Idaho families experienced many uncertainties and hardships this year. Yet, as we look to 2021 with hope, it’s important to maintain focus on the long-term goals of our families. Here at IDeal, Idaho’s College Savings Program, we’d like to take a moment to offer guidance and encouragement to parents seeking to refocus their children’s educational and economic futures.
College campuses across Idaho and elsewhere have worked to adjust to the pandemic, resulting in a modified experience. What hasn’t changed, however, is the cost of attending public or private universities, community and technical programs, or participating in a registered apprenticeship.
For the 2019-2020 school year, the average total college tuition, including fees and room and board, cost more than $21,900 for in-state, public four-year colleges across the country, according to the College Board’s 2019 Trends in College Pricing report.
These costs add up and can saddle graduates with significant debt. Studies show the average student loan debt in 2019 totaled more than $35,000. In Idaho, the average student loan debt is now almost $27,000.
What might come as a surprise over the last 12 months is that Idaho families have continued to save and are on track to exceeding contributions in their IDeal accounts. Additionally, new account openings have been steady and gifting to IDeal accounts has increased.
Research shows that students with an account earmarked for higher education are up to seven times more likely to pursue and complete a program. Saving for future education expenses is the same smart move it was pre-pandemic.
Given the present economic circumstances, and the holiday gifting season upon us, here are some thoughts to help parents save for their children’s educational futures:
· It’s never too late to start: While saving early has the power of compounding interest, even students heading to college sooner rather than later can benefit from having savings in an IDeal 529 account.
· $25 makes a difference: Saving even $25 a month can potentially add up over time and reduce the need for future student loans.
· Create a game plan: Build a strategy for saving when possible. As part of this “do what you can” mentality, remember the tax benefits associated with your IDeal account including up to $12,000 annual state tax deductions for individual contributions and a 20% state tax credit for employers who contribute to employees’ IDeal accounts.
· Get others involved: Ask grandparents, relatives, and friends to replace birthday and holiday presents with a gift contribution to an IDeal 529 college savings account. They, too, can deduct their gift from their Idaho state taxes.
· Redirecting refunds: If colleges refund portions of tuition, fees or other expenses, that money can be re-contributed into your IDeal 529 college savings account within 60 days without accruing any tax penalty.
Our lives have changed significantly in many ways, but it’s hard to imagine a world where post-secondary education doesn’t pay dividends. According to the State of Working America Data Library, compiled by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, those with degrees make about 49.5% more than someone with a high school diploma.
Many families have understandably made considerable adjustments to their lives. However, we urge families to dream big, stay the course when you can, and save for your children’s future education, professional success, and happiness. Open or contribute to an IDeal College Savings Program this holiday season and start a new tradition. December 31st is the deadline for the 2020 tax incentives for IDeal accounts. We’re here to help at www.idsaves.org.
Christine Stoll is executive director of IDeal, Idaho’s 529 College Savings Program. She is an active member of the National Career Development Association, College Savings Plan Network and the Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition. She has 19 years in the field of education and earned her bachelor and master’s degrees from Boise State University.