Category Archives: College Savings

Different Perspectives on Home Ownership

The question of whether to buy or rent a home is of enormous economic significance for most families. Home equity represents the vast majority of American families’ net worth (see chart below). In a post in mid-2011, I discussed some of the major economic variables in the decision to buy a home. My conclusion was that buying a home made sense, but not because housing generates attractive long-term investment gains. The long-term data suggests houses have historically increased in value at a rate only slightly higher than inflation. The best arguments for owning a home, I argued, were historically-low interest rates, the mortgage interest tax deduction, and the inflation hedge provided by locking in your costs for shelter for the long-term. Since that time, housing prices and rents have risen dramatically. In the past week I read two thoughtful and interesting articles on the economics of owning a home that motivated me to revisit this topic for 2014.

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Economic Inequality

Income inequality is increasingly acknowledged as a key economic issue for the world.  The topic is a major theme at Davos this year.  Economic inequality is also an increasingly common topic in U.S. politics.

A new study has found that economic mobility does not appear to have changed appreciably over the past thirty years, even as the wealth gap has grown enormously.   The authors analyzed the probability that a child born into the poorest 20% of households would move into the top 20% of households as an adult.  The numbers have not changed in three decades.

On the other hand, there is clearly a substantial accumulation of wealth at the top of the socioeconomic scale.  The richest 1% of Americans now own 25% of all of the wealth in the U.S.  The share of national income accruing to the richest 1% has doubled since 1980.  In contrast, median household income has shown no gains, adjusted for inflation, since the late 1980’s and has dropped substantially from its previous peak in the late 1990’s.

Why is this happening?

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Planning for College Costs, Part II

In part 1 of this article, I explored how you can estimate how much college will cost and how much you need to save, going forward, to accumulate enough savings to cover the amount that you plan to contribute towards your child’s college costs.  One of the major variables in this calculation is what you assume about how you will invest the money that you save.  While you can design a portfolio yourself, it is also worth looking at funds that combine the major asset classes into portfolios at various risk levels.  Continue reading

Planning for College Costs, Part I

As we enter autumn, the leaves start to change and students arrive at college campuses across the country.  For parents, as well as for students, the start of the academic year raises the specter of some of the largest costs that a family incurs.  Hopefully, families have started to prepare for college costs far ahead of the years of attendance, but the sheer size of the expenses may be pretty daunting even for those who have saved since their children are very young. Continue reading

Choosing and Paying for Higher Education

I am now at an age at which many of my friends have kids preparing for, or going to, college.  I have a few more years to figure out the details, but this is an issue that I have followed for a long time.  My local in-state university, the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), estimates the all-in cost of attendance at $26,000 per year.  This varies a bit, based on which program you choose.  Tuition, fees, and books cost about $14,000 per year (though this varies by program) and the estimated cost of room and board is about $12,000 per year.  Continue reading

Should the US Reform the Student Loan System?

Guest post by Contributing Editor, Matthew Amster-Burton, Mint.com.

Anyone who has read my previous columns about paying for college knows that I’m a student debt hawk. Student loans in their current form are dangerous: it’s too easy to borrow massive quantities; they can almost never be discharged in bankruptcy; and students and parents rarely understand what kind of quicksand they’re getting into.

At the same time, a “buy now, pay later” system makes sense. We have all sorts of public subsidies for college tuition, including the federal student loan program, because having an educated population benefits everyone. Continue reading

Ranking the Investment Options in 529 Education Savings Plans

If your New Year’s resolutions include saving more for a loved one’s future education, your mind may have turned to 529 plans.

Though the performance of these plans improved last year, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story, there are many such plans, and they vary widely in quality. They particularly vary in terms of the investment options they offer once you’ve put your money into the plan.

“Saving for college is a major financial planning item. Local governments have set up tax exempt saving plans for College which is a great idea. Somehow, what we have ended up with is a confusing mess. The problems come when you look into the details of the plans,” says Simon Napper, president of MyPlanIQ, a firm that analyzes investing options in corporate 401(k) plans as well.

As illustration, Napper put together an analysis of how well investors would have done in the following state plans if they had allocated their investments in a diversified manner. Continue reading