College is expensive, but it doesn’t have to saddle your future scholar with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. By figuring out how much to save for college and putting a plan in place to make it happen, you can create a more affordable experience for your family.
Learn more about how to estimate the future cost of college tuition and room and board, the pros and cons of various college savings options like 529 plans, and how to make room in your budget to get started.
What Will College Cost?
According to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing report, for the school year 2022-23, the average tuition and fees for full-time undergraduate students were:
$10,940 for Public four-year in-state
$28,240 for Public four-year out-of-state
$39,400 for Private nonprofit four-year
That doesn’t include room and board, which can cost anywhere from $8,556 to $12,870 per year.
The final cost also depends on the school your child chooses. Since the costs above are averages, you could end up paying as much as $80,000 per year.
So what will college cost in 18 years? It’s anyone’s guess, but we can estimate. Let’s take the example below.
Future College Cost Example
Say you have a child born this year who will attend a California public university as an in-state student. With a current tuition of $13,750 annually, let’s estimate that by 2041, the tuition will cost approximately $33,000 per year (assuming an average 5% per-year price increase).
Let’s also assume your child will be dorming, at an added cost of $28,000 per year in future dollars (again, with 5% annual inflation).
To cover the cost of that four-year degree (around $252,000 with room and board included), you’d need to save just over $750 per month starting now, assuming a 5% annual rate of return on your savings.
Of course, that’s just one scenario. Private colleges and universities can have much higher sticker prices, and the example above doesn’t factor in the cost of books and other supplies.
You can use this college cost calculator to help you zero in on a more personalized estimate.
Consider Financial Aid
The good news is that it’s unlikely you’ll pay the full ticket price of college. The majority of students qualify for financial aid (which is need-based), merit scholarships, or both.
So, look at the “net price” of college, defined as the difference between the published price and the average grant aid received by full-time students. This net-price calculation is more closely aligned to what your financial obligation would be.
In 2022, the typical family paid for college costs with:
43% from parent income and savings
26% from scholarships and grants
11% from student income and savings
10% from student borrowing
8% from parent borrowing
2% from relatives and friends(Video) How much to save for college
Get Your Kids to Help
It’s reasonable to ask your kids to shoulder some of the load as well, whether through getting a job to contribute funds or applying for student loans. On average, parents pay about 50% of the total cost of college.
How Much Money Should I Save for College?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Here are a few popular methods to consider:
Method 1: Save One Third
One popular approach for determining how much to save for college is to pay one-third of college costs from savings, then cover the remaining two-thirds from your income and financial aid or loans.
Getting back to the example above, to cover a third of the cost of your teen going to a California public university as an in-state student, your goal would be to save $250 per month.
You can run your own numbers using the average cost of your preferred school type.
Method 2: Save $2K to $3K per Year
Another guideline you may have heard is to save $2,000 to $3,000 each year of your child’s life. If you save $2,000 per year with a 5% annual rate of return, you’ll have a little over $56,000 by age 18. If you upped that to $3,000 per year, you’d come out with $84,000.
Method 3: Save What You Can
Choosing either of the above approaches can work well, but perhaps the best advice is to simply save what you can. Every dollar you save will help reduce the amount you’ll have to borrow. More importantly, you shouldn’t focus on college savings until you address three other key financial priorities:
Build a fully-funded emergency fund (equivalent to at least six months of take-home pay).
Pay off any high interest debt (anything above 7%).
Work up to saving at least 10-15% of your gross income for retirement (because there are no loans for that!).
After you know how much to save for college, the next question is, where do you put the money as you save it? That’s next.
Best Accounts to Save for College
A great option to save for college is a 529 plan. These plans have useful tax benefits that enable you to use earnings tax-free for eligible college expenses. To avoid tax penalties, you’ll want to be sure you’ll use all the money in a 529 for school expenses. If you’re not sure, there are other options to explore as well.
A 529 plan is an individual investment account designed specifically to save for college. Anyone can open one, and the money grows tax-deferred. When you use it for higher education expenses (tuition, fees, room and board, books, a laptop, lab supplies, etc.), you won’t pay any tax on the withdrawal. Depending on your state, you may get another tax benefit in the form of a state tax deduction on contributions.
You can also choose how to invest the money in a 529 plan. One option is an automatically managed age-based portfolio that’s rebalanced periodically based on your child’s age.
If your child doesn’t ultimately attend college, you can change the beneficiary of a 529 plan to another qualified family member. However, if you use 529 funds for something that doesn't qualify as an education expense, the earnings will be taxed as income and you’ll owe a 10% penalty as well.
Other Ways to Save Money for College
No contribution or income limits; not limited to education expenses
Fewer tax advantages than 529 plans
Earnings are taxable as capital gains
UTMA (Uniform Transfers to Minors Act) Account
No contribution or income limits; not limited to education expenses
Larger impact on financial aid eligibility because it’s a student asset; student controls the account when turning 18
Income earned is taxed at the tax rate of the minor
Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA)
Tax-free earnings and distributions if used for education
Income limits on contributions
Withdrawals not used for the beneficiary's qualified education expenses are taxed and penalized (10% on the earnings portion)
High-yield savings account
No contribution or income limits; not limited to education expenses; no investment risk
Limited opportunity for growth
Interest earned is taxable
No contribution or income limits; not limited to education expenses; no investment risk
Money is tied up for the CD term or you’ll pay a penalty
Limited opportunity for growth
Interest earned is taxable
For more info on the best college savings vehicles, see our article: 529 Plans and Other College Savings Accounts
Once you know how much to save for college, you need to know how to go about it. Here’s how to get started.
How to Start Saving for College
Saving over time can make it easier to save a large amount, but the earlier the better. Before you start saving for college, make sure your emergency fund is fully stocked, your high-interest debt is paid off, and you’re making good progress on saving for retirement. See our article on financial goals for couples for more info.
Automate Your Saving
When you’re ready to start saving for college, review your budget and see if you have funds available monthly. If you do, set up automatic contributions so you can “set it and forget it.” Choose a set amount that will go straight into your 529 account, or another account earmarked for college savings.
If you don’t have any wiggle room in your budget, you can still get started by allocating a portion of any bonuses or other windfalls you receive to your college saving account.
Manage Gift Giving from Family and Friends
Another way to build up your college savings is to encourage family and friends to make a contribution for birthdays and holidays. This method has the added bonus of cutting down on toy clutter.
Pro Tip: You can lower how much you have to save for college by managing your child’s expectations, researching merit awards, and staying close to home. See how below.
Ways to Reduce the Cost of College
Saving as much as you can for college is just half of the equation. The other half is trying to keep college costs low. These days it isn’t necessary to pay top dollar for your child to have a great college education, and there are many ways to make a degree more affordable.
Set Realistic Expectations
By the time your child is in high school, set their expectations by going over how much you’ve saved for college so far. Explain how much you’ll contribute beyond what you have saved. Finally, discuss how their college choice will affect the amount of student debt they’ll need. Help them understand that their “dream school” doesn’t have to be the most expensive one.
Also, it’s worth talking to your child about the ROI of the degree they choose. To do it, search the average starting salaries of different fields of study. You can then compare them to the costs of degrees your child is considering at different universities to see how much return on investment they’ll get on their education in terms of future earning potential.
Your child’s ultimate decision shouldn’t be guided only by the cost, but it’s smart to factor in that information to avoid surprises.
Research Schools That Offer Generous Merit Awards
A U.S. News survey of the top 1,000+ colleges found that the average merit award for full-time students in the 2019-2020 academic year was $11,287. In 2022, 60% of families used scholarships to pay for college. Do some digging to see the average awards offered by your student’s schools of choice, and how to qualify for the maximum award amount.
Consider Starting at a Low-Cost Community College
Community college is affordable (just $3,860 on average for the 2022-2023 school year). It gives the student the option to live at home for two years and transfer to a four-year university after that. This can be ideal for students who aren’t sure what they want to study yet.
Stay Within Driving Distance
If your child will stay in a dorm, choosing a college that’s far away means adding the expenses of traveling back and forth, paying for overnight hotel stays when visiting, and having to pay to store or ship their dorm gear during summer months.
Get Kids in on the Savings
Saving for college should be a family affair. Enlisting their help in the saving process gives your child some skin in the game to help grow their pot of money. It also cultivates valuable savings habits they can benefit from later in life.
In their younger years, guide your kids to contribute a portion of their allowance and monetary gifts toward their college fund. You can even offer a parental match: For every dollar they save, promise to match it up to a certain amount each year (on top of what you’re already saving, of course).
Help them Save
When they’re old enough to do odd jobs like babysitting or mowing lawns, or to get a part-time job, have them allocate a percentage of their income toward their college fund.
Once they’re in college, encourage your young adult to investigate ways to offset some of their living expenses. For example, they can get an on-campus job or apply to work as a Resident Advisor (if they’re dorming), which can mean free room and board.
Pro Tip: A simple, intuitive budget app like Monarch Money can help you and your kids plan and save together as they grow. The app lets you sync and track income, expenses, and savings across multiple accounts.
How Much to Save for College: Key Takeaways
Saving for college can help make a degree more affordable, with less reliance on student loans. Once you’re in a strong financial position, start squirreling away as much as your budget allows and let compound interest work its magic.
Enlist family, friends, and your kids to help with the savings mission, too! Intuitive software can help you find room in your budget for college savings and track your progress all the way through to graduation.
For example, you might plan to save enough for: Tuition only (about 50% of the total cost for public schools; 75% for private schools). Room and board, books, and fees (about 50% of the total cost for public schools; 25% for private schools). The first 2 years of college (50% of the total cost).How much money should you save for college? ›
For example, you might plan to save enough for: Tuition only (about 50% of the total cost for public schools; 75% for private schools). Room and board, books, and fees (about 50% of the total cost for public schools; 25% for private schools). The first 2 years of college (50% of the total cost).How much should I have saved for college by age? ›
Average college savings by age.
|AVERAGE AMOUNT SAVED FOR COLLEGE|
|Age 0 – 6||$7,929|
|Age 7 – 12||$15,359|
|Age 13 – 17||$27,559|
In 2022, Sallie Mae and Ipsos surveyed nearly 2,000 college undergraduates and their parents about how they paid for college. The survey found: 33% of families used college savings plans (such as a 529) to help pay for college. The average college savings plan amount they used to help pay for college was $6,872.How much will 529 plan be worth? ›
|Age||Low End||High End|
By age 21, assuming you have worked full time earning the median salary for the equivalent of a year, you should have saved a little more than $7,000. Read on to learn why you shouldn't be discouraged if your savings are nowhere close to that number.How do I save for college in 4 years? ›
- Open a 529 College Savings Plan.
- How Much Do You Really Need To Save In A 529 Plan?
- Adjust for Your Personal Situation.
- Commit to a Monthly Contribution.
- Front-load Contributions.
- Open a 529 College Savings Plan With Pathway.
There's no set amount you should have stored away for college. But based on money trends, minimum wage, etc. – $3,000 is a good starting point. That amount gives you time to find a job and live until your first paycheck.Are 529 plans worth it? ›
And when you pull the funds out, as long as they're used for qualified higher education expenses, there's no federal income tax on the distribution, and often no state income tax. 529 accounts also receive some favorable treatment for financial aid purposes, so they're really a great way to save for college education.How much money do you need for 4 years of college? ›
The average college tuition and fees at four-year schools in 2020-2021 was $19,020. The average total cost for a year of college at a four-year school — including tuition and fees, on-campus room and board, books, supplies, and other expenses — was $35,551. That's roughly $142,000 over the course of four years.
During the 2021/2022 school year, the average parent covered about 43% of their student's college costs using income and savings. Parents covered an additional 8% of that cost by taking out loans, according to the Sallie Mae study. The average total parent contribution came out to $13,000 per year.How much pocket money should I save for college? ›
But it's also a good idea to come up with a budget and plan for your child's spending money allowance. But how much spending money for college does a student need? While the number is dependent on a range of factors, the average amount of spending money for a college student is $2,000 per year or about $200 per month.When should I start saving for college? ›
Ideally, the best time to start a college fund is when your child is born. With compound interest and regular investments made monthly or yearly, the funds have an opportunity to grow over a longer period of time, and you don't need to put aside as much each month or year to reach your savings goal.How much is $100 a month for 18 years? ›
This chart shows that a monthly contribution of $100 will compound more if you start saving earlier, giving the money more time to grow. If you save $100 a month for 18 years, your ending balance could be $35,400. If you save $100 a month for 9 years, your ending balance could be about $13,900.Is a 529 worth it for 2 years? ›
Tax savings still count
Still, it's likely to be worthwhile, according to O'Leary. “If your kid has just started college and you haven't opened a 529, even getting two or three years of potentially tax-free growth in the account can be helpful," she says.
|Federal income tax benefits, and sometimes state tax benefits||Must use funds for education|
|Low maintenance||Limitations on state tax benefits|
|High contribution limits||No self-directed investments|
Alice Rowen Hall, director of Rowen Homes, suggests that “individuals should aim to save at least 20% of their annual income by age 25.” For example, if someone is earning $60,000 per year, they should aim to have $12,000 saved by the age of 25.What is considered a rich salary? ›
Based on that figure, an annual income of $500,000 or more would make you rich. The Economic Policy Institute uses a different baseline to determine who constitutes the top 1% and the top 5%. For 2021, you're in the top 1% if you earn $819,324 or more each year. The top 5% of income earners make $335,891 per year.How much do most 25 year olds have saved? ›
Average Savings by Age 25
The Federal Reserve doesn't provide a specific metric for savers in their 20s. Instead, it compiles savings information for Americans under 35. The Fed's most recent numbers show the average savings for the age group that includes 25-year-olds is $11,250. The median savings is $3,240.
It's important to note that your investments can fluctuate, and you can lose money in a 529 plan. Your purchasing power can also decrease due to inflation, which means your investments may not keep up with the cost of college.
Most 529s plans allow you to change the beneficiary once a year. So if your child won't be using the money, you can transfer the assets penalty-free to eligible family members, such as the account owner (typically a parent or grandparent) or a close family member.What is the 1 3 rule for saving for college? ›
The 1/3 Rule
With this approach, parents are only required to save up to one-third of the overall costs of a four-year undergraduate program. The rest of the fees can be filled in by past investments, scholarships, financial assistance, or your future income.
Younger people are no exception. Of “young millennials” — which GOBankingRates defines as those between 18 and 24 years old — 67 percent have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and 46 percent have $0.How much should a 20 year old have saved? ›
Many experts agree that most young adults in their 20s should allocate 10% of their income to savings.How much money do most 18 year olds have saved? ›
|Average savings for ages 18-34||$8,330.50|
|Average savings for ages 35-44||$10,663.20|
|Average savings for ages 45-54||$11,482.30|
|Average savings for ages 55-64||$16,977.20|
|Average savings for ages 65+||$19,369.70|
Is a Roth IRA better than a 529 plan? A 529 savings plan is generally an all-round good choice to pay for your child's (or your own) college, while Roth IRA may be a better option as a backup account to supplement educational expenses.Should I contribute to 401k or 529? ›
Most advisors agree that you should take full advantage of retirement accounts such as 401(k), IRA, and 403(b) tax-sheltered annuities before funding your college savings accounts. These retirement plans offer unique tax advantages, and, in some cases, matching contributions from your employer.Can I use a Roth IRA to save for college? ›
Using a Roth IRA for college
Some people use a Roth IRA to save for college instead of retirement because withdrawals are exempt from penalties when used to pay for qualified education expenses (like tuition, fees, books, and room and board).
Most undergrads have help from parents to pay for college. Many also receive grants, borrow student loans, or work part time. Find out how the average student covers the cost.How much money a month does a college student need? ›
|Public Four-Year University (In-State, On-Campus)||Private Four-Year School|
|Room and Board||$11,950||$13,620|
|Books and Supplies||$1,240||$1,240|
The average college GPA is a 3.1 – or B average. This number has increased over time because of grade inflation. So, if your GPA is higher than that number, it could be beneficial to include on your resume as means to set you apart from the competition.How do middle class families pay for college? ›
Students and families who do not qualify for Federal Pell Grants and Institutional need-based aid have several different options including scholarships, Federal Work Study, Federal loans for students, Federal loans for parents, private educational loans, and family savings and out-of-pocket payments, including payment ...How to afford college without parents? ›
- Fill out the FAFSA.
- Apply for scholarships.
- Get a job.
- Look into tax credits for qualifying college expenses.
- Minimize your college costs.
- Research tuition assistance programs.
- Consider taking out federal student loans.
Parent PLUS loans are a common option for parents looking to help pay for college. These loans are government-sponsored financial aid; currently, the total debt countrywide for these loans is just shy of $90 million⁷.How much money should a college student have in the bank? ›
If you're on top of your budget and not overspending, Steinberg recommends college students keep around one to two months worth of their income in checking and put everything else in a high yield savings account or a retirement fund.What do college students buy the most? ›
Take a look at what individual college students planned to spend on average during the 2021 – 2022 back-to-school shopping season:
- Electronics: $306.41.
- Furnishings: $164.38.
- Clothes: $158.98.
- School supplies: $83.56.
The average cost of food per month for a college student is $667. College students spend on average $410 a month eating off-campus. Meals cooked at home average $257 a month when the cost of eating off-campus is included. A campus meal plan averages $450 a month.What is the quickest way to save for college? ›
- Apply for scholarships. ...
- Apply for aid. ...
- Take AP classes. ...
- Get a job. ...
- Open a savings account. ...
- Save money instead of spending it. ...
- Never use student loans. ...
- Choose a cheaper school.
Scholarships and grants are one way to put money in your pocket if you don't have college savings. Federal grants, like the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), are given to students who demonstrate financial need based on information submitted through the FAFSA.What is the 50 30 20 rule for college savings? ›
One of the most common percentage-based budgets is the 50/30/20 rule. The idea is to divide your income into three categories, spending 50% on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings. Learn more about the 50/30/20 budget rule and if it's right for you.
In year three you would save $540 a month and so on. Twenty bucks a month can't be worth that much, right? In this scenario, assuming the same 7% annual return, your ending balance after 30 years would jump from a little more than $606,000 to more than $867,000. That $20 a month would be worth more than $260,000!How much is $2000 a month for 5 years? ›
In 5 years, you'll have $11,000.How much is $5000 a year for 20 years? ›
Answer and Explanation: The calculated present worth of $5,000 due in 20 years is $1,884.45.What age is too late for 529? ›
You know the saying, “It's never too late…” Truly, it's never too late to save for your child's college education in a 529 plan, even if it's their senior year of high school. Why? 529 plans offer many benefits to enhance the growth of funds placed aside for future college costs—even if the future is 2021.Is a 529 plan guaranteed so you won't lose money? ›
Investment returns are not guaranteed and you could lose money by investing in the Plan. All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.Is college savings better than regular savings? ›
If you're saving for college, a 529 savings plan may be a superior option to a traditional savings account, particularly if you have a while until your child heads off to college. A 529 may lead to a higher return on your investment long term, and it grows tax-free. You then can withdraw your earnings tax-free, too.What's the best way to save money for a child? ›
You can open a custodial brokerage account at a bank or brokerage firm. A custodial account can be a great way to save on a child's behalf, or to give a financial gift. Basically, these are easy-to-open accounts used to invest in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and more, all to give your child a better future.Are dorm supplies covered by 529? ›
With a 529 college savings plan, investments grow tax-deferred and are not taxed when withdrawn to pay for qualified higher education expenses, including tuition, fees, textbooks, supplies and equipment required for enrollment, special needs services and, in some cases, room and board costs.Can you use 529 money to buy a house? ›
Withdrawals from a 529(b) are allowed at any time so long as proceeds are applied to purchasing a home. Monies can be used for a down payment, mortgage and real estate closing costs, state and local taxes, or any other home-buying expenses paid at closing.How much should I save for college in 2030? ›
According to the US Department of Education, the average annual cost of public school increased 6.5 percent each year over the last decade. That means that by 2030, annual public tuition will be $44,047. The total cost for a four-year degree will be more than $205,000.
Amount Parents Have Saved for College
In our survey, we asked parents how much they have saved for college. About 5% hadn't started saving yet. Of those that had, just over 30% had saved $10,000 or less, 25% had saved between $10,000 and $30,000, and about 40% had saved more than $30,000.
Ideally, you should save at least $250 per month if you anticipate your child attending an in-state college (four years, public), $450 per month for an out-of-state public four-year college, and $550 per month for a private non-profit four-year college, from birth to college enrollment.What is the 2k rule for college savings? ›
The rule is simple. Multiply your child's age by $2,000. That tells you how much you should have saved already at that specific age to be on track to cover 50 percent of college costs.Is it hard to save 10K a year? ›
If you want to save $10,000 in a year, you'll need to shave $833.33 off your monthly budget. Still overwhelmed? That's the same as $384.61 every two weeks, or $192.31 per week. If you really want to break it all the way down, it's $27.40 a day.Is it okay to save 10K a year? ›
Saving $10,000 a year is great. It can help you accomplish a variety of financial goals, such as saving, investing, and paying off debt.Is it possible to save 100k in 5 years? ›
If you can afford to put away $1,400 per month, you could potentially save your first $100k in just 5 years. If that's too much, aim for even half that (or whatever you can). Thanks to compound interest, just $700 per month could become $100k in 9 years.Do colleges look at parents savings? ›
Colleges will expect parents to use up to 5.64 percent of their assets toward college. Protected Assets. The asset protection allowance was eliminated in the 2023-2024 FAFSA, which means all of a family's assets are taken into account in the federal aid calculation.What percentage of parents can afford college? ›
According to the oft-cited Sallie Mae study “How America Pays for College,” 77% of American families used parent income and savings to pay for some of their kid's college expenses. Another 18% of parents use borrowed funds to pay for some portion of their child's higher education.How much money do most college kids have saved? ›
32% of recent college grads have less than $5,000 in their savings account. 43% say they “often” or “always” live paycheck to paycheck. 21% have more than $20,000 in credit card debt.What happens to 529 if child doesn't go to college? ›
Family Members Can Use the Money
Most 529s plans allow you to change the beneficiary once a year. So if your child won't be using the money, you can transfer the assets penalty-free to eligible family members, such as the account owner (typically a parent or grandparent) or a close family member.