Parents working with financial advisors are saving more for college than those who don’t, according to a new study by Fidelity Investments.
Yet the ongoing financial difficulties have made saving for college that much harder. The fourth annual College Savings Indicator study found that the percentage of college costs parents are projected to meet is only 16%, down from 18% last year, and 24% in 2007, the first year of Fidelity’s survey. However, those who work with an advisor are projected to meet 28% of college costs, down from 34% last year. And 88% of parents working with advisors have started saving for college, compared with 67% who are not working with an advisor.
The good news is that more families are seeking help from financial advisors this year, especially parents of high school students, with 33% utilizing advisors, up from 28% in 2009. For those with high school-aged children, six in 10 said their advisor discussed strategies for paying for college including new funding sources, postponing plan distributions and spreading out withdrawals in order to maximize their saving opportunities, according to Fidelity.
Financial advisors are providing even more help beyond the usual savings and distribution strategies, with 25% of advisors helping clients with researching schools, up from 13% last year. Thirty percent of advisors are now helping parents to navigate the grant process, up from 16% and 37% are helping to secure financial aid, up from 20%.
Meanwhile, more parents are now saving for college and more have a dedicated account. Sixty seven percent of parents have begun saving for future college costs, up from 63% in 2009 and 58% in 2007. Fifty one percent of families report they are familiar with 529 college savings plans, up from 40% in 2009. For those parents who haven’t started to save, but plan to do so, 30% said they intend to open a 529 plan, up from 18% in 2009 and 15% in 2007.
“It’s great news that even in tough economic times, more parents are recognizing the benefits of saving in a tax-advantaged 529,” said Joe Ciccariello, vice president, Fidelity Investments College Planning, in a press release.
Interestingly, over 40% of parents with preschool-aged children have started saving for college costs in a dedicated account, compared with only 28% of parents with children in high school. Parents with pre-school aged children have saved a median amount of $8,000, only slightly less than parents with middle school children ($10,000) and high school children ($17,000).
“As parents see the cost of college continuing to increase each year, they are realizing they need to start saving earlier to meet those rising costs,” said Ciccariello. “While starting early is a critical step, it’s never too late for parents with older children to start contributing or, at the very least, engage in conversations with their children about paying for college.”
Fidelity’s College Savings Indicator is a national online survey of more than 2,500 parents nationwide with children aged 18 and younger who are expected to attend college; who have household incomes of $30,000 a year or more; and who are the financial decision makers in their household.