College Costs Rival Retirement as Savings Goal

As one-third of parents are still shouldering student debt, they are highly motivated to help their children pay for school without relying on loans.

One-third of parents are still shouldering student debt, according to the ninth annual College Savings Foundation State of College Savings Survey. 

Just over half (51%) say that their top strategy for funding their children’s college costs is savings, up from 45% in 2014, and 53% are saving at least some money to put their child through college. Nearly half (48%) have at least $5,000 in their college savings fund. Parents generally plan to rely on savings far more than loans or scholarships, the College Savings Foundation found.

The most common college savings program is automated monthly savings plans, used by 42% of parents, up from 38% last year. Sixty-seven percent of parents are saving more than $100 a month, and 51% plan to ask family or friends to give money for college savings contributions rather than a material gift.

However, this doesn’t mean that parents expect to give their children a free ride when it comes to their college education; 74% expect their children to chip in, and 49% want their children to get a job to help pay for college. In addition, 69% of parents expect their children to receive financial aid, and 61% expect they and/or their children will take out loans. 

For retirement plan sponsors, the numbers highlight that the fact that many people are willing to delay retirement or dip into retirement savings to pay for children’s education. In fact, related research shows as many as a fifth of pre-retirement 401(k) account cash outs are taken to pay for tuition expenses or student loans.

NEXT: Breakdown by parental age group

Among parents age 31-35, 40% have student debt, and among this group, 91% said it made them consider other strategies for their children. Fifty-four percent are saving for their children’s college education, 31% own a 529 college savings plan account, 43% have saved more than $5,000 per child, 50% have automated savings plans, and 38% save between $101 and $300 a month. 

Among parents age 36-45, 29% have student debt, and among this group, 76% said it made them consider different strategies. Fifty-four percent are saving, 37% own a 529 college savings plan account, 50% have saved more than $5,000 per child, 43% have automated savings plans, and 33% save between $101 and $300 a month.

For parents age 46-55, 24% still have student debt, and among this group, 74% said it would make them consider other strategies. Fifty-six percent are saving for their children’s college, 32% own a 529, 61% have saved more than $5,000 per child, 39% have automated savings plans, and 33% save between $101 and $300 a month.

“We are encouraged to see parents across generations avidly saving for their children’s college and that their own student debt is a motivator—not a deterrent—to saving,” says Mary Morris, chair of the College Savings Foundation.

The Foundation surveyed more than 800 parents across the country and income levels.

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