By Hon. Michael L. Fitzgerald, State Treasurer, State of Iowa
May 5, 2020
The spring semester for this school year has been frustrating and stress-inducing for many students and their families. While the future feels uncertain, I know our educators are still committed to teaching and supporting the children in our lives. The upcoming summer break may feel different, but I encourage every family to continue to prepare and learn more about their future education opportunities.
I know summer breaks are incredibly important for families to spend quality time with each other. The break from school allows for families with students of all ages to learn more about what their kids want to do when they graduate. The time off is a great opportunity for students and families to visit college campuses, study and take important tests, learn about and apply for upcoming scholarships, and put away some savings for future expenses.
Even if you are unable to physically visit college campuses, there are other ways to gather information that might help you make decisions. Many colleges and universities are starting to offer virtual tours and webinars for prospective students. Your family can find pictures and videos of what the campus looks like for when the time comes to head back. You may also find blogs, social media posts and webinars from current students and admissions counselors going further in-depth about campus-life, extra-curricular opportunities, classes and more.
Tests like the ACT and SAT cancelled or rescheduled their spring dates and deadlines to the summer for social distancing purposes. You can find test preps materials, college planning information, and register for future tests at CollegeBoard.org and ACT.org. Even if you’re not planning on taking the tests this summer or for a few more years, each website has great resources and information that can help your student prepare.
It’s never too early to start looking for scholarship opportunities or student grants that may help your family. Check out the resources in your state and community and see what it takes to apply for future scholarships. With a better understanding of what each scholarship and grant is looking for, your family can take the right steps to be the perfect candidate.
While summer might be a break from classes, your savings for those classes should be working around the clock. With savings vehicles like 529 plans, you can keep your savings goals on track for the costs of higher education while enjoying the season. Starting a 529 plan when your children are young is a great way to grow your investments, but it’s never too late to save and benefit from a 529 account. Each member of the family can open an account for the same beneficiary and when the time comes to pay for higher education, withdrawals can be tax-free when used for qualified expenses.* These programs are a great way to save for higher education and save on taxes even when you’re not even thinking about school. Plus, these savings may help cut down on your need for student loans.
This summer will certainly be different, but that doesn’t mean you have to put everything on hold. Learn more about your kids’ dreams and aspirations. But, most importantly, enjoy your time together as a family.
*Earnings on non-qualified withdrawals may be subject to federal income tax and a 10% federal penalty tax, as well as state income taxes. The availability of tax or other benefits may be contingent on meeting other requirements.
About the Author: Iowa State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald is the past chair of the College Savings Plans Network and the administrator of Iowa’s 529 College Savings Programs including College Savings Iowa, with over $5 billion invested and more than $3 billion in qualified withdrawals.