College costs are challenging

More parents than ever are socking away money to finance their children’s college educations. (NewsUSA)

College costs are challenging

(NewsUSA) Ah, the plight of parents with college-bound children.

According to the just-released ninth annual national “College Savings Indicator Study” conducted by Fidelity Investments, while more parents than ever before are socking away money to finance their children’s college educations — 69 percent nationwide, up 5 percent from last year — they’re still on track to save just 27 percent of their stated goals by the start of freshman year.

Even non-math whizzes can see what’s described as “the challenge ahead” implied by these two numbers: $232 (the median monthly amount parents report saving) and $31,231 (the current average annual cost of tuition and fees at private colleges).

Of particular interest may be the behavior of millennial parents.

This is the generation, born between 1981 and 1997, whose particular revelation from the 2008 recession was how tough it is paying off their own student loans while trying to establish a career (56 percent who graduated with such debt remain saddled with it). So it’s understandable, as the study found, that they “appear particularly determined to help their children” avoid the same plight — specifically, by planning on covering 8 percent more than the 66 percent of their offspring’s college costs than parents overall.

“Millennials have weathered challenging conditions for much of their adulthood, and have adopted smart savings habits at a higher rate than their older counterparts,” says Keith Bernhardt, vice president of retirement and college products at Fidelity.

Here are some ideas you might not have thought of to keep from underfunding your own kids’ higher education:

Consider opening a 529 Plan. According to the survey, 93 percent of parents using one of these state- or state agency-sponsored, dedicated college accounts say it helps keep them on target. Savings can be used for tuition, books, and other education-related expenses. The best part? Federal income taxes are deferred on any earnings, and separate state tax deductions may also apply.

Get with the trend. You’ve heard of wedding registries set up to help finance a honeymoon in, say, exotic Bora Bora, right? Well, it’s the same for college. If you have a 529 Plan through Fidelity, for example, its free 529 Online Gifting Service lets friends and family contribute to your account — with a private dashboard provided for you to send invitations and track gifts.

Reallocate pre-school dollars. If your child has aged out of day care and afterschool care, that’s an average of $730 in monthly fees that could instead be squirreled away in a dedicated college savings account.

One other finding to emerge from the study: 70 percent of all parents say they need more “guidance” on the whole subject. Among the most popular Fidelity resource is an interactive, online College Savings Quick Check that lets you see how you’re progressing.

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