Tag Archives: Washington 529 plan

Back to School Checklist

Back2SchoolPlanning

It never fails that just as summer gets rolling and we’re finally starting to adjust to erratic new daycare/summer camp/vacation schedules, it’s already time for “Back to School” planning! For your kids, this phrase is like a pin quickly deflating their balloon of summer fun. For parents, all we can think of are the millions of things we need to take care of – “not” waiting until the last minute to diligently work through the school supply list, finding the “right” in-style clothes, meeting with your kid’s new teachers, etc.

As we prepare our children for important educational transitions such as starting pre-school, kindergarten or even high school, we also find ourselves making more involved decisions on issues like before and after school care, technology purchases to support classroom learning, and tutoring and enrichment programs.

Since many of these decisions have significant financial impacts, now is a time when many families are re-evaluating their household budgets and spending habits. This truly lends us as parents a fantastic opportunity to make college savings a part of these financial and educational planning discussions. You’re already in the mode of equipping your kids with what they will need to be successful for another school year, so consider taking a moment look at the big picture.

Here’s a quick checklist of just some of the important considerations for keeping your children’s future college plans on track as they grow:

What? When?
If you haven’t already, start a 529 college savings plan, such as GET. Saving will offset the need for student loans and let your child know that post-high school education is a priority. We recommend starting no later than grade school, but sooner is always better (even when your child is a baby or before birth). Keep adding to your savings as your kids grow.
Talk with your kids about their future aspirations and encourage them to dream big. There’s a much greater chance of them achieving these dreams if they’re motivated and supported.  Anytime! It’s important to continue this dialogue throughout your child’s development.
Make visits to college campuses. Get your kids excited about the idea of being college students. Anytime, but it’s especially important as your kids are entering middle and high school.
Encourage your kids to take on extracurricular activities, volunteer in the community and take advanced/honors courses. This can increase their marketability to college admissions departments and open doors to scholarships. Middle school to early high school is an ideal time to start these activities.
Ensure your children are meeting with advisors/counselors, and taking college prep courses and college entrance exams. No later than junior year of high school.
Make sure your kids start their college applications early! Applicationsconsist of several components that take time to complete: essays, letters of recommendation, transcripts, test scores, etc. Applications are typically due by early winter of senior year of high school.
Help your kids find and apply for scholarships. The Washboard is a great resource for locating scholarships in our state. Junior and senior year of high school.
Fill out the FAFSA early. Even if you don’t think your family will qualify for financial aid, it’s an important to fill this out – if you don’t you could miss out on some helpful dollars. Late winter/early spring of senior year of high school. Don’t risk losing out on assistance by missing the priority deadline!

This is a just a brief overview of some of the stepping stones to college – for more details and checkpoints we encourage you to check out www.readysetgrad.org. There’s a lot to plan for, but don’t get discouraged. The main thing is to be aware of what’s ahead, keep the stress down by staying ahead of deadlines and support your kids in their academic success. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to pick up 50 of those $0.19 boxes of crayons before the coupon expires tomorrow!

Written by Lucas Minor

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I didn’t want to grow up, but since I did, I’m glad I was a college bound kid

GrownUpKids

As a kid, I spent so much time wishing I was older and daydreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Yet as I look back, I wish I wouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about the future. Instead I should have focused on the important things like perfecting the best techniques for pestering my sister, causing trouble with my friends, and repeatedly testing the hypothesis: “Just what would happen if I tried [insert allegedly dangerous activity here]? It can’t hurt that bad.”

I don’t know if the same goes for your kids, but there were at least a hundred different things that I wanted to be between the time I was four and when I graduated from college. In fact, once I got to college, things weren’t necessarily easier. It took me awhile to find the discipline that “spoke to me.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t unique in this regard. According to research at Penn State University, half of college students change their majors at least once before they graduate, with some changing several times.

No matter how many times kids change their visions of their future selves; this kind of introspection is an essential component of developing and discovering their passions. But connecting dreams to realities takes work. Sure, we’re good at reminding our kids of this – study hard, do your homework, and whatever you do, don’t end up in the principal’s office! But we as parents have just as much responsibility in ensuring our children do well in school and grow up to be successful and responsible citizens.

While it’s important to support your kids in their academic endeavors, it’s easy to take it too far. As parents, we may be tempted to push our children towards the things we have in mind for them, rather than encouraging them to search for what they’re passionate about. While this may be well-intentioned, this parenting faux pas can create a dilemma for students who want to live up to expectations, but are interested in other subjects.

And of course (you know I had to work this in), in addition to being emotionally invested in your kid’s ambitions, it’s important to financially support their dreams. Saving for future college expenses ensures your children can focus on “what” they want to do, rather than “if” they can afford to pursue it. As the cost of higher education continues to increase, so does the importance of a college degree in staying competitive in today’s job market. With studies showing that 67% of new jobs in Washington will require at least some postsecondary education by 2018, it’s clear that college is a valuable stop on the path to the work world.

It’s important to be ready to support your children in their dreams and take the necessary steps to help them succeed in whatever career path they settle on. Investing in your child’s future will help ensure they’ll move out of the house and buck the rising trend of “boomerang kids”…Wait, what I meant to say is, it will help set them up for a lifetime of success!

Written by Lucas Minor

Tales from the Road – Part 1

Jackie Outreach

One of the greatest benefits of my job is meeting new people and making a difference in how they understand the GET Program. My work takes me to parent meetings, children and family events, school activities and conferences from Olympia to Spokane, Seattle to Vancouver and even Tonasket to the TriCities. In every community I have the pleasure of spending time with parents and grandparents who are beginning to explore ways to save for their children’s future college expenses. A few weeks ago at a PTA meeting in Olympia one Mom said “if I don’t start now, I’m sure I never will.” I told her that getting started is typically the hardest part, but once you make some time to jot down your savings goals and gather some resources you’re nearly half way there. “That’s the problem,” she exclaimed, “I don’t know what to look for or even how to choose.” To which I replied “That’s what I’m here for!”

That’s my job with the GET Program – as the Community Relations Manager I get to meet people one-on-one and help them maneuver through information, clear up misconceptions, talk about their savings goals and provide resources to help them get started. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, because parents can expect to pay 2/3 of their children’s college costs through a combination of savings, income and loans, it is imperative that they start saving as early and regularly as possible. One of the first things I tell a parent is that they aren’t alone. With work, children, and life in general, sorting through all of the information in a Google search about the best ways to save for college is painful and time consuming. So here are a few tips to get you started:

Make time: Schedule a time to sit down alone or with your spouse and jot down your initial thoughts on what you want to accomplish with your savings plan. Believe me; this will save you countless hours and headaches in the long run by getting your goals, fears, and perceived barriers to savings out of your head and in writing. You might have to change things around later and that’s okay. Just start brainstorming and create a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related (SMART) plan.

outreach womens showKnow your budget:      Know what you can afford today. There are so many things vying for your attention and your pocket book so know your boundaries. Live in the ‘here and now’ but develop a plan for how to align your savings over a period of time. Start with something, and add more to your budget later when you are no longer paying for things like diapers and daycare.

Have a goal: When I started saving for my children I ‘wanted’ to have four years of expenses saved by the time they graduated from high school, but my reality dictated that improbability, so I adjusted my goal. I focused on saving what I could, when I could.

Keep an open mind: There’s a lot of information out there about the best ways to save, but realistically there isn’t simply one way. The College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) advises to consider a 529 plan as one of your savings methods and include other ways of saving along the way. Just like retirement, a solid college savings portfolio is diversified.

Read: It would be easy to just let someone tell you what to do, but you have to read the fine print. Always make the time to read through the information on the savings plan you select. They were written for a reason.

Ask questions: I often hear people say ‘I’ve always wondered about______,’ which I’ve assumed meant they never asked the question in order to get the answer. Please ask…. that’s the only way to learn. Don’t end up in the same sticky situation as the parents whose daughter said to them on the day of her graduation, “Today I graduated from high school, where’s my GET money?”
Well, I’m off on another trip, this time to the Family Fun Fair in Spokane. If you’re there, stop by and meet me. I’d love to hear your story and be a resource for you.

Written by Jacquelyne Ferrado

Win an iPad Mini with Our Spring Referral Promotion

Referral-Promo-ImageWe receive valuable input on a daily basis that helps us make continuous improvements to the GET Program. Some of the most valuable feedback we receive is that of our account holders – the individuals and families who trust us to help them prepare their children for the future. We hold their opinions, positive or constructive, in extremely high regard. For this reason, the highest compliment we can receive from them is a referral to a friend. With this great gift in mind, we would like to reward account holders that refer a friend between now and Friday, May 23rd, by entering them into a drawing with a chance to win an iPad Mini! Using the Tell a Friend feature on our secure website, you can send a message to a friend that you believe may benefit from the program. We will follow up with a short message with information about GET, and your name will be entered in the weekly drawing for an iPad. The friend or family member that you refer will also be entered in a separate drawing to win an enrollment fee waiver (valued at $50) for the program. Drawings will be held once a week during the promotion for a total of four drawings (one entry per person, per week). Our GET families have often been gracious enough to pass on their thoughts on the program. The Hayes Family of Bellingham writes, “We value GET for the opportunity to invest in a fund that secures college for our children. Knowing that our children will have access to higher education, gives us a great sense of security and peace of mind.” The Schofield-Isensee Family of Ferndale adds, “It is a relief to have our son’s college savings with GET. We don’t yet know his future, but we are grateful that our choice to save with GET will enable him to have more choices later.” Kind words from families offer a great insight into the things that our account holders find to be most valuable about the program. The confidence of our account holder’s is invaluable to us. Over the 16 years since GET began, word of mouth has been a powerful method of spreading awareness of the program. For all of you that have contributed to this, we’d like to say thank you! By sharing your stories, insights, and successes, you are helping other families plan ahead for an important expense and providing them with tools to make an informed decision.

Written by Dan Payne

Green Ways to Save Some Green

Save-GreenA couple of weeks ago we talked about six savings tips to boost your college savings. This week, in honor of Earth Day on April 22, we’ve compiled some more money-saving tips that will help you cut your costs and reduce your family’s carbon footprint. By making small adjustments and putting the savings towards future college expenses, you can make things a lot easier on yourself with the added benefit of giving the planet a helping hand.

Reduce Car Trips
When looking to cut your fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, the daily commute is the first place to look. From carpooling or taking public transit to walking or biking, there’s sure to be an option that suits you no matter how far you live from the office.  Another opportunity is to combine trips when running errands. By making weekly shopping lists and strategizing your route, you can significantly cut your number of trips, fill your tank less and save valuable time.

Consider Buying Used
Save yourself some serious some cash while extending the useful life of perfectly good items. There are lots of opportunities to get great deals, especially when it comes to picking up essentials for the kids such as strollers, clothes, toys and books. Garage sales, Craigslist and consignment stores are just a few places you can pick up some great treasures.

*Bonus: Keep the cycle going by selling or donating items as your kids outgrow them.

Reduce Energy Consumption
There are so many opportunities to cut energy costs in your home, ranging from simply shutting off lights when leaving a room and adjusting the thermostat by a few degrees, to more involved endeavors such as sealing gaps around doors and windows, adding insulation, and upgrading to energy efficient appliances. It may also be worth considering a home energy audit to find opportunities to cut your costs. Many cities and counties partner with local businesses or non-profit organizations to provide this service at a low or subsidized cost.

Be Water-Wise
While savings are more noticeable if you’re on a municipal water supply vs. a private well, reducing your water consumption is always smart choice for the planet. By avoiding running the water when brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers and installing water-saving flush valves on your toilets, you can potentially save hundreds, even thousands of gallons a year. When it comes to lawn and garden care, consider a rain barrel system for watering non-food plants and use mulch to reduce the amount of watering needed.

Water

Make More Meatless Meals
On a cost-per-pound basis (in terms of actual cost and environmental impact), meat packs a much bigger punch than non-animal protein sources such as grains, beans and legumes. Many schools, restaurants, and families now set aside at least one day a week that’s dedicated to completely meatless meals. While often promoted first for the positive health and environmental impacts, meatless meals will usually cost you significantly less to make.

While these are just a few simple tips, there are literally hundreds of other little efforts you can make that can add up to positive long-term impacts on the health of your family’s finances and the environment. We encourage you to continually look for those little opportunities and bank the savings in your college fund, because even small amounts can really add up over time.

Written by Lucas Minor

Financial Literacy & Consumer Focused Legislation Keys to Success for the Future of College Savings

USCapitolBuildingThere are two things I really enjoy in life. One is visiting our nation’s capital. The other is watching Saturday Night Live. For years, I have been a lucky person because it seems like these two things always seem to find each other in funny satire political skits. Whether it’s Will Ferrell impersonating President George W. Bush or Jay Pharoah taking on the persona of President Barack Obama, you never have to look too hard to find humor in American politics. As easy as it is to poke fun at our country’s leaders, a trip to D.C. reminds one what a tough and big job our federal leaders have. From the economy to education and foreign policy to the environment; each day brings a new set of challenges for our elected officials. They are consistently pressed for their time and attention, just like many of us with our own jobs. The key to their success –like our own — is having an understanding of a variety of topics, issues and subject matters, while not losing sight of the big picture and remembering what’s most important. Two weeks ago I returned to my office after spending a productive week in D.C. at the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) Legislative Conference where financial literacy was an overarching theme. Given treasurers’ responsibilities of managing the finances of their states, they are very interested in the financial literacy of their citizens. This made me think about my own job in helping families save for their children’s college education and how we have an incredible opportunity to help young parents understand the basics of financial planning and budgeting. In addition to financial literacy, several state 529 program directors met with legislative staff to educate and gain support for H.R. 4333 and to also identify co-sponsors for the technical bill, which was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives late last week. This legislation will make 529 plans more flexible and remove some of the barriers participants may have to saving, including:

  • Making computers an eligible expense;
  • Allowing for investment changes up to four times a year (right now it is limited to once a year);
  • Allowing the redeposit of funds for certain circumstances (e.g. a student gets sick at the beginning of the term) (Right now you can’t redeposit funds to an account once they are disbursed);
  • Allowing leftover funds from a 529 to roll over to a Roth IRA under certain circumstances (e.g. a student gets a scholarship their last year, or graduates early).

While all of this technical work is important; it’s critical to remember why we are doing it. Our goal is to help improve the lives of families and children through education and smart financial planning. As student loan debt surpasses $1 trillion, it’s now more important than ever to ensure families have accessible and affordable ways to save for education and avoid being saddled with more student loan debt. We thank Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) for their leadership and effort to help American families as they strive to save for college. We look toward a swift action by Congress to ensure these measures are passed.

Written by Betty Lochner, GET Director and CSPN National Chair

‘GET’ting clarification on some common misconceptions

As much as we here at GET would like to think otherwise, some of the specifics of how the program works are  not always straightforward. Whether I’m talking to families at community events throughout the state or overhearing conversations that our contact center team has with customers, I often hear the same questions and misunderstandings about GET and how it can be used. Below are some of the more common misconceptions about GET, along with detailed explanations that will hopefully provide some clarity.

I thought about GET, but I wish you could use it out-of-state.

The good news is that GET can be used to pay for school nearly anywhere in the country and even at some schools in other countries. Better yet, GET participants are not limited to traditional four-year universities. In addition to both public and private four-year institutions, GET can be used at community colleges and technical schools, and even for certificate programs and graduate school. The requirement for being able to use GET is that the institution participates in federal financial aid programs through the U.S. Department of Education. To find a list of qualifying schools, you can search the database on the FAFSA website.

Where GET's been used

If my child decides not to go to school or gets a scholarship, am I out of luck?

Fortunately GET is not a use-it-or-lose-it program. If your child decides not to attend school, or has another source of funding, such as a scholarship, there are many options available to you. You have up to ten years to begin using your units once your child graduates high school. We often find that kids who decide not to attend college right away may end up changing their mind later on. In that time, the value of your account will simply grow, keeping up with tuition inflation. Further, in the situation of a scholarship, there are often expenses that aren’t covered that GET can be used for. Remember that GET can be used not just for tuition, but for student fees, room and board, books and supplies, and any other qualified educational expenses.

If it becomes apparent that your child is very unlikely to use their GET units, then it’s time to consider the next option: transferring the unused funds to another family member, such as a sibling or cousin. Finally, if all else fails, you can always request a refund. Refunds pay out at the current value, so any gain you would have seen in the account is still yours. Keep in mind that program fees and/or IRS taxes and penalties may apply depending on the reason for the refund.

I want to save for college, but I’m afraid it will hurt my child’s financial aid eligibility.

Quote-for-3.24.14-postWhile this is a valid concern, fortunately, savings in a GET account (or any 529 plan for that matter) typically have a relatively small impact when being considered in the financial aid calculation. As long as the parent is named the “account owner,” the GET account is counted as a “parental asset” and makes up just a small component of the “expected family contribution” (parental assets make up about 5.6% of the formula).  Further, financial aid packages, especially those for middle class families, consist primarily of student loans that need to be repaid with interest. Every little bit you can put away ahead of time will substantially reduce the amount you owe after graduation.

There are other features and benefits of GET that aren’t always straightforward. In response, we have an FAQ page on our website that does a great job at answering the more common questions.

Written by Lucas Minor