The University of Ouch

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$371,466.

That's three children attending an average-priced private school for 4.5 years each, according to the 2004-05 yearly tuition report from The College Board.

It may seem like a lot of money now. But remember, it's the cost if your children were to attend college today. Factor in the rising cost of private school tuition (six percent per year) and the fact that your kids may not be going to school for another 10 years and you're faced with the reality of a bill around $665,239 or more.

Unless you have that kind of cash sitting around, (and it's probably safe to guess you don't) then it's probably wise to begin planning for your children's education as soon as you possibly can. The costs of public in-state tuition will naturally be lower than the private college figures, but on the other hand, these costs are quickly rising as well.

Providing a college education is one of the most important elements of raising children. No one needs a reminder of how important education is in a person's life. According to The College Board, the income-gap has recently widened between those with only a high school diploma and those with a bachelors degree. Currently, people with a college degree will make over a million dollars more in their lifetime than those without.

So what can you do to ease the burden? The single most important thing you can do is be prepared! What was once a simple Boy Scout motto, has quickly become an essential financial planning tip. You have a lot of options when it comes to paying for college and here are just a few. Remember, it's always wise to involve your financial planner in the decision making process of most major financial decisions.

Scholarships, Grants and Aid
There are several ways to pay for college. The first and most obvious is financial aid. This can include loans, scholarships, grants, and work study programs. Even if your student isn't in the top level of his or her class, it doesn't mean there isn't opportunity available for financial aid. A student can be awarded grants or scholarships based on financial need, academic standing, extra-curricular activities, and many more.

Makes sure to always fill out financial aid papers to qualify, even if you believe your income is too high to receive aid.

529's
One of the most crucial aspects of college planning is how you'll save up for it. If you're like most people, you've heard a lot about the educational savings plans known as "529's." These plans allow you to name a beneficiary to your account while you make yearly deposits. 529's allow you a wide-variety of investment options and it is best to consult your financial planner for more information. One of the best reasons to choose a 529 is the fact you can withdraw the savings for educational purposes tax-free.

IRA Withdrawals
If a 529 doesn't sound appealing, you can always make withdrawals, (penalty-free) from an existing IRA account for any educational costs. However, there are contribution and withdrawal limits and not everyone can qualify for an IRA.

Coverdell Accounts
If you have grandparents who wish to contribute to an account, you may wish to think about a Coverdell Savings Account. These types of accounts allow anyone with an income of less than $110,000 a year, single or $220,000, joint, to make yearly contributions of up to $2000 in an account that has a variety of investment options. Once the student turns 18, they have until their 30th birthday to withdraw the money for educational use.

Creating "tax scholarships"
Another option for college savings includes creating a "tax scholarship" for a child. A tax scholarship is a financial technique that creates money by shifting assets to your child over several years and by taking advantage of their yearly tax capacity. These tax savings can add up quickly and can mean possibly thousands of dollars in extra money that can be used towards a higher education. Ask your financial planner for more information on how to take advantage of shifting assets to children.

Planning for college can be overwhelming. The variety of options and plans available is enough to make anyone crazy. That's why it's important to always consult with your financial planner before making any long term decisions. By teaming up with your planner, you may be able to send your child to college with the confidence and knowledge that your future, and your child's future, is financially secure.

You may also be able to save a great deal of money in the process, through tax credits and other incentives.

So give it the old "college try," and schedule an appointment today!

End

Pursuant to the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 ("Act"), qualified distributions are federal income tax free. The provisions of the Act will expire on December 31, 2010. Unless the law is extended by Congress and the President, the federal tax treatment of 529 plans will revert to its status prior to January 1, 2002. The underlying investments in these plans are municipal securities and may be subject to market volatility and fluctuation. Please carefully consider each Plan's investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing.
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