Grandparents Should Consider Financial Aid When Contributing to 529 Plans

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

With the high cost of college many grandparents want to help their grandchildren with college.   One of the best ways to accomplish this can be through the use of 529 plans.

A 529 plan allows you to invest money for college with tax free earnings and tax free withdrawals, as long as the money is used for qualified higher education expenses.  Your grandchildren can use this money at any eligible post-secondary institution.  In Colorado your 529 contribution is deductible on your state income taxes.  Additionally, the owner of a 529 plan can change the beneficiary of a 529 plan as the needs of grandchildren change.

There are special gift tax benefits when contributing to a 529 plan.  The current annual gift tax exclusion is $14,000.  This means that both grandparents can gift up to $14,000 to each grandchild.  Additionally, with 529s you can make a one-time contribution of up to $70,000, if you treat the contribution as if it were made over 5 years.

Unfortunately, if your grandchildren are eligible for need based financial aid, utilizing a 529 plan for your grandchildren’s college expenses can hurt their chances of getting financial aid.  The amount invested in the 529 is not reported on the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) but payments made to cover college expenses are included in the student’s income.  This income will reduce the student’s financial aid by 50% of the amount of the payment.

To avoid this problem you can transfer ownership of the 529 to the parent’s name before the student applies for financial aid.  For financial aid purposes a parental 529 is considered an asset and only 5.64% of the value is considered when calculating needs based aid.  About a dozen states do not allow transfer of ownership on 529 plans – ownership transfers are allowed in Colorado.

Alternatively, you could initially contribute to a parental 529 plan but you would lose the state income tax deduction and you lose control of the account.  The owner of the 529 account can change beneficiary designations and can spend money from the account, subject to a 10% penalty if not used for qualified college expenses.  Loss of control could be a concern in the case of divorce or blended families.

Another way to avoid an adverse impact to financial aid is to delay use of the grandparent’s 529 until January 1st of the student’s junior year in college.  Contributions after this day will have no impact on the student’s eligibility for financial aid.  You won’t have to report the 529 as an asset on FAFSA and the contributions from the account are not reported as student income.   This is a viable option if the student has other resources to pay for college up to this point and they still have enough college expenses to use all of the funds in the 529 account.

Supercharge Your Career for Long Term Financial Security

office pictures may 2012 002Proactively managing your career is essential to your long term financial success.  While traditional financial planning is important, it’s crucial to invest in yourself and your career.  The return you can earn from a serious commitment to your career may be better than any investment return you may reasonably achieve.  Strategic attention to your career can result in increased long term income opportunities, a job you love, job security and resources to build your investment portfolio.

It’s too easy to become comfortable and complacent with your situation and settle for less compensation and job satisfaction than you deserve.   The first step toward supercharging your career is to understand yourself.  Evaluate what makes you happy and where your passions and talents lie. Consider how you can best utilize your skills, interests, and experience. Research potential opportunities in your current field as well as in new career fields.  Information about a variety of careers,and what they pay, is available in the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook www.bls.gov.ooh.  Information on salaries can also be found on www.payscale.com and www.salary.com.

After doing your research and identifying some career opportunities, decide on your definition of career success and develop a plan to achieve this.   Career success is not based on luck but on strategic planning, action and commitment.  Establish some long and short term career goals to keep you on track toward meeting your plan.

To help achieve success, think of yourself as a brand of one.  In everything you do, consider your image and how people perceive you.  You have a reputation to build and maintain which should demonstrate trust, dependability, competency, enthusiasm and professionalism.  Don’t think of yourself as an employee but as a company of one who is working to bring success to your current firm.  This in turn will bring you success.  Be reliable and meet your commitments, proactively resolve problems and look for smarter ways to do business.  Do what is needed to get the job done, don’t lose site of the big picture, and focus on the bottom line.  Work strategically and watch for opportunities to meet the needs of your boss and your team.

Nurture relationships, be a team player, and keep a positive attitude.  Continually demonstrate how you can be of value to your boss, colleagues and clients.  Work in a collaborative manner and help others look good and get ahead.  Develop a strong personal network and find a mentor to assist you with your current job and exciting options for the future.

Proactively stay abreast of industry and technological changes. Seek out opportunities to learn and grow through continuing education and formal education.  You will experience more success if you embrace change and innovation.

Your career and ability to earn a good living can be your greatest financial asset – manage and nurture it to maximize your financial security.

Give the Gift of Financial Wisdom this Christmas

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

This year, the best Christmas gift for your adult children may be the gift of financial wisdom. Unfortunately, most young adults successfully graduate from school without a practical understanding of personal finance.  Starting out with a solid foundation and some smart financial habits can help your children live a happier, more fulfilling life.

Upon graduation from school, young adults are starting with a blank slate.  They are probably accustomed to a frugal lifestyle that is more about friends and experiences than expensive cars and fancy restaurants.  Before they take on a host of new financial commitments, encourage them to establish a lifetime habit of living below their means and saving for the future.  Work with them to develop a budget, establish an emergency fund and save for the future.  Help them to avoid the common tendency to increase their expenses in lock step with their income.  They can experience more freedom and opportunity by living below their means and gradually increasing their standard of living.

Another concept that is not taught in school, is the difference between good and bad debt.  Help your children understand the danger of high interest rate credit cards and consumer debt.  Encourage them to limit the number of credit cards they use and to get in the habit of paying credit card balances in full every month.  Also explain the importance of establishing a good credit rating by paying their bills on time.  Help them understand that low interest, tax deductible mortgage debt can be useful where high interest credit card debt can be very detrimental to their financial security.

It’s also important for them to understand some basic investment concepts including the power of compounding.  For example, if they invest $100 per month for 30 years for a total investment of $36,000, in 30 years with a return of 6%, their money can grow to over $100,000 due to compounding.   They have the benefit of time! By investing early, they have tremendous opportunity to grow their money into a sizable nest egg by retirement.

Understanding the importance of diversification and the relationship between risk and return is also essential.  Encourage your kids to avoid putting all of their eggs in one basket and help them understand that getting a higher return requires taking more risk.  It’s best to invest in a variety of investment options with different levels of risk and return.  Caution them that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.  There is no free lunch!

To augment the personal wisdom that you can share, consider buying your kids a book on personal finance for Christmas.  Some books to consider include The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason, Coin by Judy McNary, The Young Couples Guide to Growing Rich Together by Jill Gianola and the Wealthy Barber by David Chilton.

Taking Social Security Early Not the Best Option

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

The best time to take Social Security is a personal decision based on your financial situation, health, lifestyle, family longevity and when you stop working.  Social Security will provide you with the same total amount, if you live to the average life expectancy, regardless of when you take it.   The full retirement age for most people is between 66 and 67.  You can begin taking reduced benefits as early as 62 or you can wait and take an increased benefit as late as age 70.  If you begin at 62 your benefit is reduced by about 30%, if you take Social Security after your full retirement date your benefit will increase 8% per year until age 70.

You will probably benefit from taking Social Security at full retirement or later.  Unless you have a serious medical condition, there is a good chance you will live longer than the Social Security average life expectancy.  Social Security life expectancy tables are based on 2010 data and lag what can be reasonably expected.  They indicate a 65 year old male will live to around 84.3 and a 65 year old female will live to around 86.6.  Taking Social Security later is like buying longevity insurance.  It can provide you with more money later in life which can help put your mind at ease, if you are worried about out living your money.

If you are still working it can be especially detrimental to take Social Security before your full retirement age.  In 2015 you will lose $1 for every $2 earned over $15,720.   Once you reach full retirement age there is no limit to how much you can earn.   However, taxation of your Social Security benefit is based on your overall earnings.  If you take Social Security after you stop working a smaller portion of your benefit is likely to be taxable.  Additionally, if you continue to work and delay Social Security you may be able to increase your total Social Security benefit. The Social Security Administration annually recalculates benefits for recipients who are still working.

The decision on when to take Social Security is significantly impacted by your marital status and your spouses expected benefit.  If you have been married for at least ten years you have the option to take the greater of 50% of your spouse’s benefit or your full benefit. If you wait until your full retirement age you can start taking 50% of your spouse’s benefit, let your benefit grow, and switch back to your full benefit at age 70.   If you take the spousal benefit prior to your full retirement age you cannot switch back to your own benefit at a later date.  If you have been married for at least 10 years, and your spouse dies, you are eligible for the greater of your benefit or 100% of your spouse’s benefit.

More information about your Social Security benefit is available at www.ssa.gov.

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