5 College Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Whether you are preparing to send your child to kindergarten or are dealing with teenagers, it’s never too early (or too late) to start planning for their higher education. Not sure where to start? We’ve gathered some of the most common financial mistakes parents make when it comes to college planning.

Mistake #1: Procrastinating

Raising children is no easy task. You have so much to think about as they’re growing up that college might not always be at the forefront of your mind. But the reality is, the earlier you get started on planning how to fund your child’s education, the better off you will be. With the impact of compounding interest, even just a couple of years can make a difference in your savings. Take the first step by calculating the potential future cost and consider how many years you have left to save. This way, you’ll have a specific number in mind when it comes to putting money aside each month.

Not sure how to get started with that calculation? View the recording of our webinar, How to Navigate the College Search and Application Process Stress-Free.

Mistake #2: Not Researching Account Types

While it’s good to have options when it comes to saving for your child’s education, choosing the right savings account can be overwhelming. Take the time to research the types of accounts that can be used to cover educational expenses.

Options could include:

  • 529 plans
  • Coverdell ESAs
  • Roth IRAs
  • UTMAs
  • UGMAs
  • Trusts

Consider how they differ and what aspects are most valuable to you. You’ll also want to consider factors such as your risk tolerance and how much time you have left to save. As a starting point, check out our free resource:

What Issues Should I Consider to Fund My Child’s College Education?

Mistake #3: Buying Investments with High Annual Fees

You probably don’t want to have to think about additional fees when you’re trying to save for a huge expense such as college. However, excessive fees can make it much more difficult to reach your college planning goals. When choosing an investment vehicle or savings account for college planning, review any potential fees that could negate or diminish earnings.

Mistake #4: Relying on Your Retirement Funds to Pay for College

Depleting your retirement savings in order to send your child to school is a common mistake that parents make.

It’s important to think ahead, because restarting your retirement savings in your 40s and 50s is going to make it difficult to actually retire when you want to. Instead of turning to your 401(k) or other retirement savings, look into student loans, scholarships, 529 plans and other college savings accounts.

Mistake #5: Failing to Consider Student Loans

Taking out student loans does not mean that you don’t make enough money. On the flip side, you shouldn’t assume that your income is too high for your family to benefit from some type of financial aid. College is getting increasingly expensive every year, and there’s no shame in taking out a loan for a little help. In fact, when it comes to federal student loans there are about 42.9 million borrowers each year. Research different federal student loan programs and understand the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans to determine if taking out a loan would work for your situation.

Even if you don’t plan on borrowing money, fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) before sending your child off to school. It’s a quick and easy way to potentially receive aid, and you don’t have to take it even if it’s offered. Additionally, research loan types, as federal loans may offer lower-interest rates than private lenders – but this may not always be the case.

Get Help

Still stressed out by the thought of starting your college planning journey?

  1. Use these tips as a jumping off point as you work with your financial advisor to develop a college savings strategy for your future graduate.
  2. Watch the recording of our webinar, How to Navigate the College Search and Application Process Stress-Free. Heritage Financial’s Director of Financial Planning, Ed Jastrem, and Eric Stutman, Owner of Top Choice College Consulting, shared an overview of the college process, including financial aid and:
  • when to get the process started,
  • how to find colleges that are the best fit,
  • what the new “test-optional” environment means for your family,
  • why you should investigate financial aid no matter your wealth.