A recent study completed by Fidelity Investments and MEFA found that most parents and their children don't discuss paying for college.
To deal with rising tuition costs, many parents need their college-aged students to share the burden of paying for college. The problem is, most of them have never actually told their kids. This was the main finding from a study conducted by Fidelity Investments and the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority.
The study also found that parents are starting to save earlier for their child’s college education but are still having a hard time reaching their goals. 66 percent began saving for college before their child was five years old, which is a four percent increase since 2016. However, only 37 percent are able to reach their savings goals.
There is still good news to be found. Those results are still higher than the national average of 28 percent, and it’s 9 percent higher than the findings in 2016, according to Tom Graf, the Executive Director of MEFA. He said that the “survey results show we have the opportunity to build on those numbers.”
Though 66 percent of Massachusetts parents expect to cover most of the tuition costs themselves, many parents want their children to save $9,282, on average, by high school graduation. And 47 percent of parents feel that it isn’t their responsibility to cover all of the college costs. When the study first started in 2007, that figure was 60 percent.
But 47 percent of parents with a child who is in 10th grade or higher have not shared these expectations with their student. In 2016, this figure was 41 percent.
The study found that there are other college-related topics parents haven’t yet discussed with their child. Fifty-five percent of parents haven’t explained how the financial aid process works. And 54 percent of parents haven’t talked to their child about how much student loan debt they may have to take on.
Meanwhile, 83 percent of parents believe that dealing with their own student loan debt has made them better educated regarding financial topics. Yet 50 percent of parents aren’t sure what the best college savings plans are, and 51 percent don’t know how much they should save each month. Although 52 percent do have a financial savings plan in place, this is down from 57 percent in 2016.
Even more troubling: 71 percent of parents said they are familiar with a 529 plan but only 39 percent have opened one, which is a 7 percent drop from 2016. It’s not all bad news, though. The parents who have opened a 529 savings plan have saved an average of $32,200. In 2016, parents had only saved an average of $20,400.
Massachusetts also offers an annual in-state tax deduction for families who contribute to the U.Fund College Investing Plan, which is the Massachusetts 529 plan. The study concluded that Massachusetts parents would benefit from learning more about these incentives to save.
Although this study focuses on Massachusetts families and students, it’s an important reminder to start talking with your child sooner rather than later about paying for college. Setting expectations and coming up with a plan can help you prepare for the big investment you’ll be making in a college education. And the more money you have saved for college, the less you’ll have to borrow in student loans.