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Can We Put Retirement First – And STILL Help With College?

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Can We Put Retirement First – And STILL Help With College?

Sparing a loved one from college debt at the expense of your own future is a failing strategy. Here’s a better approach.

As parents and grandparents, we want our offspring to have it easier than we did growing up. So it’s only natural to want to lessen their financial burden when it comes to college. And while you’ve likely heard the advice from most financial advisors that helping your kids or grandkids pay for higher education shouldn’t come at the expense—literally—of saving for your retirement, it’s often easier said than done. Still, it’s important to take to heart. “I always say, you cannot borrow to retire,” says Shelly Eweka, Senior Director, Financial Planning Strategy at TIAA. “There are lots of different ways to cover college costs, but not to pay for retirement.”

It is possible to strike a balance between saving enough for your later years and also helping kids with their education, Eweka notes. Like most things, it starts with a financial plan—one that takes your realistic goals (in this case, helping your loved one and saving for retirement) into account, so you won’t be tempted to go against your plan when emotions are involved. “Having a plan will help you put those goals in focus,” says Eweka. Here are some ways to get started.

How the typical family pays for college

Eight in 10 families says parents paid for a portion of their child’s college education out of their own pocket.

70% of parents used current income

37% used a dedicated college savings fund

14% withdrew from a retirement fund

35% used other savings or investments.

Source: Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for College 2020” study, conducted by lpsos

Choose a financial planner who’s the right fit for you.

“One of the most important things besides who your doctor is, is who your financial planner is,” says Eweka. And it’s nearly as intimate. “This person is going to help you with all aspects of your financial life.” So don’t settle for just anyone. Interview several candidates, read reviews and make sure that they work with a trusted investment company. If they don’t ask you upfront what your goals are, move on, says Eweka.
Also, find out if they have experience working with clients your age, suggests Mark Schrader, Financial Planning Strategist at TIAA. “If you’re 45 and thinking about saving for college, and this person’s website shows older couples walking on the beach, that may not be the right person for you right now.”

Be realistic about your goals.

You know that you want to help your kids, but to what extent? And what sacrifices are you willing to make to do so? Do you really want to continue working for several years? Are you OK with spending less in retirement as a trade-off? If the answer to that last question is yes, then spend less now, says Eweka. “If you can spend less in retirement, you can spend less now, which would give you more cash flow to save for both.”

Don’t feel guilty about putting your retirement first.

“Most parents want to set their kids up as well as possible, but you’re also helping them in the future by setting yourself up for a successful retirement,” says Schrader. “Finding a good balance now keeps them from having to possibly fund your retirement later.”  That’s because if you run out of money in your later years, your kids are likely the ones who you’re going to rely on. Also, making solid financial decisions for yourself now teaches your children the importance of doing so themselves.

Let your financial plan dictate how much you should save and invest.

It can be tempting to want a definitive answer to the question, “How much do I need to save for retirement and college?” But, according to Eweka, you won’t really know the answer until you’ve laid out a larger plan. However, you should always put the maximum amount you can in all of your retirement accounts. Not only is it a sound strategy, but “some IRAs have provisions where you’ll be able to use some of that money to pay for college costs,” says Eweka.

Another thing to be mindful of is how your income level will affect your child’s ability to receive financial aid. If your family won’t qualify for much aid, it’ll be on you to make up the difference. “You need to think about what you’re able to cover, and be upfront about that with your children,” says Eweka. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that “it doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” adds Schrader. “You can pay for a portion of the four years, which would help more than paying for none.”

After Fifty Living thanks our friends at TIAA for this informative article!

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