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How do I save for college in 4 years? (6 Things to Consider)

How do I save for college in 4 years? (6 Things to Consider)

May 17, 2022

If you're on a tight timeline and need to start saving for college quickly, the good news is that it is never too late

When you or your child is ready to consider colleges, the sticker shock of how much money it costs to attend can be jarring. While starting to save only a few years before school isn't ideal, many parents are in the same boat.

You may be asking yourself, "How much do I have to save for college?" and "What are the average costs I need to consider?

If these questions sound familiar, you're in luck. We share some helpful tips to get you started today on your child's college savings funds. 

529 College Savings Plan: The Best Way To Save For College

A college student's supplies afforded due to opening a 529 college savings plan with Pathway Financial in Lancaster, PA

The 529 College Savings Plan is one of the best ways to save for college, regardless of your timeline, but especially for those who need to start saving for college quickly approaching. 

While most people aren't taking full advantage of these plans, we're here to help you capitalize on every benefit and opportunity

A 529 College Savings Plan is great because you can contribute money into an account, and it will grow tax-free until you're ready to put it towards schooling. These plans also offer other federal and state income tax deductions, a potentially high return on investment, and do not require income-based restrictions.  

How Much Do You Really Need To Save In A 529 Plan?

If you're crunching the numbers in your head, you may be thinking you need to start putting away $500+ each month to contribute to a 529 College Savings Plan. But the good news is, that's not the case. 

As a parent or guardian, the reality is that you don't need to pay for 100% of college costs upfront or even alone. Instead, we recommend you start by setting some savings goals that might include: 

  1. Paying for 100% of your child's potential in-state tuition and leaving the difference of where they actually decide to go up to them.
  2. Paying for X amount of the schooling cost each year and taking out loans to cover the difference. 
  3. Exploring scholarship options that can help bring down the cost of tuition. 
  4. Contributing to the 529 College Savings Plan until your child reaches a certain age and allowing them to use that lump sum toward their education's total cost. 

If you're unsure what savings goals to make, your friends at Pathway can help you determine a college savings plan that supports your child's education without leaving you to make ends meet now. 

Adjust for Your Personal Situation

The best monthly savings goal to put aside money for college is one that you will stick to, so choose one that fits your budget. This is about 10% of discretionary income that they can set aside in their 529 College Savings Plan for many families. 

You'll also want to consider where you fall on the savings scale - because not all schools cost the same amount. You may want to help your child pay for a public 4-year school on the low end. On the high end, you might aim to pay for a 4-year private education for your child fully.

Either way, parents should remember that even when saving for a private school, many students who attend private schools get discounted tuition, receive scholarships to offset the "real" tuition price or take out student loans to supplement the difference. If you are struggling with student loans, reach out for expert assistance today

Generally speaking, those on the low end of savings usually plan to pay out between $9,600 and $10,000 per year for each of the 4 years of school. And, since we know that the college costs will continue to rise, that amount saved should be about 50% of 4-year public school tuition in 18 years.

Commit to a Monthly Contribution

If you can commit to a monthly contribution amount, we highly recommend setting a goal and sticking to it. Without considering where you land on the scale of savings, consider how much money you can afford to put into an account each month. If you can contribute 10% of your discretionary income each month, that is a great place to start. 

Your monthly contributions may also shine a light on realistic options for your child down the line. Consider how much money you will have to support their education by the time they leave for school based on your monthly contributions. They can help you determine if a public, private, or another school may fit within your budget. 

Front-load Contributions

529 College Savings Plans currently allow for a maximum contribution of $16,000 per year. However, front-loaded contributions are allowed for the first 5 years. If you have the funds to do so, you can contribute 5 years' worth of annual gifts of up to $16,000 at once, for up to $80,000 per person, per beneficiary. 

If your family ends up with a windfall of finances, such as an inheritance or bonus, you may consider front-loading your 529 College Savings Plan while you can and take advantage of additional years of tax-free growth.

Open a 529 College Savings Plan With Pathway

A group of recent graduates that paid for school by opening a 529 college savings plan with Pathway Financial in PA

Pathway Financial offers student loan financial advisor services to parents and students, giving them the tools and experience to help save for college and develop overall financial plans. 

Start saving for your or your child's college education today! Learn more about opening a 529 College Savings Plan by contacting us today

Read our article on getting ahead of college savings

Frequently Asked Questions

How much should you save for college each month?

The amount you should save for college each month depends on various factors, including your financial situation, your child's age, the cost of college, and your desired level of contribution.


How Much Do You Really Need To Save In A 529 Plan?

As a parent or guardian, it's important to recognize that you don't have to bear the entire burden of college costs upfront or on your own. Instead, we suggest starting by setting achievable savings goals.

Here are a few examples: 

  • Planning to cover your child's potential in-state tuition expenses while leaving the remaining amount up to their choice of college.
  • Committing to pay a specific amount towards the cost of schooling each year and considering loans to bridge the gap.
  • Exploring available scholarships that can help reduce the overall tuition expenses.
  • Contributing to a 529 College Savings Plan until your child reaches a certain age, allowing them to utilize that accumulated sum towards their education costs.
  • If you're uncertain about which savings goals to establish, the experts at Pathway can provide guidance and assist you in developing a college savings plan that supports your child's education while ensuring your financial stability in the present.

How can I check 529 Eligibility? 

There are no eligibility restrictions for 529's. Anyone can open one.

What are the best 529 plans for PA Residents? 

Pennsylvania allows you to utilize any plan available, so we recommend the one with the lowest cost and expenses. We can help clients search for the best one.

How much do I need to save for college 529?

That definitely depends on the cost of the school you desire to attend, but it only takes $250 to start a 529.


How much can you front load a 529?

Current laws allow a gift giver to make a lump sum contribution of up to five times the annual gift tax exclusion and spread it over five years. That is $160,000 for a married couple.

Disclosure: Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with 529 plans before investing; specific plan information is available in each issuer's official statement. There is the risk that investments may not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated. Also, before investing, consider whether your state offers any favorable state tax benefits for 529 plan participation and whether these benefits are contingent on joining the in-state 529 plan. Other state benefits may include financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors

This communication should not be considered as an offer to sell or buy any securities, provide investment advice, or make investment recommendations. This information is being provided with the understanding that it is not intended to be interpreted as specific legal or tax advice. Individuals are encouraged to consult with a professional in regards to legal, tax, and/or investment issues