Tales From the Road – Part 4, “Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you imagine it.” – George Lucas

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Never was this more evident than last week when I visited several 3rd and 4th grade kids in Everett to talk about going to college.

One of my favorite moments that day was when I asked what they wanted to be when they grew up and nearly every child darted their hand up to answer the question.

The wonder and excitement on their faces as they told me their dream “I want to be….a doctor, teacher, pilot, chef, writer, architect, engineer, astronaut…” and so much more. I realized as I listened to each one speak up, that their dreams are just beginning and as adults we need to keep the dream alive with them and not just for them.  So how do we do that?

Thinking back when my children were this age and where they are now as young adults I can appreciate how hard this is because we don’t always see those dreams as a real possibility.  What clouds our vision when theirs is so clear?  What dampers our spirit of enthusiasm when they don’t see any barriers?  It isn’t just one thing that erases the lines of that carefully detailed dream of our youth, but rather many little experiences along the way.  But now it’s about them and not us so let’s explore some ways to help your children’s dreams turn into realities:

Jackie's blog pic 21) If you can imagine it, you can become it. An article in 2013 by the Huffington Post stated that positive thoughts can actually create real value in your life and help you build skills that last much longer than a smile. Speaking positively with our children (and grandchildren) from the time they are infants will help us develop the skills to speak with encouragement. Even if their dreams change they will always know you are supporting them.

2) Be the example. I don’t remember learning about goal setting skills until my first clerical job and it was because I didn’t want to forget what I needed to do. Set goals for yourself and let your kids see you work toward them.  Again, even if your goals change along the way (and that’s okay), just keep setting them so they see how that pays off.

3) Play! Our children’s first learning experiences come from playing so let them explore occupations through acting. I take my grandson Dante to our community children’s museum and they have a play stage and costumes which he puts on to act out different characters.  On the ride home we often talk about who he played that day.  As children get older they can start reading and researching occupations that interest them to learn what it will require academically, financially and mentally to achieve that dream and then encourage them to share what they learn with you.

As I left the elementary school that day one little girl’s comment lingered in my mind and inspired me to write this post. She said “I want to be the first women President!”

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them” – Walt Disney

Written by Jacquelyne Ferrado

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Now is the Time for Congress to Pass Legislation to Strengthen 529 Plans

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This past month both the US Senate and House of Representatives introduced legislation to make enhancements to 529 College Savings Plans. These tax-free plans are used by millions of families to save for their children’s future higher education expenses. These plans have proven to help limit or eliminate future student loan debt, while aiding to increase access to higher education.

This year, student loan debt reached an all-time high of $1.3 trillion, with the 2014 graduating class finishing college with an average of $30,000 in loans. Of the 37 million people carrying student loan debt, one-third are over the age of 40 and almost 2 million people  over the age of 60 are still paying off loans. It is important to take into consideration the simple fact that $20,000 in student loans paid over 20 years is actually more like $63,000!

When Americans are saddled with student loan debt, they are not able to buy homes, cars and other products that boost our economy. They are not able to innovate by putting their ideas into action by starting a new business. They are also limited in their ability to invest in their future by saving for retirement and other long-term goals.

On the flip side, 12 million Americans have saved approximately $250 billion in 529 plans; less than a quarter the amount of student loan debt in our country. It is the goal of all state 529 plans to reverse this trend and to someday have college savings out-pace student loan debt. The only way we can do that is to continue to improve 529 plans by offering more incentives for families to save.

Enhancements like those that are part of the proposed legislation in the Senate (SB 335) and House (HR 529) help all American’s see and understand the value of saving through 529 plans. These companion bills specifically call for:

  • Making computers an eligible expense;
  • Allowing the redeposit of funds without negative tax implications in certain extenuating circumstances (e.g. a student gets sick at the beginning of the term);
  • Updating outdated accounting rules.

Implementing common sense improvements to 529 plans so that more families see the benefits of saving will only help the overall health and well-being of our country over the long-haul. Simply put, when students graduate with little to no debt they have the resources to innovate, purchase, invest, volunteer and create. Now is the time to pass this legislation that strengthens 529 plans and if you agree, we encourage you to reach out to your Representatives and Senators in Washington D.C. to let them know of your support of these enhancements.

Written by Betty Lochner, Chair of the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) and Director of Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program.

Presidents’ Day Reflections

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Whenever Presidents’ Day rolls around, it rekindles many fond memories from U.S. history classes in elementary and high school. Iconic events come to mind such as George Washington crossing the Delaware, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the framing of the Constitution and President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. I was always awed by these great leaders, and the impacts they made, not only in creating, growing and preserving a young nation, but in setting a precedent that representative democracies do work and can thrive. However, as I reflect on these larger-than-life images that many of us hold of our forefathers, I try to remember that despite all of the reverence we project onto them, many saw themselves simply as stewards of democracy and the public’s will.

To that end, our nation’s leaders have (generally) fought to preserve the foundations of the Constitution and made policy decisions intended to serve the best interest of the people. While our 44 Presidents have certainly held widely varying views on the best approaches to this noble purpose, something most could agree on is the importance of education. It’s hard to disagree with the idea that the dissemination of knowledge is the cornerstone for a thriving economy, an increasingly just political system, and the overall advancement of society.

That’s where we in the college savings industry come in. Like our Presidents, we’re advocates for education and do our best to help families prepare their children for the future. By planning ahead and setting our children up for academic success, we’re taking an active role in ensuring not only their future financial security, but that they will contribute to the progress of our country in a meaningful way. Today’s youth will be our next generation’s leaders, and we need to do everything we can to nurture their minds to prepare them for this important task. One of the best things about our country is that any one of our children has the potential to be a future President of the United States, and a solid educational foundation is an all but necessary prerequisite.

While recently there has been growing concern that our nation is falling behind other countries, we still haven’t lost sight of the important connection between education and innovation, economic success and society’s well-being. We continue to invest at all levels, from early learning to higher education. Further, we continue to wrestle with the best way to measure academic progress and provide non-traditional academic environments to support varying learning styles and needs. However, the question remains, “Is what we’re doing enough?” And, “What is our greatest opportunity for progress?” These are difficult questions with no clear answers, but as we reflect on our country’s history this Presidents’ Day, let’s remember that resiliency is firmly ingrained in our national DNA. I’m confident that collectively, we can tackle these issues and ensure our nation continues to thrive.

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”

– James Madison

 Written by Lucas Minor

Legislation to Enhance 529 College Savings Plans

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Last week Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced H.R.529, legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make 529 plans more flexible and remove some of the obstacles participants face while saving for college.

Specifically, H.R. 529 includes:

  • Making computers an eligible expense;
  • Allowing the redeposit of funds without negative tax implications in certain extenuating circumstances (e.g. a student gets sick at the beginning of the term);
  • Updating outdated accounting rules.

This week Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Mark Warner (D-VA), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Probably the most needed and exciting piece of this legislation is the provision to make computers an eligible expense. In today’s high tech world where the focus of education is on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), it is hard to believe that electronic devices are not considered qualified higher education expenses. As more and more classes begin using e-books and cloud-based learning programs, it is clear that computers, tablets and mobile devices are at the heart of today’s college learning environment.

Innovation and creative solutions to our world’s most perplexing health, social and infrastructure challenges have and will come at the hands of students and professionals using technology. It is wonderful to see that this simple yet powerful fact is being recognized by our elected leaders and the pricy technology investments made by students will hopefully be a viable tax-deductible expense when using their 529 plan to cover these necessary educational costs.
Another big improvement to 529 plans as a result of this proposal is allowing for distributions to be re-deposited within 60 days of their withdrawal without a tax-penalty if students experience serious illness or sudden life circumstances that require them to take leave from their studies. There is no doubt that this is the right thing to do, as families save for years to put their children through college and should not be penalized for life events that are out of their control.

Lastly, this legislative blueprint calls for accounting updates that eliminate unnecessary paperwork for 529 plan administrators. Anytime you can reduce excessive operational procedures, the efficiencies gained only help reduce costs that can hopefully be passed along to customers, or in our case, to families looking to save for their children’s future.

Moving forward, we must do all we can to preserve and enhance the benefits of 529 plans. We strive to create greater access to higher education in our country and lower the student debt burden that now more than 37 million Americans experience every day.  We thank the leaders in the House and Senate for moving this legislation forward as part of a comprehensive plan to ensure students have the tools and resources they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom. We look toward swift action by Congress to pass these additional measures.

Written by Betty Lochner, Chair of the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) and Director of Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program.

 

 

President Realizes Formula for College Success Includes Savings Incentives

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When I was elected Chair of the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN), never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be debating the value of one of the core benefits and characteristics of 529 plans with the President of the United States. Nonetheless, that is exactly what happened this past week when President Obama announced his plan to repeal the tax benefits associated with 529 college savings plans.

As soon as the President’s proposal was announced as part of his State of the Union address, members of CSPN rallied together like never before to unite in an advocacy effort to defend the value of 529 plans for the more than 12 million American families that own accounts.  Our goal was to remind the President and our elected officials that planning and saving are vital components to ensuring higher education enrollment rates continue to rise in our country and that families receive the support they need in helping their children fulfill their dreams.

Yesterday, we, along with millions of American families, collectively exhaled a huge sigh of relief when we learned that our activism and public education campaign paid a huge dividend. The President announced he is removing his proposal and families will continue to have their 529 savings and withdrawals remain tax-free, further reinforcing the importance of saving.

There is an old saying that a goal without action is just a daydream. The same can be said about achieving a college degree. It is nearly impossible without implementing a plan and saving. With college savings, families and students take control of their future by investing their hard earned dollars in themselves. While there are a diverse number of ways 529 plans provide financial returns to account owners, there is one investment we cannot compete with and that is the results that a college degree provides. No other investment helps an individual, community and country prosper better than education.

The resounding support for 529 plans that rang loud and clear from all parts of the country this past week created a valuable opportunity for us to raise awareness about the importance of these plans and the impact they can have in reducing our country’s reliance on student-loan debt.

We thank all who affirmed their commitment to saving by speaking out in favor of retaining the existing 529 plan tax-free structure, as well as President Obama for hearing our voices.  It is our hope that these voices not only helped preserve a crucial benefit for American families, but will also inspire millions of additional families to join those who are already saving with 529 plans.

Written by Betty Lochner, Chair of the College Savings Plan Network & Director of Washington State’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program

President’s College Plan: Well Intentioned with Misguided Funding Strategy

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During the recent State of the Union address President Barack Obama proposed some philosophical changes in the road to higher education, including a strategy that provides free community college for all Americans. The idea of creating greater access to higher education to strengthen our country’s economy, workforce and the number of career opportunities for our citizens is commendable and inspiring.

I think that as Americans, no matter your political affiliation, we can all agree that a better educated citizen-base is essential to helping our country prosper with more engaged, innovative and open-minded people that have the resources to purchase, invest, volunteer and create.

The biggest concern with the President’s plan is that it comes at the expense of one of few tax breaks for middle class families. The President’s proposal calls for the removal of the ability for Americans to use the money earned in their 529 college savings account on a tax-free basis. The rationale behind this plan is that additional income taxes collected from students could be one of the mechanisms for funding the free community college proposal.

With 12 million accounts open, 529 college savings plans are helping American families save for future higher education costs. Research shows children with a college savings account are six to seven times more likely to attend a four-year college, compared to children with no dedicated account.

Taxing college savings is detrimental and will have a chilling and resounding effect on the future of families’ investments in their children’s higher education. Even more families will be left to rely on student loan debt, which is currently at $1.3 trillion; nearly five times the amount ($250 billion) American families have saved in 529 plans. Loans and tax credits alone are not the solution to making college more affordable, so we should be doing all we can to encourage, not stifle, savings.

Even if the President’s plan for free community college is implemented, there will still be a huge demand and need for students with bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. Further, students with an associate’s degree may also want to continue their education with a professional certificate at a technical or trade school. All of these advanced degrees will continue to be a significant financial investment that families will need to save for, especially during a time when the cost of a college degree has increased 12 fold over the past 30 years.

The concept of saving has and will continue to be the most critical step in creating access to higher education and making it more affordable to middle class families. If you agree that saving for college is important, I encourage you to reach out to your Representative and Senators in Washington D.C. to let them know how you feel about these proposed changes so that they can advocate on your behalf.

By Betty Lochner, Chair of the College Savings Plan Network & Director of Washington State’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program

Investing in the Now is Just as Important as Investing in the Future

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Just recently, it dawned on me that for all the growing up I’ve done, I’m even farther away from having it all figured out than when I was a kid. This epiphany came over the holidays, when I had the chance to hang out with babies on both ends of the spectrum, from our friends’ 5-week-old newborn to my cousin’s walking, almost talking 18-month-old toddler. It’s so amazing to see the transformation of these fragile little bundles of joy into miniature “pseudo” adults who continue to gain new found independence and control of their appendages every day. But while many of us “actual” adults are begrudgingly steeped in the reality of day-to-day responsibilities, our “mini-mes” remind us of the importance of taking time to enjoy the finer things in life – like playing with the boxes that the presents came in.

As cliché as that sounds, that was by far the most enjoyable time of everyone’s day at our family holiday gathering this year. Everyone crowded around Brandon (the aforementioned toddler) as he climbed in and out of boxes, discarded by us grown-ups who overlooked their true value. With the help of imagination and willing adults who were momentarily kids reborn, Brandon transformed what we thought to be trash into high performance Formula One cars zooming across the wood floors. Seeing the joy and pride on his face as everyone took a tiKid President Child Messagemeout to play in his world reminded us all of the value of slowing down and living in the moment. This is especially important given how fast kids grow up. Just over a year ago, Brandon was like our friends’ new baby – a beautiful, but helpless little bundle who spent most of his time sleeping, eating and pooping.

This idea of living in the now is something I’ve pledged to bring with me into the New Year. Let’s not call it a New Year’s Resolution so much as a fresh perspective. Growing up I spent so much time worrying about what the future might hold, an ailment that still afflicts me today. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Planning ahead and making a game plan can significantly take the worry and uncertainty out of advancing through life stages and raising a family. In fact, that’s what GET is all about – making long-term savings decisions now that will set our children up for future success and financial security. However, there is a point at which we can become overly consumed by the future and forget to balance that with the need to experience the now along with our children as they grow.

This New Year, I encourage you all to come along with me as I follow in Brandon’s footsteps and make a pledge to slow down a bit, use my imagination, appreciate the simple things (like cardboard boxes), and just have fun! Approaching the New Year with this kind of perspective sounds like a better recipe for success than our typical, punitive resolutions, and it sounds like a heck of a lot more fun too! Now, if you don’t mind, I’ll think I’ll go back to making my new fort out of blankets and couch cushions.

Written by Lucas Minor