John Munley, College Funding Specialist
Despite being a successful foreign currency trader with a 27-year career on Wall Street, John Munley was still worried about paying for college, saving for retirement, and spending quality time with his family. This urged him to sign up as a financial planning client years ago.
As John’s financial planner guided him through obstacles and showed him the path to success, John discovered that he wanted to do the same for others.
When he was presented with the opportunity to leave Wall Street behind and start his journey as a financial planner, John co-founded wHealth Advisors, a New Jersey-based company that aims to provide the highest quality, objective financial planning to its clients.
John actively works as a College Funding Specialist, helping thousands of families find the best possible college fits for their students and demonstrating how to attend college for the least amount of money.
Questions Answered Today:
Is it too late to start 529 plans for teenage kids?
No. There are a lot of unmatched benefits for opening a 529, regardless of the age of the student. With a 529 plan, you have an opportunity to not only save money for college but grow it tax-free, so it’s important to never assume that it’s too late to start a plan, even if you have a child who’s headed off to college soon.
1. Tax savings
One of the primary benefits of 529 plans is that, to some extent, they are tax-free, which is quite a huge savings for many families. You can potentially invest and grow your money, and you can even earn tax deductions for your 529 plan contributions. The rules regarding taxes greatly depend on the state where you live, but let’s take a look at some of these examples:
- In New Jersey, couples with $200,000 adjusted gross income (AGI) can contribute as much as $20,000 a year to their 529 plans and get a major tax deduction. The tax rate in New Jersey is 6.7%, so contributing that much money gives you a savings of $1,300 each year.
- In New York, they have state tax and city tax that add up to 11%. They generally have no limit on how much money you can put in your 529 plan, but the tax-free contribution is up to $10,000, which means that you can get as much as $1,100 in tax savings from contributing to your 529 plan.
- In Wisconsin, the contribution limit is currently $3,580 per beneficiary, and this number changes based on inflation. If you have four kids, you could potentially get that $3,580 tax break four times, for a total of $14,320! Sometimes with clients, I set up 529 plans for mom and dad as well, which allows them to get the tax deduction six times.
There are different rules when it comes to tax breaks, so it’s always smart to get to the details of how 529 funds work in your state.
Brad notes that your contribution, together with the money it has grown, is tax-free as long as it’s spent on qualified expenses, which include, but are not limited to:
- Room and board
- Books and school fees
- And more
Refer to the first episode of this series for a deeper dive on qualified expenses.
As your kid becomes closer to college age, it makes even more sense to put money in 529 plans to “save more aggressively.”
“I think every college saving strategy should at least have 529s as a part of it.” – John Munley
2. 529 savings are “more sticky,” reducing the temptation to spend your money mindlessly.
It’s easier to spend money when it’s readily available. Your kid’s college money could be gone in a heartbeat if you make an impulsive decision to withdraw it from a savings or checking account and go on a vacation, buy a house, buy a boat, or anything similar.
Brad and John believe that 529 plans offer another layer of protection to your hard-earned money because they’re a dedicated place to put your college savings.
A 529 plan is completely separate from your other bank or investment accounts, and it’s clearly earmarked for college. When you put your money into something that’s labeled “college,” it tends to be a lot more hands-off. You’re much less likely to tap into those funds unless it’s an absolute emergency.
There isn’t that same temptation to “borrow” from the account and pay it back later either. Paybacks often never happen once the funds are withdrawn. Additionally, the taxes and penalties you’ll pay for using 529 plan funds for non-educational expenses are another powerful deterrent.
Be smart and consider investing in a 529 plan because it will likely help you ensure that your college money is preserved and used for that purpose.
Are there any instances where it makes more sense to skip 529 plans?
As mentioned, families who spend 529 funds for a different purpose are met by harsh consequences. Hence, there are situations where you need to think twice about 529 plans.
1. When you’re not paying taxes in the first place
If you can’t reap the tax benefits, maybe it makes more sense to put your money somewhere safer such as mutual funds or bank accounts. This way, you have full control of the money and can use it for emergencies (e.g. surgery) without being penalized.
2. When you already have solid investment accounts
Navigating 529 accounts can be tricky and time-consuming, especially since you need to keep track of your savings for tax purposes and keep track of your withdrawals to prove that you’ve spent them on qualified educational expenses. If you already have investment accounts that are all set up, you could consider just using those (i.e. add an extra $1,000 a month to your existing account) and save yourself some time and paperwork. But you should weigh that against any potential tax benefits you might lose in the process.
Are there other college savings plans that offer tax benefits?
Absolutely! There are other college savings options and these are somewhat old, having been overtaken by 529 plans, but they are definitely worth a look.
1. Coverdell Education Savings Account
- Its maximum annual contribution is $2,000 a year, limited to 18 years ($36,000 maximum overall)
- You can’t contribute if your income is too high. Its income thresholds are $110,000 for single and $220,000 for joint contributors.
2. Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
- Unlike a 529, which is a parent’s asset, a UTMA is essentially a child’s asset. That means parents hold the money in custody, and, if the child turns 18 or 21, the ownership of the money gets legally transferred to the child.
- This may not be a good idea if you’re aiming to get need-based financial aid. Why? Since a UTMA account is a child’s asset, its value counts 20% towards the student aid index formula, contrary to a parent’s asset, which is only 5%.
- Your child can do whatever they want with the money, in or out of college. But if you, as a parent, spend it as if it’s your own money, you can get sued.
- A UTMA account’s capital gains are taxable. For example, if you put $20,000 in the UTMA at the time your kid was born, and it grew to $50,000 after some time, only the base $20,000 is tax-free. The remaining $30,000 is taxable.
3. Roth IRA
- A Roth IRA does not offer tax benefits, but it’s always accessible.
- If you take your Roth IRA money before you hit 59 and 1/2 years old, you’ll be charged a 10% penalty. That penalty only gets waived (although the funds are still taxable) if you use the money for qualified expenses (e.g. college).
- Messing with your retirement plan could be tricky, so make sure to do this with planning and caution. For example, a couple with big pensions, social security, and huge incomes has strategically used its Roth IRAs to pay for college and thus avoid borrowing money. They were able to bridge the gap between their saved college money and what college actually costs. This only worked because they have a good grasp of how they’ll be living in retirement.
- For older parents, college is a retirement expense. In these situations, having different retirement plans [e.g. 401(k) and 403(b) plans] and saving aggressively are necessary.
Hence, as parents, it’s important to ask the following questions:
- Where am I now in terms of my income and my assets?
- What do I project my retirement to be?
- What’s the best way for my family to approach college/retirement and pay for it?
- What can I do to qualify for tax credits and save more?
- What are my efforts in understanding how taxes and investments work?
Tax rules and investment options are not easy to understand at all, and it takes time to get the hang of them. It’s important that you gain understanding, if not mastery, of them and find what’s the best strategy for your family.
What are your recommendations for families with young kids?
According to John, if you have a newborn and a four-year-old kid, you’ll probably need to save about $700,000 for college, especially if you’re paying for it in full.
If you’d like to help your kids pay for college, you need to start thinking about the future early. Here are some guidelines to help you make better money decisions:
1. Start assessing your ability to save. What’s your discretionary spending? What’s your non-discretionary spending? Are you funding your retirement? Assessing these expenses determines how much “excess cash” you have.
2. Make a conscious decision to save. If your kids are younger, saving may be harder because of the expenses that come with having babies (i.e. diapers, day care, etc.). As soon as money becomes available, make it a habit to set aside money for contributions.
3. Plan how you’d like to pay for college. One great way to think about it is to strategically divide the expenses into three. For example, you can pay for a third, borrow a third, and then the rest might be paid by scholarships. Or it could be a different variant. The idea is to think about where you’ll get the money so there’s no room for last-minute debt, which could be detrimental to the family’s finances.
Now, if you have older students, it’s even more important to ask more college-specific question:
- What’s the cost of going to a state college or university?
- Which public or private schools offer nice scholarships and are more generous with aid?
- Is it better to go to a public school rather than a private school?
The bottom line is understanding your options and piecing them together help you make informed decisions.
For personal assistance, contact Brad now.
Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This information and other important information are contained in the fund prospectuses, summary prospectuses and a 529 product program description. These documents can be obtained from financial professional or directly from the plans website. Please read them carefully before investing.
Depending on your state of residence, there may be an in-state plan that offers tax and other benefits, which may include financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors. Before investing in any state’s 529 plan, investors should consult a tax professional. If withdrawals from 529 plans are used for purposes other than qualified education. The withdrawal could be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty, state penalties, federal income tax and state income tax.
Brad Baldridge is a Registered Representative, Securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. a Broker/Dealer, Member FINRA / SIPC. Investment Advisor Representative, Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. Baldridge College Solutions and Cambridge are not affiliated.
This communication is strictly intended for individuals residing in the states of California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. No offers may be made or accepted from any resident outside the specific states referenced.
Links and Resources
Helpful Articles and Resources
- College Financial Planners: What They Do and Why Families Hire Them
- Scholarship Guide For Busy Parents
- College Money Report
- Taming The High Cost Of College
- John Munley’s contact info:
- wHealth Advisors – Website
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Brad Baldridge 0:00
Understanding 529 plans and their state tax benefits.
You have kids, they grow up, and before you know it, it's time to plan for college. Where do you start? How much is it going to cost? Will you qualify for financial aid? Should you be looking into scholarships? When will you be able to retire? What about student loans? The list of questions is never ending. The good news is all the answers are right here. Welcome to the Taming the High Cost of College podcast. Here is your host, certified financial planner, Brad Baldridge.
Brad Baldridge 0:34
Hello, and welcome to Taming the High Cost of College. I'm your host Brad Baldridge. Today, we have another interview with John Munley, where we're going to talk even more about 529 plans. Now in this episode, we're going to talk a little bit about 529 plans, and they how they fit into the overall plan. We're gonna talk about tax benefits, which we haven't talked as much about, we're also going to talk about some of the other options that you might consider, in addition to 529 plans or instead of 529 plans. So for many families, 529 plans are an important piece of the puzzle. But we also use other types of accounts, in addition to the 529 plans. And some rare instances 529 plans aren't the best option and we choose to go a different way. So John and I will talk a little bit about all those different ideas and help you understand what some of the options are, and perhaps guide you in a slightly different direction than you might have gone otherwise. So stay tuned and learn even more about 529s. All right, John, we're back talking 529s again. How have you been?
John Munley 1:39
Been? Great. Thank you, Brad, how about yourself?
Brad Baldridge 1:42
So far, so good. Just graduated my second son. So he'll be off to college in the fall. So we're moving right along, I guess.
John Munley 1:52
And ready to break open that 529 plan. Tap into it, I guess, huh?
Brad Baldridge 1:57
John Munley 1:57
Great timing for this discussion. And congratulations.
Brad Baldridge 2:02
Yes, thank you. Alright, so we're going to talk about 529 strategies. We've talked about some of the basics. And now we're going to kind of dive deeper into strategies that families can use to really leverage a 529 if they want to, and talk about maybe some alternatives as well. So I think I mentioned it in one of the other podcasts. But I want to beat the drum on this one a little bit. So this is rumor out there where people say something to the effect of, 'Well, you have a teenager or you have a kid in high school or whatever it might be. And now it's too late to use a 529.' Have you heard people say something like that in the past?
John Munley 2:40
I definitely have, basically their premise is, 'Well, I didn't open it when they were young child. So it's too late now. And there's really no point in doing it. Now we can just save it in a checking account or a savings account and have that money there when we need it, which there's definitely some fallacies around that.
Brad Baldridge 3:01
Absolutely. Right. So I don't agree that it's too late ever to participate in a 529. I think maybe there's diminished returns where you might get a lot more benefit if you started with your kids were newborns or grade school or whatever it might be. But I think we use them all the time and lots of people I'm working with we have high school juniors and seniors, and even then it makes sense to start using a 529. Even if you haven't so far. There are rare exceptions where maybe it doesn't make sense. But let's talk about why 529s make sense. And I would say number one is taxes, right? There's lots of potential tax benefits for 529s.
John Munley 3:44
Exactly. So depending on the state that you live in, there are certain amounts of states that they'll give tax breaks for contributions that you make to 529 plans, they have different rules. For instance, where I am in New Jersey, if you make under $200,000 AGI, you can contribute as a couple up to 20,000 a year into the New Jersey 529 and get a tax break. Now, our tax rate in New Jersey here is 6.7%. So you're basically saving yourself $1,300 in taxes by contributing that money to 529. I worked with also people who live in New York City and not only do they have the New York state tax, but they have the New York City tax that's almost 11%. In New York, you can contribute whatever you want, but your tax deduction is up to a maximum of $10,000. Again, if you live in Manhattan or Brooklyn, Queens, anywhere in New York City, you're getting an 11% return on that money, you're getting $1,100 back off of your New York State taxes, which that alone is a really great reason to invest in a 529.
Brad Baldridge 4:51
Right? Absolutely. And here in Wisconsin, if the two you mentioned there was a limit, it sounds like maybe protects return up to that 10,000, here in Wisconsin, that limit is 3580, which that number changes every year, because it's based on inflation. So it started at $3,000. And it's gone up for the last 7, 8, 9 years or whatever it's been that they've had it in place based on inflation, so it keeps clicking up. But that's per beneficiary. So, essentially, we're in round numbers, 3500 per beneficiary. So if you have four kids, you could do it four times. And then sometimes in Wisconsin, we'll actually set up plans for mom and dad as well. So now we can do it six times. So if you're saving aggressively for college, which again, a lot of times we are, especially in the late stage, where we're saying, oh, we need to be putting in $4,000, every quarter, or 2000 a month or something like that, where we're really are saving aggressively. Sometimes we will hit those limits, sometimes not. But it just makes sense to understand how they work. Because that's a state tax benefit on top of the federal benefits, which again, if reviewing from the last couple, which would be that they grows tax deferred. And if you spend it on qualified college expenses, then you don't have to pay taxes on the growth either. So it's 100%, tax free. And we talked about all the details. So you can go back to the previous episodes if you need to brush up on the very basics of how they work. But generally, qualified expenses are college tuition, room and board, books and fees are typical.
John Munley 6:32
All right, as a general rule of thumb, whenever you can save money on taxes, that's always a good thing.
Brad Baldridge 6:40
Right? Exactly. And the reality of it is from when you start doing college planning, a lot of families are going to need to set up some sort of segregated college account anyway. Because if you just say, 'Well, you know, there's 25,000 in our savings account, and we're going to start putting 2000 a month into the savings account, then anytime an emergency comes along, like oh, we need a nice vacation, then you tap the savings account.' And you don't really pay attention to how much of that was set aside for college, and you inadvertently start spending your college money. Whereas what I found is as soon as you segregate it into a 529, and label it college, it's much more sticky, it's you're not going to tap into that unless there's truly an emergency. And again, you have access to as we've talked about in the past, you may have to pay some taxes and penalties. But it is your money. So in a dire emergency yet I need to get this operation and I got to pay for it now. Well, then you could tap your 529 if you needed to. But the the wayward vacation usually then doesn't mess up your college savings.
John Munley 7:47
And it eliminates the temptation to go into a taxable account, say, 'Well, it is really for college, but we'll take it out now we'll put it back in a few months,' and this way through 529, you really don't want to do that, again, for tax reasons.
Brad Baldridge 8:02
Right, absolutely. All right. So that's kind of the benefits of the 529. Let's review the the downside again, you know, when people say it's too late to use a 529. Again, I would argue that, 'Well, if you can save 10 bucks, it's probably worth doing a 529.' Especially if you're setting up an account already, right, you're gonna have to open a new account, why not a 529. But occasionally, you will run into someone that already has college savings set up, maybe inside their own retirement because they're older, and they think, well, we're gonna I'm gonna tap my retirement for college. Or maybe they just want to put it in a bank where they know it's, quote, unquote, safe. And those makes sense sometimes. But again, the tax benefits are there. But the downside, I think of the 529 is if you're not paying any taxes at all, both federal and state, then maybe you don't need a 529. And you could use other similar investments, whether it's mutual funds, or bank accounts, or whatever it might be.
John Munley 9:08
Exactly, and again, that you hit on again, that taxes, if you pay no taxes, federal or, or you don't get the state benefit for doing a 529, then it's probably not worth it. But again, in most other cases it is
Brad Baldridge 9:22
Right. But then you're still gonna maybe need to set up that separate college savings account, again, to keep it safe and not mix it with your other money and inadvertently spend it rather than the other point, I think that people run into is obeying the rules of the 529 adds a little layer of complexity, right? We keep saying, 'Well, if you spend it properly, you get all these tax benefits. If you don't spend it properly, you get some tax penalties.' So I guess there's some people out there that say, 'Well, it isn't worth the benefits because I'm afraid I'm going to get the penalties instead.' So that, I think it was legitimate, and then finally, just the overall hassle that factor of it, I've already got some sort of brokerage account or investment account or whatever it is, that's all set up and ready to go. And all I have to do is turn it on and put an extra 1000 a month into it. That's easy. If I have to figure out which 529 and do all the paperwork and figure it all out, that's a lot more effort, I don't want to do that effort, which I guess is fine. If you don't mind, again, foregoing whatever benefits there might have been from the 529. So let's talk a little bit about those benefits. I did some kind of back of the napkin math on a bunch of 529s. And what's come up is there's about 30 states where you can save $100 a year or more by using your 529. And a lot of that might be, again, going to the maximum limit, right? You mentioned, here in Wisconsin, it was twenty five $180. So if you did that for four people, now we're getting about 189 per account times four accounts, you know, so we're getting some serious money to do the full 10,000. And your state, what was the number again?
John Munley 11:12
That's 6.7% tax rate here so basically, for $10,000, you're gonna get $670 back by contributing that
Brad Baldridge 11:24
And you can go up to 10 or 20?
John Munley 11:26
20,000 so you're looking at 1300.
Brad Baldridge 11:31
Right? Exactly. So, especially for families where you're aggressively saving in some of the states that high cash flow is going to equate to pretty substantial amounts of money. So based on 30 saving more than 120, saving more than 500. That means there's 9 or 10 that are in between there where it'll save you 100 or 200 or $300 a year. But if you look back and say, well, you know, my student had to work for that, and they could make $15 an hour in order to get $300, they have to work 20 hours. So if it's not worth mom and dad's time, maybe it's worth the students time to figure it out. Because if they could save $300, and then you gave it to them, that's probably a pretty good pay, because I don't think it's going to take that many hours for them to figure it out, especially for a brighter kid that understands this stuff a little bit. And again, mom and dad may have to help in either way, because that's a little bit new to most students. But again, the 529 is not the only game in town. So let's talk a little bit more about what else is out there. What else can we put our money in? We've already mentioned just the straight taxable account where instead of putting your money in a 529, you could go put it in a bank account, or a mutual fund or whatever, and get essentially the same investment options as you have inside the pipeline. So if cash is paying one or 2% cash type accounts or bank accounts, savings accounts are paying one or 2%. You can probably do that inside the 529 or outside 529, so you're gonna get the same rate of return, you just get the different tax treatment and the different rules. So you could like I said, take it to the bank and just get your 1%. But then there's other types of accounts where we do get tax benefits as well. So there is another college savings account out there. You want to tell us a little bit about that.
John Munley 13:26
During the call to Coverdell savings account, and you don't see them used much anymore because they're very popular before 520 names became established and the rules are very similar except with a Coverdell the maximum annual contribution is $2,000 a year, which per beneficiary. So even if you are going to max that out every year for 18 years, the most you can put in a Coverdale account is $36,000. It just makes sense in today's day to with the 529 plans, because your maximum amount is so much higher. That and the benefits are the same that it just makes more sense to go to a 529 plan. I know I was talking to you Brad beforehand, and I've never come across anybody who's had a Coverdell. You said you've come across a bit a couple times.
Brad Baldridge 14:18
Yes, there's been a handful. You know, I've talked with like a grandparent that had started many, many years ago. Might have been prior to 529. Or about about the same time as 529. Yeah, the other challenge, of course, is in order to get the deductions, there's income rules where if you earn too much, you can't you can't get the savings that you can't make contributions. I guess they're not it's not the deductibility. It's the contribution, I'm sorry. So that's another challenge is you can't actually even contribute if your income is too high.
John Munley 14:51
Right. I think it's 110,000 for single and 220,000 for joint right tax filers.
Brad Baldridge 14:59
Yeah, so that's one and then we've got something else out there that used to be very popular, but is is waning now as well. But I do run across these as well, which is a huge EMA or a huge GMA type of account.
John Munley 15:13
And I come across them, actually quite frequently. And I think just because when parents start to save, everyone's heard a lot of people have heard of custodial accounts or like, go to my child's name, I'll put it, I'll put it in their name. The problem with that is just for financial aid purposes, and this is a topic for another podcast. But quickly, if it is UTMA, it's a student assets, student assets count 20% towards the expected family contribution formula, parent assets counts about 5%, 529 is parent asset, the UTMA is a child's asset. So that's going to have much more impact on a family's ability to get need based financial aid. So and the other thing with a UTMA is a 529, the parent owns it, the child's a beneficiary UTM a, depending on the state of majority that you live in, once that child turns 18, or 21, that account gets turned over to them legally, it's their money, right? So if it's 18, and they don't want to use it for college, it's technically their money, and they can do whatever they want with it.
Brad Baldridge 16:26
Right? And well, then technically, it's their money, no matter how old they are. So you can't spend it, you can't take your student's UTMA, and go to Vegas with it. Now, your student could maybe go to a Vegas, because it's for the beneficiaries benefit, benefit, which is, again, usually the child. Now, because a two year old can't manage their own investments, there's another person involved in the UTMA, which is often the parent, and they're the custodial parent, and their job is to manage the money for the benefit of that student. So if you think your kid going off to Vegas is a good thing for them, you can spend their money on that trip. And of course, you can say if college is good for them, you can spend that money for college. What you probably can't do is say, 'I'm going to take the money to Vegas, and I'm going to have a good time with it.' Because technically, they if they found a good lawyer and sued you for their money, and you say, 'Well, I spent it in Vegas,' they could recover it, so to speak and now in reality, most UTMAs are small dollar amounts, and most kids have no idea what's going on. So they don't get the lawyer it and very seldom happens. You see it, you see that in the high profile, child actor cases and that kind of stuff. But the typical, grandma gave me $10,000 of stock. And here it sets. You know, there's not a lot of police watching what's going on there.
John Munley 17:28
And the one other disadvantage with that is, let's say you've you put 20,000 to a UTMA. When your child is born, it's now worth 50,000, you're going to use that for college. When you sell that out that 30,000 capital gains that's 30,000 in gains, you have to pay taxes on again on like a 529, where you don't have to pay taxes, if it's used for qualified education, UTMAs, you still have to pay taxes on those gains.
Brad Baldridge 18:22
Right. So the UTMA used to be a good thing because 529 didn't exist. And at least when you paid taxes, you paid it at the child's rate. Well, with the kiddie tax. Now, a lot of times the children are at the same rate as mom and dad. And there's taxes to begin with. And of course, it's also tied up now belongs to that child, you can't change it from one child to the next either. So there's just lots of reasons why UTMAs are kind of the old way of doing it. And I would never start them. And when as we're doing college planning, we're often spending time trying to figure out how to unwind them. So because this money needs to be spent for the benefit of the child, we might spend that money on their lessons or their sports or on their private high school or whatever it is, and then take the money that we would have spent on those things and put it into the 529. But that way the UTMA goes away before college happens, again because of the financial aid reasons. So in a nutshell, UTMAs are probably not worth it, there'll be that rare case, where we often go or where I often go is the other two. Now, the other main thing would be the Roth IRA. Now Roth IRA is generally for retirement. But sometimes we will do a 529 for most of the money or a lot of the money and also put some money in a Roth IRA or an IRA or retirement plan or something like that. Again, because there's that challenge of you can have too much money in a 529 as we talked about, you need to qualified expenses to take it out. So if you have two kids, and they're going to go to the local state school, an example might be 25,000 per year of qualified expenses. So you have 100,000 of expenses, times two kids, if you already have 175,000, in 529 accounts, and you're saying, 'Well, let's save a little bit more, we may need it, we may not need it, depending on what happens with the growth.' And if they win any scholarships, or if the price of the college goes up, or if the price of the college goes down, don't count on that one by the way, but there's some variability. So often, what we might do is say, okay, well, we've got a little more saving to do, but we're not sure we're going to spend it on college, because we don't know the final prices. You know, our youngest isn't even in high school yet. So it's hard to know, we might split up the savings and say, well, if we need to save 1000 a month, we'll put 600 a month into 529s and 400 a month into a Roth IRA, because we have access to all of our contributions into the Roth IRA, anytime, any reason. So college would be that reason. Now the challenge is we don't get the growth, and we don't get the tax deductions, the state tax benefits and a lot of those other things. And that's why we might pair them up. In your state, you mentioned you can put in $20,000 per year and get a deduction. If you happen to be saving 25,000 a year for college that, you know, the obvious decision, there might be, well, the first one that goes into the 529. And then another five goes into the Roth IRA, where we have some flexibility, because a great situation is we don't need it for college. Turns out, they won some scholarships, or we did good planning and other ways. And now we don't need it. So we're just going to now re label it as retirement. And that's a great place to have retirement money as well.
John Munley 21:49
Now, and I've come of exactly what you said. So the Roth is great, because you can take the contributions out and use them for basically anything. So if you do have that gap, and you don't want to borrow money, and you do have enough save for retirement, Roth is a great place to go and use those contributions. In other cases with clients, we've also looked at their traditional IRAs. So if you're under 59 and a half, and you take money out of your IRA, there's usually 10% penalty, if you use it for qualified expenses, which college is, that 10% penalty gets waived, you still have to pay income tax on that. But you don't have to pay the penalty. But I've had a few clients do is you know, once they hit towards retirement age 65, we know they're going to have a big pension, we know they're going to have social security. And they do have a big IRA established that if there's a little bit of shortfall for college, rather than borrowing, we borrow it, we can kind of project out how they're going to be living in retirement. And if they have access to that IRA, we're able to utilize that to pay for college and prevent them from borrowing money. It doesn't happen, for most people, I would not recommend that going into retirement for people who are going to have a large income, again with pensions, and social security and they have a big IRA as it is, it's one way to maybe bridge that gap between what college is going to cost and what they have saved already in dedicated, 529 account.
Brad Baldridge 23:18
right. And I've seen other situations like I had someone that had relatively high income, and they are in high tax brackets, and they were older parents. So they actually were going to be 60 during most of the college career. So they were going to have access to the retirement plan if they wanted. And they thought they might even be retired by the time college happened. So for them, and this is a rare instance, but for them college really was a retirement expense because they would be retired. And they had access to not 401(k) plan at work and a 403(b) plan at a different job. And they were maxing them both. So they were saving somewhere in the neighborhood of 52,000 a year. And they assumed some of that was going to be used with college and the math worked, right they didn't they're not really robbing their retirement to pay for college. They're just choosing to use a retirement plan as the vehicle and their situation because they again, they were the right age. And everything was kind of in their favor in that situation.
John Munley 24:19
And this is where planning really comes into play in terms of paying for college because you're not only looking at, alright, where am I now in terms of my income, my assets and what I project my retirement to be. But also, here's this college bill, what's the best way for my family to approach this and pay for this? And I think every situation is unique and prevents its own opportunities and challenges.
Brad Baldridge 24:43
Right. Yeah. Again, another example that I've seen is around tax planning where we decided to put some of the college money into the 401(k) so that we could bring down the income, by bringing down the income we qualified for tax credits. The college tax credit And that tax credit was more valuable, by far than the little bit they were going to get from their 529 benefits in that situation. Now, some states are more generous than other, we've talked about that, some states, you're only going to get a couple 100 bucks, other states might be 1000, or 2000. So that's where understanding all the options and how it all fits together, again, full disclosure, right, you really need to understand all the rules and all the tax rules and understand the investment opportunities, whether the money is gonna go up and down, and all that type of stuff, and will of course, put all the actual disclosures at the end here. But again, this was not advice, it can get very complicated in some situations, sometimes it's quite simple, 529 is the easy winner, but not always. And that's where you need to understand and do that comparison for your own situation. So how do you generally recommend for families that have very young kids, right, if you're talking with a young couple, let's say they've got a four year old and a new baby on the way and they're saying, we want to save for college? What comes up usually there, as far as when you're working with families?
John Munley 26:10
Well, the big things is first to see, are they in a position that they can even afford to start saving for college? So we'll kind of look at their, what's your discretionary spending? What's your non discretionary spending? Are they funding their retirement? So are you getting the full benefit from your company by putting money towards the 401(k) so you're getting the match? If they're getting all those things, then we say, alright, here's your excess cash, how much of this excess cash that you have a year? Do we want to start contributing to college, especially now, if you have somebody who has a newborn and a four year old, they're probably looking at $700,000 in college costs. But again, not taking financial aid or scholarships into consideration. If you're paying full sticker price, you're looking at a price like that, that's 700,000 isn't going to magically appear if you're putting in $2,000 a year for the savings? So we have a discussion, do you want to help your kids pay for college? How much do you want to help them? Do you want to help them pay all of it, and then we kind of get them on a plan and say, alright, this is a monthly amount that you're able to afford to do, not affect the money that you're saving towards retirement, and we make smart investments again to the 529. If the kids are younger, we'll go with the aggressive approach and for most of inequities, and hopefully over time, this account will start building up.
Brad Baldridge 27:35
Right, exactly. Yeah. So I would do something similar. I guess one of the challenges that many families have is to understand that, you know, if you started at $200 a month, let's say, and you did that for 18 years, to get to a similar amount, if you only have five or six years to get to that same amount, it could be more like 1200 a month to get there, again, because you lose all that opportunity for the growth. Now sometimes that's just the way it has to be, though a lot of families are saying, but we don't have $200 a month because we're paying 2000 a month towards child care or something like that. So as long as you shift your priorities, as the money becomes available, you can kind of agree to will save higher dollar amounts later. That can work. But you have to have the discipline to actually do it and not use that as an excuse to not save now.
John Munley 28:35
And again, it's hard. You were just talking Brad, so your son's graduating high school. I'm sure you started thinking about his college education when he was born. I have four daughters, two graduated college, one's in college down, I have another one who's just gonna be a ninth grader. So I have a lot of tuitions that I have paid and have to pay. And, yeah, I mean, if you want to help your kids pay for this, you've got to start early and really make a conscious effort to make these contributions, year in and year out. Because it's not magically just going to balloon to big numbers, you've got to make it a habit too. 'Alright, this is how much I'm setting aside each month.' And then you let the magic of compounding work. And hopefully it grows so that you're at least can help them pay for part of it.
Brad Baldridge 29:26
Right? Absolutely. I guess that's the other side of it is I've heard a number of people say things, well, maybe you divided into thirds, were going to borrow a third, mom and dad will pay a third, and the student will pay a third or different, or they're responsible to get scholarships for a third. So there's a number of different ways, but I think part of it is to understand what you're up against, and plan accordingly. And then of course, if you have older students, you know, both John and I spend a lot of time really running those kinds of numbers and figuring out what is going to cost to go to the state school, what about that public or private school with a birthday giving a nice scholarship? How does that compare? And maybe we want to find another school that will give us a similar scholarship. So just understanding the options and, and piecing it all together. All right, any final thoughts as far as 529? Because I think we're gonna get together one more time and talk about some very advanced strategies and kind of go from there.
John Munley 30:28
No, and I think this was great in terms of in almost every situation, it makes sense to put some money into a 529. Whether it's tax advantages, or having a dedicated account just for college, just the flexibility that you're able to have to change beneficiaries, use it for grad school, I think every college-saving strategy should at least have 529s as a part of it.
Brad Baldridge 30:53
Right, absolutely. All right, well, we're gonna end it there. And we're, like we said, we'll get together one more, we'll talk about very advanced strategies around things like leveraging grade school in high school and paying off student loans and maximizing your savings and working with family and grandparents and all different things like that. That's all for today. We'll talk to you again soon.
All right, so that was our third of four episodes, on 529 planning. So the next episode will be our last episode on 529s, where we're going to take a deeper dive into advanced five to nine strategies. And then we're gonna move on and start going back to other topics. Now in the meantime, please visit our website, we've got a lot of other free resources if you're new to this podcast, there's a lot of other podcasts out there that you can listen to on all sorts of college topics. And also at our website tamingthehighcostofcollege.com. We've got a number of free resources, including things like a newsletter, where we send out all the relevant information on college planning. We also have the Scholarship Guide for Busy Parents, the College Money Report, and other free resources as well. So go ahead and go check that out and see what can you can find that will help you in your college planning journey. And of course, if you need some personal assistance, feel free to reach out and give us a call. That's all for this week. We'll see you next week.
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Brad Baldridge 32:39
Disclosures. The information provided to you today is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be specific recommendations or advice. Please consult with a qualified professional before acting on any of this material. Investing involves risk. Depending on the types of investments, there may be varying degrees of risk. Investors should be prepared to bear loss including total loss of principal. 529 College Savings Plan disclosures, investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This information and other important information are contained in the fund prospectuses, summary prospectuses, and the 529 product program description. These documents can be obtained from a financial professional or directly from the plans website. Please read them carefully before investing. Depending on your state of residence, there may be an in-state plan that offers tax and other benefits, which may include financial aid scholarship funds, and protection from creditors. Before investing in any state's 529 plan, investors should consult a tax professional. If withdrawals from 529 plans are used for purposes other than qualified education, the withdrawal could be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty, state penalties, federal income tax, and state income tax. Brad Baldridge's disclosures. Brad Baldridge is a registered representative with Cambridge Investment Research. Securities are offered through Cambridge Investment Research Incorporated, a broker dealer and member of FINRA and SIPC. Brad Baldridge is also an investment advisor representative with Cambridge Investment Research Advisors, a registered investment advisor. Baldridge Wealth Management and Baldridge College Solutions are affiliated. Cambridge and the Baldridge companies are not affiliated. The registered brands location is at 10521 West Leighton Avenue Suite 200 Greenfield, Wisconsin 53228.
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