The cost of higher education continues to grow. Parents with young children know they’ll be feeling a financial pinch when it comes time to send their children off to college.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the average in-state tuition and fees for a public college in 2017-18 was more than $9,500 per year. A private college or university was more than triple that cost.
Parents don’t want to dip into their own retirement accounts or see their children saddled with huge student loan bills. Parents also want their children to make decisions about their education that allow them to pursue their dreams, rather than making choices based solely on college price tags.
Setting aside money year after year is the best way to fund a child’s college education. The financial burden is spread across 18 years instead of four. Plus, the right programs allow family members to contribute to a child’s future success without tax penalties.
A simple and cost-effective college-savings plan for Palmetto State families is Future Scholar, South Carolina's 529 college savings plan. Administered through the State Treasurer’s Office, the program is open to anyone regardless of age or income.
“It’s a smart, easy way to save for college,” says South Carolina Treasurer Curtis Loftis. “There’s a generous tax benefit and the plan grows tax-free. Plus, money taken out for qualified educational expenses is withdrawn tax-free.”
Future Scholar uses a 529 plan or an investment account that helps individuals and families save over time for the high cost of education. These plans, created under section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, are sponsored by individual states.
Loftis says one of the greatest benefits of South Carolina’s Future Scholar program is that friends and family members can open and/or contribute to the plan.
“Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles can make a tax-deductible contribution to that plan,” he says. “Now everyone is invested in that child. Instead of sending a sweater, they send money to the account.”
Loftis says more than 100,000 South Carolina families have opened Future Scholar accounts. 164,000 total accounts have been opened nationwide. And while his office has done a great deal to increase enrollment and grow the program, there is room for many more families to sign up.
“So many young college graduates will take a job that will help them pay their debt, but it’s not the job they want,” he says. “They are living debt, not living their dreams.”
It’s takes about one hour to enroll in the Future Scholar program online and families can determine how much they want to contribute monthly or annually (up to a maximum of $426,000). Loftis says many parents or grandparents will put their tax refund into a child’s Future Scholar account or make payments into the account on birthdays.
“The whole idea of having the family invested in this way is very meaningful,” Loftis says.
He’s heard from families that have been able to fully fund two and three years of their child’s college education. Loftis recalls one grandmother who has put money aside each month for 13 children and grandchildren.
Having an investment account from birth means families and students have more choices and can truly pursue their dream college and their dream career without being worried about the tuition costs.
“When you have some money in your pocket, you have some options,” Loftis says.