the best people to ask. The cosigner must also have good enough credit to qualify on his or her own.

Create a solid work history

A steady record of income from employment indicates that you‘re more likely to repay debt over time. Generally, you need to demonstrate full-time or near-full-time employment to qualify for a credit card or other credit before the age of 21.

Make a deposit

A secured credit card allows you to make a deposit to secure a line of credit. Even if the deposit must be equal to the credit limit, using the card instead of cash and then making regular on-time payments will build credit. Some credit card issuers may offer an unsecured credit card after you demonstrate good use for a period of time.

Take on bill paying

If you share housing with other students, consider holding a lease or utility in your name. This means you will be responsible for collecting your roommates’ share of the bill each month and making the full payment from your checking or savings account. Demonstrating your ability to pay bills on time each month will help build a positive credit history.

Pay early and pay often

Once you qualify for a credit card or other consumer loan, be sure to make payments. Although you may be required to make only a minimum payment, it’s better to pay a credit card balance in full each month to minimize interest. Making more than the interest payment is also a good idea for other types of loans. To help ensure you can make payments, limit your use and carry a low balance.

Check your results

As you build credit, monitor your credit reports and scores for errors and signs of fraud. Each year, you qualify for free credit reports from the three national consumer reporting agencies from www.annualcreditreport.com. (Never pay for a credit report.)

Educate yourself

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides resources to learn more about credit reports and scores, building credit and what to do if you suspect fraud or identity theft.

By: Iowa Student Loan

6 Ways to Help Your Student Save

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If you’re not independently wealthy, chances are you’ll be relying on a variety of sources to help your child pay for college: scholarships, loans, your own savings and earnings, and your student’s savings and earnings. How can you help your student maximize savings so you don’t end up draining your retirement resources to help them out?

1. Understand how much your student will need.

Many free online calculators provide estimated college expenses for a variety of college types for the year your student will enter college. Try different scenarios to understand the range of expected college expense.

2. Foster an environment of saving.

What do you do with your paycheck? If you expect your child to save 50% of earnings in a savings account, set an example by building your own savings. The same goes for discount shopping, clipping coupons and so on.

3. Encourage your student to reduce expenses.

If your child tends to spend a large portion of earnings and gift money on clothes, for example, work with him or her to find ways to dress in the same manner for less. Think creatively—garage sales, thrift shops and discount store sales can provide a wealth of bargains.

4. Explore interest-bearing accounts with your child. 

Leverage savings by depositing the money in an interest-bearing account. Spend some time researching options and discussing the risks and advantages to different account types. Make an appointment with a specialist at your own financial institution and attend with your student so you both learn your options.

5. Know the options to reduce college costs.

If you realize you and your child will not be able to save enough for college by the time he or she will be ready to enroll, consider how to reduce the overall cost of college. Will your student be able to live at home? Attend a less-expensive school, at least for part of his or her education? Work while attending college? Apply for more scholarships and grants? Graduate early?

6. Set goals and monitor progress.

Use what you’ve learned about college costs and financial products to set goals. Then, periodically check that your student is working toward those goals. You may consider a matching contribution or other reward for progress.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Getting Back in the Habit (Infographic)

The first few days of a new school year can be a big adjustment after your summer break. Help yourself get back into the school routine by preparing now with these tips.

Download this infographic as a PDF.

Get back into the routine

Start waking up at the time you need to get up to get ready for school or activities. Set your alarm and go through your school morning routine to be sure you’re adjusted. Work on getting to bed at a reasonable time as well.

Notify your employer

If you’ve been working over the summer, now is the time to speak to a manager about adjusting your shift times or to put in your notice. Give your employer plenty of time to rearrange schedules.

Organize your space

Get ready for homework by cleaning your accustomed study area. Make sure you have the space and materials you’ll need to be successful this year.

Gather supplies

Take the time to inventory your school supplies, from paper and notebooks to binder clips and calculators. Replace or purchase as needed.

Clean out your closet

Go through your clothes to see what you no longer need and what’s missing. Take advantage of any sales tax holidays and back-to-school sales to stock up.

Prepare for activities

Get ready for your extracurricular activities for the coming term by cleaning, repairing and replacing equipment as needed. Ensure you have the clothing and other items you’ll need.

Organize your schedule

If you haven’t previously done so, it’s not too late to find a homework and activity organizer that suits you. You may prefer a paper planner, a shared online calendar or an app for your phone or tablet. Whichever you choose, start off right by entering times and commitments you already know.

Prepack

Put all the items you’ll need the first day of school together. Put your supplies and materials in your bag and lay out the clothes you’ll wear. If you’ll take your lunch or other food, have the supplies on hand to reduce last-minute stress.

Make a dry run

If you will be taking a new route to school, driving to school for the first time or starting at a new building, make a practice trip to get the timing down and avoid any pitfalls.

By: Iowa Student Loan

Student Loan Basics: What Parents and Cosigners Need to Know

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If a student in your life did not receive enough financial aid to cover the full cost of attendance for college, he or she may turn to you for financial help. If you are considering taking on a federal parent loan or cosigning a private student loan with your student, consider these important points.

1. Student debt is a financial decision.

You are likely emotionally invested in wanting to see your student succeed in college, but it’s important to remember student loans are a financial product and require objective, not emotional, consideration.

2. You are financially liable for the debt.

If you take out a federal Parent PLUS Loan, you are taking on the debt yourself. Carefully consider the repayment terms, interest rate and fees you may face.

If you are considering cosigning a private student loan, be aware that you will be responsible for payments if your student doesn’t make them. Late payments, delinquency and default will affect your credit.

3. The total repayment amount will be more than the loan amount.

Student loans generally accrue interest every day. Interest may also capitalize at certain times, such as when the student graduates or a period of assistance ends. This means accrued, unpaid interest will be added to the principal balance. In addition, you may have origination, late or other loan fees incorporated into the total repayment amount.

4. The responsibility can last as long as the loan term.

Student loans are not typically discharged in the event of bankruptcy or other circumstances. In addition, if your student doesn’t graduate, earn as much as anticipated after graduating or obtain the anticipated career, the debt doesn’t go away. If the loan has been disbursed, cosigners are equally responsible for payment.

Many lenders offer a cosigner release. If you are counting on being released from your obligation to repay the debt, pay careful attention to the requirements for obtaining this benefit. Your student will likely need to make a certain number of on-time payments and meet other conditions before cosigners are eligible for release.

5. Your circumstances may change before the debt is repaid.

If your child or grandchild is entering college now, consider how your income may change before the end of the anticipated loan term. Will you still be working or will you be stretching a retirement income to cover any payments? What happens if you or your student loses a job?

6. You can help your student successfully repay debt.

Preparing your student to fulfill his or her obligations for a cosigned loan or taking on PLUS Loan payments (if that is your and your student’s understanding) is an important step.

  • Research loan options. Consider interest rates, terms and fees, available repayment assistance in the event of hardship, borrower benefits and potential starting salary when thinking about your loan options.
  • Understand potential starting budget. It’s easy for an incoming college student to overestimate how much a starting career will pay and underestimate other expenses when they consider the cost of college and their ability to repay debt after graduation. Together with your student, go through ROCI Reality Check to see starting salaries and job outlook by specific major to gain a realistic view of life after graduation.
  • Monitor college success. Good grades, valuable job and internship experiences and appropriate career preparation can all help your student have an advantage in the job search. You can help your student position him- or herself for a starting salary that will allow manageable loan payments.
  • Make your plan. Experience the parent version of Student Loan Game Plan for tips and information on how to work with your student to ensure success.

By: Iowa Student Loan

How Making Interest Payments Can Save You Big Money Later

If you’re funding part of your college education with student loans, you may occasionally receive statements, even though no payments are due. Ever wonder why?

Those statements are important, and understanding why can save you money in the long run.

They notify you that, even though you don’t have to make payments while you’re in school, interest is adding up on your loans — every single day. If this interest is not paid as it accrues or before your loans enter repayment (usually six months after you leave school), it will be added to your principal balance. If it is added to your principal balance (a process called capitalization), you will then owe more than you originally borrowed. And, the now larger principal balance starts to accrue interest on a daily basis, so you will be paying interest on the accrued interest.

How can you minimize this increase to your loan balance?

If you manage to earn or save some money while you’re in school, you can make monthly payments that pay down the interest as it accrues.

Here’s an example of how making small payments every month could save you more than $1,500 over the full life of student loans.

Note: The information below is an example only. Your payment amounts will depend on the types of loans you receive and the interest rates and the repayment terms on those loans.

Download a PDF of this infographic.

Establishing Financial Habits

Making everyday spending decisions—like whether to order pizza or go to the Caribbean for Spring Break—in college, helps you establish the financial habits you’ll use in the future.

Although eating out every Friday night sounds like a good thing, it may be worth it to give up that treat in exchange for savings of thousands on your future student loan payments.

By: Iowa Student Loan

3 Tips to Limit Borrowing for School

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Before you apply for additional student loans, make sure you’re not borrowing too much. Doing so can make repayment painful. Use the tips below first and then only borrow what you need. *

And if you determine you’ve borrowed too much for this year already, you may be able to cancel part of the loan before all the funds are sent (or “disbursed”) to your college. Check in with your financial aid office to see if you can still cancel part of the loan.

Don’t Borrow for Extras

You should only borrow money that you need to pay college costs, not for incidentals or other items you want.

Check out these big money savers for college students.

Student loans should be used for any education-related expenses such as tuition, room and board, meal plans, book and even transportation costs. Those loan funds shouldn’t be used to decorate your dorm room with the trendiest items when you may already have most of what you need at home. The newest gaming equipment, spring break trips and pizza for all your friends on a Thursday night also shouldn’t be paid for with student loan funds.

Think about it. Do you really want to be paying back that money, plus interest, in 10 years when the pizza is long gone and the décor and gaming items are out of date?

Work a Few Hours a Week

If you want to pick up the latest multiplayer game for a break from studying or want to head to the beach for spring break, think about getting a part-time job during the school year. Working just 10 hours a week can help put some extra cash in your checking account and may help your grades by forcing you to budget your time wisely.

It would probably even be better to use your paycheck to buy needed supplies like books or pay some of the smaller fees charged by your school so that you don’t have to use loans for those expenses. And don’t forget, you can always use any money earned to make monthly interest payments on your current student loans to prevent the loan amount from increasing while you’re in school.

Maximize Your Course Load

Want to do one more thing to keep your loan balance from getting out of control? Be sure you’re taking as many classes as you can so that you graduate on time. Does your college consider 12 hours full-time enrollment but allow you to take up to 18 hours at the same tuition cost? If so, try to make the most of that time. If your grades and schedule allows, consider taking 18 hours at a time. If you can’t manage 18 hours effectively, taking 15 hours can help you stay on track for graduating in four years better than 12 hours will. And graduating in four years instead of five or more can significantly keep your loan costs down.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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