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College Plans

December 20th, 2020 at 03:07 pm

At the last minute I did end up opening a 529 plan for MM(17).  I always presumed we might utilize if MH took on a full-time job or we had some other sort of windfall.  Otherwise, it's just a lot of red tape with absolutely no benefit to our personal tax situation.  In addition to that, want to keep things flexible.  Our public colleges cost pennies, so want to be able to use this money potentially after college.  

In the end, while in complete limbo with college and no idea which way it might go, I decided last minute to put MM's money into a 529 plan.  There's no downside.  It's all in cash, so even if he decided tomorrow to not go to college, we just take it all out without any penalties.  It's only the earnings that are penalized if not used for college.  So...  That's about $150 per year we have to make sure to spend on college.  I think we can live with that.  We just didn't want to commit a lot of dollars that could only be used for college.  But I guess waiting for so long also dodges that bullet.  Which is probably why the more I thought about it, the more it seemed obvious we should just bite the bullet.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.  This was what worked best for our personal situation.  It was easier to keep the investment growth tax-free when the money was in the kids' names.  & this kept these funds very flexible.  The 529 plan never made any sense until we started applying for colleges (529 plans are not factored as much for financial aid).  & like the plan was all along: it's easy to change your mind at any point along the way. 

{I don't know what I will do for DL.  If he only applies to in-state public colleges, then it's pointless to mess with his college money.  Will think about it in another 2 years.  I think he's much more likely to go the community college route}.

I've also been thinking more about Plan F, G & H, (versus Plan A, B, C) while applying for private colleges and with MH being unemployed, etc.  The end result?  *shrugs*  Feeling non-fussed about it all. 

I think the obvious is that we can slow down or stop retirement contributions, to pay cash for college.  More of a Plan H type scenario, after running through Plans A-G.  I wanted to share for a couple of reasons though.  Mostly, wanted to share as a heads up that this plan is on the table (so it's not a total shock if we go that route).

But...  I also figured out I had been re-inventing the wheel.  It seemed like the obvious and logical thing, as we are "put our oxygen masks on first" personalities who are far ahead on retirement savings.  In the end, I perused Bogleheads a bit and those are my people.  I realized I had been re-inventing the wheel re: what is a very common approach over there.  Amazingly smart people who know their tax stuff (which might be my yardstick, as a tax professional.  In general, free tax advice is worth about as much as you pay for it, so Bogleheads always stood out to me).  But...  Bogleheads is also very crowded and just "too much" for me so I don't spend much time there.  I just sometimes go over there to look up a specific question.

It wasn't just just this one point that was very Bogleheads.  It was our entire approach to college, which is why I feel like I have been re-inventing the wheel this whole time.  If nothing else, it's a lot of "put your own oxygen masks first" personalities over there, which becomes a very different approach than the average college advice.  (The only reason we have any money to put into a 529 is because it was gift money from grandparents).

I think for most things, I have exceptional real-life mentors.  But...  probably feeling a little out of my depth on this one.  Our parents and us just went to very affordable public colleges.  My parents did not help me whatsoever with college, so though they may be my biggest financial mentors, this is where we diverge.  My other biggest financial mentor did not have children.  

So...  We are just in limbo land for another 3-4 months until college acceptances and scholarships and financial aid sorts out.   

To clarify, in the past we have decided we are "done" with retirement savings.  Our money will compound to where it needs to be at 65, if we stop contributing entirely to retirement.  We keep contributing because we want to retire early and also for the "worst case" scenarios.  

More to the point though, the biggest reason given for not skipping retirement contribution years is to "not give up retirement space."  As someone who also likes things like food and shelter 😁, we give up tens of thousands of retirement space every year.  For us, this is a nonsense reason.  Our three biggest household expenses will literally disappear or decrease substantially when our kids are done with college and fly the nest (mortgage, health insurance, food spending).  We can literally just double up our retirement contributions for a few years after college and end up in the same place anyway.  I wanted to jot this down, because it's a point I may forget.

Edited to add:  The 30% we put to retirement in 2020 was nowhere near the max we could have contributed.  But like I said, I do also like things like food and shelter.  😉

Edited in Late March:  This is entirely moot at this point.  We've ruled out anything far from home (travel costs) or mega expensive.  So...  We will keep our 20%+ retirement savings rate while paying cash for college.  If we just go with Plan A, then...  Plan H is *way* off the table.


2 Responses to “College Plans”

  1. MonkeyMama Says:

    No, we are not considering student loans whatsoever.

    First and foremost, the best way to stay out of debt is to not consider debt an option in the first place. So this is most of our no-debt mindset.

    Secondarily, student loans are in my opinion the "worst debt". Maybe a step above payday loans. We have much better options to borrow with less red tape, lower interest rates, etc. I understand why students with no credit fall into that trap. I have no idea why middle income people with good credit scores participate in that. The loan servicers are all so scammy. Usurious interest rates, rampant fraud, etc. We won't be touching "student loans" with a ten foot pole.

    The only debt we have ever had and felt comfortable with is our mortgage. I would rather borrow against our house (though don't have any plans to even do that). I am well aware we are roundabout financing college by keeping our mortgage longer. That's probably the extent that we will finance college.

  2. MonkeyMama Says:

    That was a comment in response to a comment that disappeared. Something along the lines of why don't we borrow and hope for loan forgiveness?

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