By Tim Gorrell, Executive Director, Ohio Tuition Trust Authority
October 19, 2021
I’m often asked, “When is the best time to start saving for college?” My answer is always, “When your child is born. The next best time? Today.”
If it’s difficult to find extra funds to save for a higher education when you first bring your baby home, there are still plenty of opportunities to increase your savings into a 529 account as your child grows and heads off to elementary and middle school.
Kindergarten comes fast; suddenly your newborn baby is walking off the school bus after their first day at elementary school. If this is you and you haven’t had a chance to start saving for your child’s future higher education costs, now is the perfect time to look into opening a 529 plan.
Remember all those diapers from when your child was a baby? Well that’s a disappearing expense, a cost that is part of your budget for a short period of time. A huge disappearing expense is preschool or day-care costs. In some states, families pay as much annually for preschool as they would for a year’s tuition at their states flagship public university. As your child starts to go to school full-time, why not turn those expenses into a regular 529 plan contribution? This way, the dollars you’ve previously prioritized for pre-K education can now support your child’s higher education. As those bills were already part of your budget, you won’t be miss the money if you shift it to grow the 529 plan.
When your child graduates from preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school, it can be a milestone to celebrate with your family and friends. So are your child’s birthdays and holidays. If loved ones ask what gifts to give, bring up the gift of higher education and ask for a contribution to your child’s 529 account. It’s a simple and easy way for families and friends to come together to support the next generation and their future education. These gifts are a loving legacy that can change the course of your child’s life and bring them more opportunities in life.
Even if you start to save when your child is in elementary or middle school, it’s not too late to take advantage of power of compound interest to help your 529 account take off. While your child is in elementary or middle school, you still have a substantial period of time to allow the compound interest on your original savings as well as any additional 529 contributions, any earnings from the 529 investment options, and any accrued interest to accumulate in the 529 account. Additionally, all earnings in your 529 will be tax-free at the state and federal level.
Don’t forget about one of the simplest ways to save — automatic contributions. It’s simple to do. With automatic contributions, you can pay yourself and then your child’s future higher education first, rather than trying to set aside some dollars to contribute at the end of the month. You can set these automated deposits to match your paydays or a monthly contribution schedule. With automatic contributions, you don’t have to add making a 529 contribution to your to-do list. You can just set it and forget it! Then you can concentrate on more important items – like spending more time with your family.
To learn more about tax-free 529 plans, including what programs are available in your state, visit www.collegesavings.org/529-planning-tools/.
About the author:
Tim Gorrell is the executive director of Ohio Tuition Trust Authority. For more than 30 years, Ohio Tuition Trust Authority has sponsored and administered Ohio’s 529 Plan, CollegeAdvantage. Ohio’s 529 Plan oversees more than 670,780 accounts and over $15.93 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2021. Learn, plan and start an Ohio 529 Plan today at CollegeAdvantage.com or call 1-800-AFFORD-IT (233-6734).