Planning for All Four (or More) Years

A friend whose son is my twins’ age was surprised recently when I told her some of the colleges my daughter was applying to. She thought they seemed unlikely choices given my constant messaging of finding affordable schools. Her son was interested in some of the same ones and the net prices they found were quite high. The answer: we have the benefit of two children in college all four years. That means our EFC gets divided between then and in many cases, this yielded lower likely net costs. Good news for my Continue reading Planning for All Four (or More) Years

Hitting Pause

My daughter just forwarded me an email—appending exclamation points and smiley faces—from one of the schools she applied to, saying they’ll be sending out acceptances between March 1 and March 15. She’s nervous about acceptances but excited for her next steps so she was thrilled to learn she’ll get at least one answer really soon. For me, a moment of relief that the answers are coming was quickly replaced by an urgent desire to hit the Pause button on life. Yes, I’m excited for her and yes, I’m confident that she’ll have some good choices. But I also feel like we only have a few more days in the world of Continue reading Hitting Pause

Why 529s Always Make Sense

It’s easy to explain to parents of younger children why 529s make sense: Contribute now and your account grows tax-free for 18 years until college. If you live in one of the more than 30 states that offers a tax deduction, that’s an even bigger incentive. Here in Oregon, for example, we get a tax deduction for the first $4,865 in contributions to the Oregon College Savings Plan. If I contributed that much for my newborn (well, they act like newborns sometimes) I’d get an immediate return of 9% (state tax rate) or $437.85. Suppose that my account then grows for 18 years at 5% (I’m drastically simplifying the math here), I’d have almost $12,000 when my child was ready to start college, and no tax bill to access it. Added bonus: the FAFSA and Profile don’t count that gain as income in their formulas, unlike how it would be treated if it were in a taxable account. Continue reading Why 529s Always Make Sense

College Endowment Returns

If you’re still smarting from your year-end 401k statement, you might not want to read this. The 2018 NACUBO-TIAA Study of Endowments showed that even institutional investors were not immune to market performance, with endowment returns down almost 1/3 from 2017 to 2018. Endowments still managed an average return of 8.2%, though the 10-year average annual return came in at 5.8%, short of the 7.2% 10-year return target. Continue reading College Endowment Returns

Budgeting for Books and Supplies

When comparing the two schools my son is considering, we noticed an interesting data point: one school estimated books and supplies to cost $800 annually; the other $1,146. One of the schools my daughter applied to estimates $1,800. While I can certainly understand that different meal plans or living options might be more or less expensive at different schools, it’s hard to understand why books would cost 50% or 100% more from school to school. Continue reading Budgeting for Books and Supplies

What’s in a 1098-t

(and what isn’t)

A 1098-t is a tax form that serves several purposes. It reports qualified tuition and fee payments made to your college, as well as scholarships received to offset those costs. But qualified expenses is a big tent-type of phrase that means different things in different situations. All by way of saying, your 1098-t is not an exhaustive list of qualified expenses. Continue reading What’s in a 1098-t

To Borrow or Not to Borrow

Planning for college cash flow can be tricky. It’s not just that the average public university costs over $25,000 per year whereas the average family has saved just over $18,000 total. There’s also the combination of tax credits and their attendant rules, a confusing menu of borrowing options, and misunderstandings about how aid formulas treat savings. Add multiple children with overlapping college years and it’s no wonder many parents throw up their hands in despair. One common theme I hear from parents is a version of, “We’ll just spend our savings until it’s gone and then borrow what we need.” This may or may not be the right answer. Continue reading To Borrow or Not to Borrow

Student Loans and Mortgages

There’s been a great deal of press in recent years about the impact student loans have on the larger economy, especially home purchasing. A Federal Reserve Bank of New York report showed a decline of 8 percentage points in home ownership among 28-to-30-year-olds from 2007 to 2015, and estimated that about 1/3 of that can be attributed to student loan debt. Because that’s all a little abstract, and because decisions families make now about college and student loans have the potential to cast a long shadow on the student’s life, I asked mortgage broker Tim McBratney of Pacific Residential Mortgage to explain how student loans affect the mortgage qualification process. He notes that the process has gotten more difficult with respect to student loan debt. Continue reading Student Loans and Mortgages