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September is College Savings Month – Let’s Talk College!

collegesavingsWhile most people connect September with “back to school” season, not everyone may know that it’s also College Savings Month, a good reminder to parents to sit down as a family to evaluate and update their progress saving toward college goals. For some, it will be a simple check in and formal acknowledgment that everything’s on track. For others, it may be the first time that they’ve ever sat down and truly mapped out a plan. Regardless, families that prioritize and set goals together are accomplishing the most important part of the college savings process: communication.

In a time of rising college costs, one would hope that families are over-communicating to ensure that they’re able to cover all of the expenses at hand. But some high school students that we recently caught up with said otherwise, saying things like they “haven’t really talked about” saving for college with their parents. What’s more, Fidelity’s 8th annual College Savings Indicator Study[i] found that parents expect their children to pay an average of 35 percent of total college costs. With parents on track to save just 28 percent of their college savings goals, it’s no surprise that they’re turning to their children for help.

Having the college savings ‘talk’ is important.  Among parents with children 15 years or older, when having good conversations about school selection, choice of major, job prospects, earning potential and the meaning of student loans, more than two-thirds (69 percent) stated that they made adjustments to their plans.

So how can families get on the same page? The good news is that 64 percent of families have already started saving, but there’s always room to focus savings efforts and improve readiness. Here are five best practices that can take saving for college to the next level

(1) Make an actionable plan that can be followed

Fifty-nine percent of parents have a plan in place to help them reach their college goals. While they still have work to do, those with a plan are more likely to feel on track to reach their goal (52 percent) than those without (16 percent).

(2) Use a dedicated college savings account

Ninety-three percent of parents saving in a dedicated college account—like a 529 plan—say it helps them save and stay on track, while also separating college savings from other short-term goals. Families using 529 accounts feel more confident about how best to save, save more each month and are more likely to have talked to their children, creating a family plan to pay for college.  Making savings automatic can also help.  Setting up options such as direct deposit or automatic transfers from a checking account can make it easy.  Early and regular contributions are critical factors in building your savings.

(3) Identify new ways to save

You may recognize the need to save, but with so many other savings priorities, like day-to-day expenses, emergency funds and saving for retirement, don’t know how to find that extra dollar to save for college as well. Instead of thinking of ways to cut saving elsewhere, think of ways to take advantage of current spending. One option is a rewards credit card that can help earn money toward college savings. Another solution is asking friends and family. Many would likely welcome the opportunity to support college savings as a gift, especially grandparents. Fidelity’s Grandparents and College Savings Study found that 90 percent of grandparents said if asked, they would be likely to make a gift to college savings in lieu of traditional gifts for birthdays, holidays or other special occasions.

(4) Do the due diligence

The college saving process is often confusing, so study up on the essentials. Approximately half of parents reported they need additional education when it comes to how best to save for college, saying they either don’t know, or need more information about: what accounts are best to save (49 percent), how to invest savings (50 percent) or where to go for advice about college savings (48 percent).

(5) Look to the experts

You shouldn’t feel the need to go the college saving process alone. Six out of 10 parents report feeling overwhelmed by saving for college, but financial professionals, school counselors and college planning pros are available to help. Seven out of 10 families working with a professional feel confident that they have a good understanding of how best to save for college.

It’s never too early to get started on a college savings plan. In fact, those families who have discussions when their children are young are in a much better position to reach their savings goals. The earlier you broach the subject, the more time you have to learn about the college savings process, save, and adjust your plan accordingly.

Do you have a college savings plan in place?  Take advantage of College Savings Month to get your families college savings on the right track.

About the Author

Today’s guest article comes from Keith Bernhardt. He is vice president of college planning at Fidelity Investments.

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan, U.Fund College Investing Plan, Delaware College Investment Plan, and Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan, are offered by the State of New Hampshire, MEFA, the State of Delaware, and the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, respectively, and managed by Fidelity Investments.  If you or the designated beneficiary is not a New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, or Arizona resident, you may want to consider, before investing, whether your state or the designated beneficiary’s home state offers its residents a plan with alternate state tax advantages or other benefits. Units of the Portfolios are municipal securities and may be subject to market volatility and fluctuation.  Please carefully consider the Plan’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing.  For this and other information on any 529 College Savings Plan managed by Fidelity, contact Fidelity for a free Fact Kit, or view online.  Read it carefully before you invest or send money. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money. Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917 699317.1.0 ©2014 FMR LLC.  All rights reserved.

[i] Fidelity Investments, 2014 College Savings Indicator Study, August 2014

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