It’s no secret that many American parents want to support their kids by paying for their college education.
According to recent research from Student Loan Hero (2021 survey), 92% of parents today have already paid for or plan to assist with these costs. Furthermore, 68% of parents say they would consider withdrawing from their retirement savings, potentially delaying retirement, to help their kids pay for college.
While the choice to delay retirement to pay tuition is understandable and even admirable, the reality is doing so may not be the wisest financial decision. If you are considering how to balance saving for college and retirement, read on for some perspective.
Prioritize college bills or retirement?
Although it may be hard to hear, saving for retirement should take priority over college tuition. To understand why, consider the following:
You may not get to choose your retirement date. Injury, caring for an aging parent, or a layoff are among the factors that could ultimately make the decision for you.
You don’t want to run out of money in retirement. If your savings come up short, you don’t have the ability to apply for scholarships, grants or financial aid to help bridge the gap. (Your child has access to these options to help pay for college.) Instead, your options are likely to be working longer, finding other sources of income or spending less on travel and other retirement dreams.
While it’s imperative to focus on your own financial security in retirement, funding higher education is still an important goal for many parents. The key is striking the right balance between saving for both goals. Consider the following tips as a starting point:
1. Paying for college doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Many parents choose to pay a percentage of the total bill, cover certain expenses (e.g. tuition, technology fees or room and board), pay for a set number of years, or contribute as much as they are able to save by the first day of school instead of funding the full cost. Revising your college savings goal in one of these ways could allow you to direct more money to retirement.
2. If your child has sights on graduate school, decide whether you will contribute to those bills too. This decision is particularly important if your child needs a graduate degree before entering his or her field of choice. If you intend to provide financial support, calculate how much the total cost will be so you have a clear savings target in mind.
3. Discuss your intentions with your child. No matter how much you contribute, talk to your child (if and when your child is old enough) about your financial commitment so he or she knows what to expect. Discuss how your contribution will look like at their preferred colleges. For example, if you agree to pay a set amount, perhaps this money will fully cover community college, a substantial amount at a state school, and leave a larger portion of the bill outstanding at a private college. Breaking down the costs for your child can help him or her make an informed decision about how much student debt (or scholarships, grants, etc.) is needed to cover the bill.
No matter your financial situation, know that it is possible to make meaningful progress toward both goals, particularly if you are intentional about how to allocate your savings. Consult a financial advisor and tax professional if you want help setting specific savings goals and understanding the various investing options available to you.
Holley Smaldone-Cragg, CMFC, is a Financial Advisor with Ameriprise Financial in Geneva. She specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for over 35 years. Her website is ameripriseadvisors.com/holley.com.