Adjust the college plan
. The same time-and-money crunch applies to college savings. Compare the difference between starting a college fund when your child is a toddler and when he or she is 13. Fifteen years out, you would have had to save $345 a month to cover 75% of the cost of a public college education, according to Savingforcollege.com. At this stage -- say, five years out -- you'll have to save $646 a month, almost twice as much.
Rather than regret the past, recalibrate. If you're on track for retirement but short of your college goal, for instance, you can always redirect 1% or 2% of your gross income from one pot to the other for a few years, says Greg Dosmann, a principal at Edward Jones. Recognize that you might have to work a year or two longer before retirement or boost the retirement allocation after you're done paying the college bills. "It's a trade-off," he says.
Or consider borrowing -- judiciously. Parent PLUS loans, sponsored by the federal government, carry a fixed 7.9% rate. PLUS loans let you borrow up to the cost of attendance, minus any financial aid. Thanks to their fixed rate and consumer protections, such as forgiving the loan if the student dies or becomes disabled, PLUS loans are generally a better bet than private student loans.
Remember, however, that borrowing on behalf of your student can jeopardize your own financial security in retirement. If the gap is a chasm, not a crevice, find a cheaper school. Another way to get cash for college is to borrow against the equity in your home. With a home-equity loan, you pay a fixed rate (recent average: 6.4%) but borrow the entire amount upfront. With a line of credit, you pay a variable rate (recent average: 5.1%) and borrow as needed. With both, you can generally deduct the interest on amounts up to $100,000, no matter how you use the money.
A lower rate and tax-deductible interest may beat student loans. The downside to this strategy is that it pushes off a key goal for many people, which is to enter retirement mortgage-free. "After the kids are finished with college, you are going to have to save like heck to pay off the mortgage or, if you can't do that, sell the house and downsize when you retire," says Yrizarry. Downsizing doesn't have to be a bad thing, but it's a decision you should make before you borrow, not after.
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: 5 Costly Retirement Surprises 10 Things You Must Know About Social Security 10 Most Tax-Friendly States for Retirees The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.