Steps to follow for a bigger college savings fund

DETROIT - Parents trying to save for college these days have been pinched between rising tuition and a struggling Michigan economy.

As part of the Local 4 Education Nation initiative, Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer asked an a financial consultant for some advice on how to save for that last chapter of your child's education: college.

Retired police officer Kevin Kline of Clinton Township has already helped his three older children through college.

"You're going to want your children to go to college because you want a better future for them," he said.

He now has two younger daughters who might be looking for help with tuition down the road.

"This time there was a game plan," he told Ruth to the Rescue.

Kline works with financial advisor Tom Hakim of Hakim Financial to make the most of his money including college savings. Hakim's first piece of advice is the sooner you start saving the better you will be.

"The longer you wait, it's Murphy Law, something's going to happen every year until you say, 'Wow we should have done that,'" Hakim said.

He also adds that starting right after a child is born can pay dividends later, especially when it comes to engaging the entire family in the effort to build a robust education fund.

"Talking to grandparents, aunts and uncles say, 'Look if you want to really give my child something put something toward their education fund,'" he said.

Where To Put All That Money?

Hakim says there are plenty of places to put that extra money as your child grows up: savings accounts, mutual funds, even under your pillow! However, he is a big fan of 529 accounts.

"529's are probably right now one of the best plans out there," he told Ruth to the Rescue.

When it comes to setting a savings goal, he says its hard to come up with a savings formula that would work for every family.

"I think the key is to save what you can, and as much as you can."

Other Savings Secrets

There are some other secrets to saving money for the education fund, including:

*Make savings a regular deduction from your paycheck. Once it's a habit, you might not even notice the money is going to another account.
*If your regular expenses decrease, shift the savings into the education fund. For example, when your child stops going to daycare, divert some of that money into the college account.
*If you have a sudden windfall (tax refund, inheritance), get into the habit of putting a portion of that "found" money, into the education fund.
*Involve your children in the effort, make saving for college a family project.

Kline agrees with that last point. "When they get their birthday money or holiday money that goes into that plan also," he said.

"I think that's just a great formula for success!" added Hakim.

Relieving the Pressure

Beyond your savings, Hakim wants parents to know paying for college isn't all on their shoulders.

"There's three players here. There's them, if they want to participate, there's the student, and there's the university, who will participate," he said.

He said its crucial to involved the student in every aspect of planning, once they're old enough.

And, while the costs of traditional college seem to be skyrocketing all the time, Hakim said technology could rapidly change how the next generation is educated, and that could lower costs in the future.

"25 years from now, you're probably going to be able to go to college on your iPhone," he said.

Here's one reference to compare college savings plans:

Every parent should also remember to check with your child's university for all the financial aid programs at the school. Students should also be looking for every scholarship they might be eligible to receive, financial aid, loans, work-study programs.

As Hakim advised, this is a project with three partners: parents, students, and the university.

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.