As a father, I understand the coveted gift all parents dream of giving their children: debtless college educations. However, I also understand how short-term financial necessities and unexpected extras can often overshadow long-term saving goals. From diapers to daycare and family vacations to holiday presents, it’s often tempting to put college savings on the back burner. But the truth is, “college savings procrastination” can be quite dangerous.
According to the College Board, the average cost for tuition and fees at four-year public institutions has increased 225 percent over the last 30 years (after adjusting for inflation). These costs will almost certainly continue to rise. Furthermore, student financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz recently calculated that students in the class of 2016 graduated with a record-breaking average of $37,172 in college-related debt. Fortunately, these striking statistics can be combatted by saving.
Just how early can you start saving? Many soon-to-be parents are surprised to learn that you can begin saving in a 529 plan before your child is even born. To do so, start out by listing yourself as the account’s beneficiary, then switch it to your child once he or she is born and given a Social Security number. Though early starts are best when it comes to saving for college, it truly is never too late to begin. You may not be able to save enough for all the college costs your child will face, but you will be steering them in the right direction.
As each year that passes, more and more parents make the decision to save with 529 plans. With almost 13 million open accounts and a record total of $266.2 billion invested in 529 plans, American families are sending a clear message on higher education: we value it and strive for it. With parents making the effort to prioritize college savings, lawmakers can and should follow suit.
For this reason, the College Savings Plans Network stands behind H.R. 529, a bill recently introduced by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kansas) and Rep. Ron KindRon KindLawmakers targeted as district politics shift New bill does hard job of injecting capital into needy communities House GOP campaign arm targets Democrats over ObamaCare anniversary MORE (D-Wisc.) that would make 529 plans more flexible and remove some of the obstacles participants face while saving for college.
The bill, called the 529 and ABLE Account Improvement Act of 2017, would encourage employer matching programs and expand the tax credit for small employer pension plan startup costs to include the costs of establishing a payroll deduction contribution program for 529 plans. It would also permit 529 funds to be used for transfers, education loan payments or charitable contributions without being subject to the additional tax for distributions that are not used for qualified higher education expenses.
None of these changes are costly to the government. Rather, they are common sense measures designed to help families save for higher education costs. We encourage our congressional leaders to support H.R. 529. A college savings plan is a powerful tool for helping families cope with the rising cost of higher education. The improvements in this bill will help put a college degree within reach of more children.
By pairing the projected enhancements of H.R. 529 with parents’ early and consistent saving, 529 plans can continue to help students and families defray college expenses and burgeoning student loan debt, ensuring that today’s students get the education they need to become tomorrow’s leaders.
Young Boozer is the 39th state treasurer of Alabama and chairman of the College Savings Plans Network.
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