Financial Focus: Tips on Paying for College

Financial Focus
Tips on Paying for College

If you have a college-bound senior in your house, you know that the end of this school year means the beginning of a new adventure. However, while college can be exciting, it's also expensive. If you haven't saved as much as you would have liked, don't despair--even at this late date, you can take some steps to help pay those college bills.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
* Don't panic- You don't have to pay the full year's tuition, room and board upfront--you will likely be billed in installments that may correspond to the school's quarter or semester system. This payment system gives you some time to find additional funding sources. For example, if you have a bond coming due in the middle of the college calendar, you can use the proceeds to help pay for school.
* Liquidate assets in timely manner- If you've earmarked certain investments for college, don't liquidate them until it's time to write a check. The longer you can keep your investments growing, the better off you'll be.
* Look at Roth IRA- If you have a Roth IRA, you can withdraw contributions, tax- and penalty-free, to help pay for your child's education. (However, some rules do apply to penalty-free withdrawals, so talk to your tax adviser before making this move. Also, if you withdraw earnings, you may have to pay taxes on them unless you meet certain conditions.)
(BOLD)If You Have More Time
If you still have a few years before your children head off to school, you may want to take advantage of some of the more popular college-savings plans. Here are two to consider:
* Section 529 plans- When you set up a Section 529 savings plan, you put money in specific investments, which are managed by the plan administrator. If you participate in your own state's Section 529 plan, you may be able to deduct your contributions from your state income taxes. Your plan contribution limits are high, and your withdrawals are free from federal income taxes, as long as the money is used for qualified college or graduate school expenses. Withdrawals for expenses other than qualified education expenditures may be subject to federal, state and penalty taxes.
Keep in mind that Section 529 tax benefits are effective through 2010, unless extended by Congress. Also, a Section 529 plan could reduce your child's or grandchild's ability to qualify for financial aid. Because tax issues for 529 plans can be complicated, please consult your tax adviser.
* Coverdell Education Savings Account- Depending on your income level, you can contribute up to $2,000 annually to a Coverdell Education Savings Account. Your Coverdell earnings and withdrawals will be tax-free, provided you use the money for qualified education expenses. (Any other withdrawals from a Coverdell account may be subject to a 10% penalty.) You can fund your Coverdell account with virtually any investment you choose--stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, etc. And you can contribute to a Coverdell account in the same year that you put money into a Section 529 plan.
(BOLD)Consider All Options
Putting together a good college-funding plan- either at the last minute or years in advance--can test your resources and ingenuity. But by diligently exploring all your options, it's a test you should be able to pass.

This article was submitted by local financial representatives of Edward Jones.