financial decisions

College Savings Ideas When There’s More Than One Kiddo

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Some things that seem complicated can be made simple. Other things, like college funding accounts for descendants, may get more complicated over time when more than one child is involved.

Consider how disparities may develop across account balances:

  • Imagine that, upon their birth, the first child receives a one-time deposit of $1,000; the second-born receives $100 monthly from birth to age 18; the third on the way is set to receive the same deal as either of the first two. However, this third child will necessarily have less purchasing power from the same amount in contributions. Why? In the years that have passed, inflation will have done its work.
  • One-time deposits may go in at a more advantageous time to invest for one child than another.
  • Equity among children will remain a shifting target as asset values and college costs change over time.

… And all this is before we even consider the differences in children’s needs.

One approach to simplify this reality is to think of college funding as a consolidated endeavor for the group, not as individual accounts. With a 529 plan owned by grandparents or a Roth IRA earmarked for education, this can be done. (We should note: owners of 529 college savings plans may change the beneficiaries among siblings or cousins with no adverse tax consequences.)

Consider this example. If there are seven grandchildren, you can allocate 1/7 of the total college fund balance to the oldest, then 1/6 of what remains to the second-oldest, and so on as each grandchild reaches college age.

In the case 529 college savings accounts are used, transfers may be needed to set up the oldest with the proper balance. If a Roth IRA is used, a withdrawal in the proper amount can be made by the grandparent to meet education expenses, then the “paid” child is removed from the beneficiary (or contingent beneficiary) provision.

Proceeds of a gift via Roth may of course be used for purposes other than education, a house down-payment for example.

Some clients who have 529 accounts for grandchildren make adjustments from time to time among grandchildren’s accounts to reflect each child’s individual needs and to maintain a better sense of equity. Others deposit equal amounts for each grandchild and do not worry about differences that emerge later.

One general rule in college funding: the more removed the funding is from the child, the less impact it may have on college aid formulas. A 529 account owned by the child is 100% available for college expenses, but a Roth IRA balance of a grandparent or parent has little or no impact.

Clients, we talk about options and alternatives; you make decisions. If you would like to talk about strategies for your children or grandchildren, email us or call.


Prior to investing in a 529 plan, investors should consider whether the investor’s or designated beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other state benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors that are only available for investments in such state’s qualified tuition program. Withdrawals used for qualified expenses are federally tax-free. Tax treatment at the state level may vary. Please consult with your tax advisor before investing.


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Peak Experience

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You know we are endlessly fascinated by the search for investment bargains, the interplay of human behavior and the markets, and economic cycles. We enjoy talking with you, and collaborating on your plans and planning. But the pinnacle of our work is in a whole different category.

Once, a life-long friend of a close client had not been able to solve the question, “Can I afford to retire?” Mrs. S had raised two children on her own after being widowed at a young age, and was working at a job that had become onerous as she approached retirement age. For two years she had pursued the answer, but could not find it.

She needed to gain the confidence that she could retire. The resources were there, through her lifetime of diligent saving. We were able to explain the meaning of her wealth, how it could help her work toward where she wanted to go, in terms she could understand.

A year and a half after that, she called to ask another question. Would it be possible for her to own a home, or was that a pipe dream? She had spent thirty years in a modest rental duplex. Some time later she began her home search.

These questions, and others like them, are the reason we are in business. Our real work is not about making money. It is about helping clients make decisions that could change their lives.

Mrs. S was never our largest client. She never paid us the highest fees. But the personal satisfaction we felt from our work was vast.

Many will never need that much help. They come to a comfortable understanding of the meaning of their wealth without our context and perspective. We are still very happy to play a role investing their resources, and answering those financial planning questions that do arise.

Clients, if you would like to talk about these things or anything else, please email us or call.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

 

Case Study: Home Sweet Home

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Quite a few clients are reaching the twentieth anniversary of starting in business with us. So the sixty year olds then are eighty now. A lot can happen in those twenty years!

Mr. and Mrs. Q retired successfully a few years into our relationship, a major transition that ended up well. Then they surprised themselves and me when they decided to build a home in a suburban community and leave their city home of more than forty years.

After thoughtfully considering what they wanted, the Q’s built a beautiful new home and never looked back. It was a great move for them.

A dozen years later, the home may not make the most sense for them. Senior living apartments with some services and meals may be a better option in the near future.

In every transition, we look at four kinds of numbers: lump sums coming in, lump sums going out, recurring monthly income, recurring monthly outgo. And we do the arithmetic to sort out how much invested capital will be available after the transition. Then we can figure out the size of ‘the fruit crop from the orchard.’ (By which we mean the cash flow from invested capital, of course.)

We have gone through this process three times for Mr. and Mrs. Q. First they needed to determine if they could afford to retire. Later, the home-building idea had to be framed up so they could make a good decision. Now, we are working on the next move.

One of the interesting parts of our work is that we never make decisions for you. Usually, the key part of a major decision is feelings, not arithmetic. We strongly believe in doing all the arithmetic that can be done. But no computer can decide where you want to wake up every day, or if you sense that maintaining a home has become too great of an effort.

Just as we never forget whose money it is, we never forget whose life it is, either. We will never kid anybody about the arithmetic, nor kid ourselves by thinking we can make better life decisions than you.

Clients, if you face a transition and want to begin framing up a better understanding of it, please email or call us.


Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.

This is a hypothetical example and is not representative of any specific investment. Your results may vary.

Poking Holes: Find Your Strategy

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“It’s easy to poke holes in every single investment philosophy or strategy. The trick is to find the one with flaws that you’re comfortable with.” –Ben Carlson, Ritholz Wealth Management

This concise statement makes it clear: every investor faces tradeoffs.

Current Income or Long Term Growth? Some strategies focus on growth in capital over time, others focus on current cash flow. Many investors need some of each. A pure growth portfolio probably won’t pay your bills, and a pure income portfolio may not have the growth to stay ahead of inflation.

Stability of market value or long term growth? This is where we live! We have written about the high price of stability. And we have constantly communicated in every way we know how about the link between long term returns and short term volatility. Everybody we know would prefer having both stable values day to day and wonderful long term returns.

You cannot have all of both—the best we can do is some of each. But it helps to resolve this tradeoff if you make sure your income and emergency funds are sufficient for your needs. If you own the orchard for the fruit crop, you don’t need to care what the neighbor would pay you for the orchard today.

Reliability of Income or Stability of market value? This dilemma is not even recognized by most people, and rarely discussed by investment professionals in our experience. Nevertheless it is a vital point. At one extreme, the kinds of investments that assure stable values have delivered wildly varying income over the years. In the early 1980s one could gain interest of 1% a month on money in the bank. More recently, it has been difficult to get 1% per year. So the person that retired on bank deposit interest of 12% saw a lot of volatility—and deterioration—in their income over time. Meanwhile, anything you can own that produces reliable income over extended periods will definitely fluctuate in market value, sometimes sharply.

Putting it all together: As you can see, every investment strategy has flaws. The trick, as Carlson says, is to find the one with flaws that you’re comfortable with. So we need to understand what is required in the way of stability, current income, reliability of income over time, and long term growth. We can build a portfolio that strives to balance those attributes with tradeoffs that are both acceptable and likely to be successful.

Please call if we may be of service in this regard, or to update our understanding of your situation.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Organize Your Money: The Easy Way or the Hard Way

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Anyone with a passing interest in personal finance has read about the need to know where your money goes every month—to run your finances in accordance with a household budget. If you google “household budget” you will find millions of links. It turns out there is actually an easier way.

A typical budget would include line items for home expenses including utilities, telephone, insurance, property taxes, rent or mortgage payment; auto including payment, repairs, insurance, gasoline; personal items including health care, clothing, gifts, personal care, etc.; and so forth.

It takes a fair amount of time to determine what amounts should be budgeted in each category, and then to track your spending by category each month. Time is what life is made of—we should be careful how we spend it. Especially when there is an easier way. So simple, it fits in three words:

Pay. Yourself. First.

If you always save 10% of everything you ever make for the long haul, you probably will be able to retire at a decent age. PAY YOURSELF FIRST by electing that kind of percentage into employer retirement plan or other long-term investments.

If you put something into savings every payday, you’ll never get caught short by a broken appliance or unexpected home or auto repair. PAY YOURSELF FIRST by putting 5% of income into shorter-term savings. When your savings balance equals many months of income, you can transfer funds to long-term investments.

Depending on your circumstances, you may need to pay yourself more to reach your goals. But the 10% and 5% are a good place to start.

So with the ‘pay yourself first’ method, how much should you spend on everything else, all those other categories of things we need or want? Very simple: whatever is left over after you pay yourself first. Think twice about buying a money pit of any kind—it will imperil your goals. Spend as little as you need to on things that decline in value, like vehicles. And be careful about things that come with monthly bills, like pet horses or satellite TV. Housing and vehicles consume major fractions of our incomes, so make thoughtful decisions in those areas.

As long as you simply pay yourself first, you can get to where you want to go. Or you can do it the hard way: download one of those comprehensive budgets and get to work.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the loss of principal.