Beating the college crunch

It should come as no surprise to parents that college tuition is on the rise and that a college degree is becoming essential in today’s job market. You can’t count on your child getting a scholarship or your family suddenly winning the lottery so the best method is saving—and the time to start is now.

First, open a 529. A government-sponsored 529 plan comes in two forms: One lets you buy tuition"credits” locked-in at today’s rate but that can be used only for tuition and mandatory fees at participating universities, while the other is a savings account that can be used for all related expenses at any college including books, room and board and even computers. Setting up a 529 is crucial; your money accrues interest in the safest possible environment, as withdrawing for a noneducation-related expense garners a heavy tax, sometimes up to 10 percent.

Rebecca Matthias, of Philadelphia, started a program that helps families save money by spending money. Futuretrust is a credit card program tied in with a 529 college savings plan where cardholders earn at least 1 percent back on every purchase and that money goes directly into a 529 account. Customers can earn even more money at partner retailers such as Target, Office Depot and many more—up to 10 percent back at some stores.

“It’s never too early to start saving, but it’s never too late either,” says Matthias, who points out that a 529 can be opened before a child is even born."No matter how old your child is, your strategy should be the same: to make saving what you can for college a part of your budget every month.”

Linking a Futuretrust Mastercard with a 529 helps parents get in the swing of savings while it’s still early. According to Matthias, saving for college doesn’t have to feel like a burden if families are aware of all the simple ways to save.

“Even if you can’t save enough to pay the total cost of four years of college, every dollar you do save is one dollar less that your child will have to pay back in loans.”

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