To use our website, we recommend using the latest version of Microsoft Edge, Chrome, or Safari.
How to plan for college if your family finances are changing
Balancing multiple long-term financial goals—like paying for your child’s college while also saving for retirement—takes careful planning. A volatile economy makes this balancing act even more delicate. If you’re thinking about whether you need to adjust your plan for how to pay for college, you’re not alone.
More than 53% of families have changed their higher education plans this year in the wake of changed finances.1
Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to navigate paying for college in turbulent times. John Hancock Financial Consultant Connor F. Spiro, CFP®, CIMA®, shared his expert insights below on paying for college when your finances have changed.
What is something families with college-bound students can do if their finances have significantly changed this year?
One thing a lot of families are considering right now is a gap year. The clear benefit is that you can delay paying tuition costs for a full year. Additionally, your child may be able to find work and put that income towards future tuition costs or even start a retirement account.
A gap year isn’t right for everyone. It depends on your family’s overall financial situation, your child’s desired career path, and what other opportunities they may have over the next year. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer, but the key is for parents and students to communicate clearly to ensure everyone is on the same page.
If a gap year is not right for my child, how can we make college more affordable right now?
Many families are considering having their children apply or transfer to more affordable institutions right now. If you’re paying for private college or an out-of-state public school, an in-state school will usually offer significant financial savings.
As with a gap year, a good first step is to talk it through with your child. Discuss what your child’s educational goals are, review all the different options and try to come to a decision together.
When considering transferring or applying to a more affordable college, don’t forget that the listed costs may not include room and board, meal plans and other fees, which can be significant. It’s crucial to ensure all associated costs are accounted for when comparing one college to another.
What about financial aid?
If your family’s finances have changed, then your eligibility for financial aid may have changed, too. Need-based scholarships, loans, and work-study programs may factor in your family’s income, so if that has decreased, you may be eligible to apply for more help.
Another potential financial benefit associated with having a child in college is tax credits.
The American Opportunity Tax Credit offers families a credit of up to $2,500 per student, for qualified expenses paid during their first four years of higher education.
The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is a $2,000 credit for qualified expenses paid for undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses, including courses to acquire or improve job skills. An important note here is that this credit is per taxpayer, not per student, so the maximum amount each parent can claim is $2,000 per year.
What about college savings accounts? Is there anything parents should be aware of?
If you have a 529 college savings plan, you should know that you can take advantage of changes to how your funds can be used. The SECURE Act, which became a law in December 2019, expanded 529 education savings accounts to cover costs associated with registered apprenticeships and up to $10,000 of qualified student loan repayments (including those for siblings).
Whatever stage you’re at in saving for college, the most important thing is that your whole family takes the time to speak honestly and openly with each other about your goals, options and realities. And of course, speaking with a financial advisor can help make sure you have all the information you need to choose the best path for your family.
Financial planning and investment advice provided by John Hancock Personal Financial Services, LLC (“JHPFS”), an SEC registered investment adviser. Investments: not FDIC insured – No Bank Guarantee – May Lose Value. Investing involves risk, including loss of principal, and past performance does not guarantee future results. Diversified portfolios and asset allocation do not guarantee profit or protect against loss. Nothing on this site should be construed to be an offer, solicitation of an offer, or recommendation to buy or sell any security. Before investing, consider your investment objectives and JHPFS’s fees. JHPFS does not provide legal or tax advice and investors should consult with their personal legal and tax advisors prior to purchasing a financial plan or making any investment.