Parents are putting children's college costs ahead of retirement planning

A majority of parents (61 percent) are not letting the recession change their plans for their children's college education, according to a survey by Country Financial. Further, 47 percent say college plans are a higher priority than retirement savings (41 percent).

This marks the first time in three years a majority of parents are putting their children's college ahead of their own golden years. In fact, last year parents favored building their nest eggs (47 percent) over education funding (42 percent). The survey also reveals men are more likely to put their children's education (50 percent) ahead of their retirement (38 percent) than women.

"While saving for near-term financial goals may seem like a good idea in uncertain times, be sure you are not doing so at the expense of your retirement," says Keith Brannan, vice president of financial security planning for Country Financial. "You can borrow money for college, but you cannot borrow for retirement. Balancing your nest egg with the rising costs of college is a concern for many, so review and update your financial plan as your family's needs change."

College Cost a Greater Concern than Children Leaving Home

Despite the rising costs, 79 percent still think college is a good investment. However, the high price tag causes anguish among parents. In fact, 65 percent say the cost of college causes more of a concern for them than the thought of their child leaving home (24 percent).

While the cost of college might cause a great deal of concern for parents, it may not be top of mind for their children. Two-thirds (67 percent) of parents say their kids do not have an understanding of how much college will cost.

"This is a reminder of how important it is to teach our children about finances as early as possible," says Brannan. "Getting our children to understand the cost of their education early on will help them develop good financial habits later as adults."

Tips for saving for college in this economy:

 

  • Maintain a well-diversified portfolio. Because of the short window to accumulate funds and the shorter window to distribute them, try to invest at the proper risk level for the age of your child. Many college investment methods offer age-based models which are tailored to when your child attends college.
     
  • If you had been investing too aggressively and lost a significant amount in these tough financial times, now is not the time to get more aggressive. Instead, try to find other ways to pay for college, like grants or low-interest loans. In many cases, you can also qualify for tax breaks like the Hope Scholarship and Lifetime Learning Credit, as well as the college tuition and student loan interest deductions.
     
  • If you are a new parent, start your college savings early. Now could be a great time to invest because stock prices are low. Ask a knowledgeable professional for help if you need assistance.

The May Country College Funding survey is based on a national telephone survey of more than 1,241 Americans who expect to be responsible for paying for a child's education and is compiled by Rasmussen Reports, LLC, an independent research firm. The margin of sampling error for this survey is approximately +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.
 

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