Retirement Savings Before College Savings

These days many parents are struggling with saving any amount of money. So imagine the difficulty of trying to tackle the seemingly insurmountable tasks of saving for college and retirement simultaneously. No question, it’s a tall order. To give parents some options to consider, US News offers suggestions for dealing with this double-headed financial dragon as follows:

Maximize your match. Don’t pass up your employer’s 401(k) contributions, even to save for college.

Check out 529 plans. Saving in a 529 plan allows a college fund to grow tax deferred, plus withdrawals to pay for college costs are tax free.

Consider a Roth IRA. Some retirement savers tap their nest eggs to pay for college. IRA distributions taken before age 59½ are exempt from the usual 10 percent early withdrawal penalty when they’re used to pay for education expenses such as tuition, fees, and books. But traditional IRA withdrawals are still taxed as income, and Roth IRA distributions require taxes on the portion of the distribution that comes from earnings.

Evaluate financial aid. About 5.64 percent of a 529 plan balance is factored into the amount the family is expected to pay for college, but withdrawals from 529 plans generally don’t reduce the student’s financial aid package for the following year.

Get your kids involved. Level with your child about how much college costs and your own retirement concerns.

These are fair tips for someone trying to balance both goals, but what if you have to choose between one and the other? Should you save for retirement or college first? We think this quote from the piece clearly identifies the better option:

I would rank retirement first and college second because there are other ways to pay for college. There are no loans for retirement.

There are many ways for young adults to help fund their college educations — grants, scholarships, work study programs and the like. In addition, students can get loans for college and as long as they borrow wisely, they can (rather easily) pay back the money over time. On the other hand, last we knew banks were hesitant to lend money so people could quit working. Somehow they think that zero income makes a poor financial bet. Go figure.

How about you? Are you saving for one (and which one), both or neither of these?

Save for College or Retirement? [US News]

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