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Published:December 10th, 2011 15:27 EST
Good & Bad Investment Vehicles For College Savings

Good & Bad Investment Vehicles For College Savings

By Tom Ski


The rising costs of sending your children to college lend a whole new meaning to the term higher education expenses. In fact, as most all parents know, the expenses for higher education can result in financial strain that will weigh on the family for years to come.  That is why each and every one of us needs to be able to take the time to do our research, and investigate the myriad of wise investments that are out there when saving for the next generation`s education.   


Week after week we have been exploring the huge variety of financial  `vehicles` that are available to save money for college.  From federal grants to the huge number of scholarships - all families should look through the information carefully, making sure that they choose the right  `path` to walk in order to save funds for college. 


Mission Tuition is a company that was created to help in this process in many different ways.  Not only is this a company that offers sites, tips and suggestions for the adult who is looking to figure out the best and worst investments to choose from, they also have put together an inspired, unique program where if you open a Free Mission Tuition account, you literally begin saving money while you shop.  The Mission Tuition website offers a way to shop all the stores that you already love, and receive coupons, discounts, money back, sale prices - everything - that is automatically placed in your educational savings account  held at Wells Fargo bank.  There, the money simply sits and adds up while you research all the incredible 529 college programs that are available for your child.  With Mission Tuition if you shop in the stores and not online, you still receive all the same cash back rewards and coupons, and YOU have the choice whether or not it goes into the educational savings account, or straight into your pocket!  Talk about a no-lose situation!


Mission Tuition, as we`ve stated in the past, is a company that truly wants to help hardworking families in their quest to save for their children`s education.  Therefore, today we will speak about the three basic sources for college funding that exist in these harsh economic times, but we will also take an in-depth look at the unwise investments that many people can get caught up with.


Applying for financial aid is, of course, the largest source for college funding.  A financial aid program can help reduce the gap between what you have and what you`ll need when the college years arrive. And being able to combine financial aid with available scholarships can help you decide which school your child can attend; and if your child has an outstanding academic or athletic record, there are even more scholarships available that can reduce the cost of college.


The second major form of college funding are student contributions.  One thing to remember is that although federal grants may be difficult to obtain you do not need to repay them, whereas student loans can defer college costs, but must be repaid in full.


When planning for college consider how much the student will have to contribute. If you expect the student`s contribution to be significant, it is important to teach him or her to begin saving early in order to help reach the projected goals.


With family contributions you will need to consider how much you plan to contribute to the student`s college expenses. Planning early can help ease the financial burden, but no matter how you choose to pay for college expenses, an experienced financial advisor can help you establish your own plan.


Here is where investing wisely comes into play.  One way to establish your college investment program is by making a lump-sum investment in one or more mutual funds. You may even want to consolidate multiple savings or investment accounts into a single education account for each child. In addition, parents as well as other family members, are allowed to give each child an annual  `gift` without incurring gift taxes.


However, you do not have to make a large, lump-sum investment to get a college investment program up-and-running.  Building a college fund by making systematic investments in mutual funds is a way that many families tend to go. In fact, a majority of investments in a 529 plan are mutual funds, and by making investments on a regular basis you use a time-tested investment method known as dollar-cost averaging. Dollar-cost averaging does not guarantee a profit and does not protect against loss, but you can invest a fixed amount of money at regular time periods, regardless of market price - allowing you to buy more shares when prices are low. As the fund`s share price increases, the investment is worth more. Quite a simple process.


Now we need to speak about the investments for your child`s college fund that many financial advisors frown upon.  Yes, there are still bad investment choices that people make, and there are still certain things out there in the world like internet chat rooms and advertisements that lead people down the wrong path.  What investors should know is that no matter what they hear or read, there is no such thing as a sure thing.  In fact, the Loch Ness Monster is more believable than that phrase.  Parents who put their hard-earned cash into irregular places are the ones who end up short on funds and devastated that they do not have the cash when it comes to paying for their child`s tuition. 


One of the most common things that occurs is when a college fund is set up by using a life insurance policy or an annuity.  There are insurance agents who will encourage you to do this by offering the theory that, since life insurance policies/annuities allow tax-deferred accumulation, paying for mutual funds in a regular taxable account is just plain silly - seeing as that you have to pay taxes every year on the growth.


Although that statement is true, they do not mention that you still have to pay income tax on your gains when you withdraw money, as well as a 10% penalty if you are under the age of 59 ½ when you withdraw.  What you should always be aware of is the fact that there are great tax benefits on 529 accounts, which are the most approved vehicle for saving for college.


Then there is gold.  Right now in these economic times more and more people are investing in gold and other precious metals.  It is easy to see why, considering that gold is very "real.`  It is a product that you can hold in your hand and is always in demand.  However, the costs that are associated with purchasing and storing gold can quickly wipe out any gains in value, making this type of investment seem like far more work and less appreciation.  However, you can still get your hands on the investment of gold by purchasing a mutual fund in your 529 account that`s specifically aimed at mining companies


Investing in the world of collectibles, or even works of art also has downsides. The value of these pieces is based solely on the opinion of other  `people;` therefore the value on these items can change overnight when the  `well` of buyers for a specific item dries up.  So, basically, the value of this type of investment is really at the whim of recessions and trends - and not a stable investment.   


Ah, the stock market.  A lot like it is when we go buy that lottery ticket and dream of our numbers coming up that evening and solving all of our life`s difficulties, that is why we find the stock market so tempting.  Every once in a while, like Vegas, that big payoff can occur.  BUT, most of the time it does not, and if it doesn`t, trying to make up the money lost before you have to pay for that college tuition is almost impossible. 


Your 401k is a great investment for your retirement, but is not a college fund asset. The underlying investments are good, but accessing the money could end up being monumentally bad. Taking a significant distribution from what is most likely your main retirement fund, can stop the growth of the underlying assets until the loan is paid off - and you will end up having to pay a 10% penalty if you are under 59 ½ when you withdraw.


529 plans and Coverdell ESA`s are lovely vehicles for college investing. Offering tax benefits and a huge array of investments, these are the best way to meet future college costs.


And the best part is, while you are researching all of these vehicles and deciding on what`s best for you, you can be saving the money by simply doing the everyday chore of shopping.  From Walmart to Target, Walgreens to Pep Boys - every store you already shop at is on Mission Tuition.  You can even use any of your existing debit or credit cards to make purchases.  If your favorite card earns miles or points, you receive them in addition to Mission Tuition`s cash rebates, doubling your benefits with every purchase.  And, remember, YOU decide what to do with your in-store savings, while shopping on-line puts your savings directly into the educational savings account until you`ve found that perfect college vehicle to invest in.  Then, when you decide, you simply tell Mission Tuition and they cut a check!  Simple as that! 


There is no better holiday gift than being able to save money for the person you love more than life.  Make their dreams come true and make your investing easier - sign-up with Mission Tuition today!


Until Next Time, Everybody.


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