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Start saving for college now

Published 8:29pm Monday, June 3, 2013

Parents of infants might think college is a long way away for their family — and indeed, it is.

There are thousands of dirty diapers, hundreds of youth sports games, scores of report cards, several family vacations and innumerable parent-teacher conferences, school concerts and plays and art shows and science fairs, and more than 6,000 bedtimes between baby’s birth and baby’s matriculation at college.

But the long road from delivery room to dorm room shouldn’t delay parents from saving for college. If they sock away money early and often enough, there will be no need for breaking out in cold sweats as their child walks across the stage to receive his or her high school diploma.

I am blessed that I have parents who stressed the value of education and sacrificed much over the years to send me to private school and then on to college. A combination of scholarships, grants, savings bonds, my own loans, my parents’ loans, cash from me, cash from my parents and cash from my grandparents paid for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and I’m grateful for all the help I got.

These days, however, there are wonderful savings accounts called 529 plans that help parents saving for their children’s college educations. Using such a plan is a definite improvement over crippling young adults with student loan debt, and it’s even better than cash because of the interest and tax benefits.

Research shows a majority of parents believe it is important for their children to attend college and yet do not save regularly, if at all, for higher education costs, according to Mary G. Morris, chief executive officer of the Virginia529 college savings plan.

Last week’s “529 Day” — held on May 29 — showed the importance of college savings plans. Babies born at 20 Virginia hospitals, including Sentara Obici, won $529 savings accounts by being the baby born closest to 5:29 p.m. at each hospital. Suffolk’s winner, Paris Taylor, the daughter of Keara Watts and Travon Taylor, already has more money saved for college than a lot of high school seniors have.

One needn’t have a massive wad of cash to start or fund an account. Only $25 is required to start an account, and even little contributions every so often throughout a child’s 18 years will grow to become a substantial sum by the time he or she is ready to pick a major — though, of course, it would be much better to make the commitment to contribute regularly.

With college costs increasing each year and the benefit of compounding interest attached to these accounts, there’s a cost of waiting. If you have a child who’s still young, looking into one of these accounts may be the best gift — besides your love — you ever give them.

To learn more about the 529 plans, visit www.virginia529.com.

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