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I didn’t want to grow up, but since I did, I’m glad I was a college bound kid

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As a kid, I spent so much time wishing I was older and daydreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Yet as I look back, I wish I wouldn’t have spent so much time worrying about the future. Instead I should have focused on the important things like perfecting the best techniques for pestering my sister, causing trouble with my friends, and repeatedly testing the hypothesis: “Just what would happen if I tried [insert allegedly dangerous activity here]? It can’t hurt that bad.”

I don’t know if the same goes for your kids, but there were at least a hundred different things that I wanted to be between the time I was four and when I graduated from college. In fact, once I got to college, things weren’t necessarily easier. It took me awhile to find the discipline that “spoke to me.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t unique in this regard. According to research at Penn State University, half of college students change their majors at least once before they graduate, with some changing several times.

No matter how many times kids change their visions of their future selves; this kind of introspection is an essential component of developing and discovering their passions. But connecting dreams to realities takes work. Sure, we’re good at reminding our kids of this – study hard, do your homework, and whatever you do, don’t end up in the principal’s office! But we as parents have just as much responsibility in ensuring our children do well in school and grow up to be successful and responsible citizens.

While it’s important to support your kids in their academic endeavors, it’s easy to take it too far. As parents, we may be tempted to push our children towards the things we have in mind for them, rather than encouraging them to search for what they’re passionate about. While this may be well-intentioned, this parenting faux pas can create a dilemma for students who want to live up to expectations, but are interested in other subjects.

And of course (you know I had to work this in), in addition to being emotionally invested in your kid’s ambitions, it’s important to financially support their dreams. Saving for future college expenses ensures your children can focus on “what” they want to do, rather than “if” they can afford to pursue it. As the cost of higher education continues to increase, so does the importance of a college degree in staying competitive in today’s job market. With studies showing that 67% of new jobs in Washington will require at least some postsecondary education by 2018, it’s clear that college is a valuable stop on the path to the work world.

It’s important to be ready to support your children in their dreams and take the necessary steps to help them succeed in whatever career path they settle on. Investing in your child’s future will help ensure they’ll move out of the house and buck the rising trend of “boomerang kids”…Wait, what I meant to say is, it will help set them up for a lifetime of success!

Written by Lucas Minor

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Six tips for keeping your kids’ brains free of summer cobwebs

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SummerSoccer

“School’s out for summer!” As a kid, this four-letter phrase was music to my ears and signaled the start of the greatest time of year. It’s probably safe to say the same goes for your kids. I mean, what’s better than three carefree months to kick back, forget homework and just be a kid?

But just because there are no teachers or lesson plans doesn’t mean learning should be put on hold. Studies show that on average, a student loses at least a month of grade level equivalency over summer break.

Fortunately, there are plenty of fun (yes, FUN!) activities that will help keep your children’s brain moving all summer long. Here are some ideas to get you started:

#1 Get Out of the House
Whether it’s your yard, the park or deep in the forest, there are so many things to stimulate their senses and brain. Set up activities that will challenge your kids to explore and analyze the world around them. Try a nature scavenger hunt – create a list of some common and harder to find animals, leaves, plants, etc. When all of the items have been spotted or collected, spend some time talking about and researching each item.

#2 Crack Open a Book or Two
Make regular visits to your local library, and get your children involved in summer reading programs. You may even want to set up your own family reading competition (perhaps with the allure of fabulous prizes).

ReadaBook

#3 Turn the Mundane into Food for the Brain
Even routine activities can be a valuable learning opportunity. For instance, a grocery store trip can be a math lesson. If you’re a bargain shopper, let your children help you calculate which item is the better deal. Back at home, ask your kids to help with reading recipes and measuring ingredients. This is a great way to keep analytical abilities sharp.

#4 Plan a Close to Home Adventure
There are so many opportunities to expand your children’s’ minds, right in your own community. Visit your local museum, nature preserve or art exhibit. Talk to the guides, read the informational signs and encourage your kids to ask questions. Keep an eye out for special exhibits and free admission days.

 #5 It Still Can be Fun and Games
If your children are into video games, be sure to incorporate educational games into their collection. There are also plenty of free tablet/smartphone apps out there that will keep the learning and the fun coming. If you want them to break away from the screen, good old-fashioned jigsaw puzzles are especially effective at stimulating many parts of the brain.

 #6 Make Money Count
And of course, one of our favorite activities to talk about is saving money! Teaching kids how to manage finances instills responsibility and helps maintain computational skills. There are many ways to go about this, such as tying allowances to household chores, helping your children set up their very own savings accounts, or using multi-compartment piggy banks to budget the amount they save, spend and share with others.

 Go For It!
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Your kids may complain a little that they can’t sleep in and watch TV all day, but they may just thank you in the future when they’re crossing the stage to pick up their college degrees.

Written by Lucas Minor

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GET to Celebrate National 529 College Savings Day

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Annually, May 29 is recognized as National 529 College Savings Day. The goal of observing this special day is to celebrate 529 college savings and prepaid tuition plans, and to remind families of the importance of planning ahead for college expenses. With tuition prices in our state more than double what they were ten years ago, and national student loan debt at an all-time high (on average, students are now graduating college with over $30,000 in loan debt), it’s never been more important for families to start saving when their kids are young. Our team here at GET recognizes the importance of reaching as many Washington families as possible with this message. 529 Day ProclamationWe’re excited to again be participating in College Savings Day by offering a special promotion and hosting fun community events! We are also pleased to have Governor Jay Inslee’s Proclamation naming May 29th as the state’s College Savings Day. Here’s a snapshot of what we have in store for this special day:

We’re waiving enrollment fees!
In an effort to make it easier for families to get their savings started, we will be waiving the $50 enrollment fee for all new Custom Monthly Plan Accounts set online up between May 27, 2014 and May 31, 2014. To take advantage of this special offer, customers simply need to visit www.get.wa.gov and click the “Enroll Now” button on the upper right hand side of the screen. Then, complete the quick enrollment application. The enrollment fee waiver will automatically be applied.

We’d like you to join us for some fun!
We will also be hosting fun family events at three locations throughout the state on Thursday, May 29 in Olympia, Everett and Spokane. In Olympia we’ll be broadcasting live from the Hand’s on Children’s Museum (414 Jefferson St NE) on 94.5 FM ROXY radio from 4pm and 6pm. In Everett you can come see us at the Imagine Children’s Museum (1502 Wall St) and listen for us on 1520 AM KXA Classic Country from 3pm and 5pm. And in Spokane, we’ll be at the Central Spokane YMCA (1126 N. Monroe St.), broadcasting on BIG 99.9 Coyote Country from 4pm to 6pm. If you live in any of these areas, we encourage you to tune in to these stations and stop by our booth with the kids. We’ll have fun activities, free giveaways and snacks, and helpful information from our team of college savings professionals.

We’d like to encourage you to check out what else is going on nationwide to celebrate!
Also be sure to check out what’s going on throughout the country for 529 College Savings Day by visiting the College Savings Plans Network’s (CSPN) Facebook page and website. On their Facebook page, you can enter a sweepstakes for your chance to win one of ten awards of $529 to go towards a new or existing 529 plan. Then on their website you can check out their interactive event map to see what every participating state is doing to commemorate 529 College Savings Day.

We hope that you can join us for one of these exciting events! We also hope that if you still need an extra push to get your college savings started, that you’ll take advantage of our special enrollment fee waiver offer. For more information on the GET Program and for 529 day event and promotion details, visit www.get.wa.gov. However you decide to celebrate 529 Day, we encourage you to spread the word to friends, family, and anyone you know that can benefit from getting their college savings started!

Written by Lucas Minor

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The School Year’s Almost Over, Are You Ready for Summer?

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Summer’s almost here! Birds are chirping, grass is growing (faster than I can mow it), and students are coming down with Summer-itis. As the end of the school year approaches it can be nearly impossible for student’s to stay focused and make the most out of the home stretch. The school year is looooong, they’ve earned a break. Before it’s all said and done, here are a few things to consider to help ensure that they get the most out of all of the hard work they’ve put in.

Have a chat with teachers about your child’s progress – See where their strengths are as well as where they may need a little help. Go over this year’s progress with your child and help them decide where they would like to focus their efforts in the coming weeks. This can be a good exercise to help them stay engaged as summer fever sets in.

Consider what can be done to help with retention – I love summer break. Staying out till the streetlights come on, drinking straight from the hose, climbing trees (trees are getting harder to climb, but I’m allowed to stay out a little past the street lights now). While summer is great for family time and for students to decompress, it can wreak havoc on retention of this school years progress. As hard as kid’s have to work to cram all of that new information into their heads, it would be a shame to see any of it go to waste. Have a brief chat with this year’s teacher, and if possible, next year’s teacher as well. This is a great opportunity to get suggestions for some light summer reading or projects that may help ensure that they retain the knowledge they’ve gained, and are able to hit the ground running in the fall.

Include your children in the planning process – Planning for their educational success is a long term process. Including them in these planning sessions can help reinforce these goals for them and remind them that their education is an investment, and that you believe in their inevitable success. A recent study from the Center of Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis found that children with a college savings account are six times more likely to attend a four year college. As the school year concludes, it’s a great time to consider your college savings options. This year’s enrollment period for the GET Program is open until May 31.

And of course, don’t forget to have fun! – Summer break is a crucial time for students to de-stress and be reminded of what it means to be a kid. Most of my best family memories were formed during summer breaks. It’s a great chance to take advantage of the weather and enjoy some family time. Maybe take a few hiking trips. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to live in beautiful Washington.

Best of luck in all of your planning, and congratulations to all the soon to be graduates out there! Enjoy the summer!

Written by Dan Payne

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Win an iPad Mini with Our Spring Referral Promotion

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Referral-Promo-ImageWe receive valuable input on a daily basis that helps us make continuous improvements to the GET Program. Some of the most valuable feedback we receive is that of our account holders – the individuals and families who trust us to help them prepare their children for the future. We hold their opinions, positive or constructive, in extremely high regard. For this reason, the highest compliment we can receive from them is a referral to a friend. With this great gift in mind, we would like to reward account holders that refer a friend between now and Friday, May 23rd, by entering them into a drawing with a chance to win an iPad Mini! Using the Tell a Friend feature on our secure website, you can send a message to a friend that you believe may benefit from the program. We will follow up with a short message with information about GET, and your name will be entered in the weekly drawing for an iPad. The friend or family member that you refer will also be entered in a separate drawing to win an enrollment fee waiver (valued at $50) for the program. Drawings will be held once a week during the promotion for a total of four drawings (one entry per person, per week). Our GET families have often been gracious enough to pass on their thoughts on the program. The Hayes Family of Bellingham writes, “We value GET for the opportunity to invest in a fund that secures college for our children. Knowing that our children will have access to higher education, gives us a great sense of security and peace of mind.” The Schofield-Isensee Family of Ferndale adds, “It is a relief to have our son’s college savings with GET. We don’t yet know his future, but we are grateful that our choice to save with GET will enable him to have more choices later.” Kind words from families offer a great insight into the things that our account holders find to be most valuable about the program. The confidence of our account holder’s is invaluable to us. Over the 16 years since GET began, word of mouth has been a powerful method of spreading awareness of the program. For all of you that have contributed to this, we’d like to say thank you! By sharing your stories, insights, and successes, you are helping other families plan ahead for an important expense and providing them with tools to make an informed decision.

Written by Dan Payne

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Believe it or Not, Your Kids are Paying Attention & Your Savings Efforts Make a Big Difference

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3 little piggy banksSince I was a young boy I was told by my parents that college would be a part of my future. It was an opportunity my parents never had and they knew how important a college education was to my future success as a person and as a professional. At an early age, my parents began saving for my higher education and they told me about the funds that were set aside to help with tuition, books and other costs. In high school I got a part time job and the dollars I earned were also set aside to help pay for school.

Looking back as an adult and now as a professional in the college savings field, I can see the accuracy of a recent study from the Center of Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis. The study concluded that children with a college savings account are six times more likely to attend a four-year college, compared to children with no dedicated account. I guess it goes back to that old adage, “actions speak louder than words.” As a kid I can vividly remember never once questioning whether or not college was going to be a part of my future, because I knew that resources had been set aside for my education.

In 1998, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and looking into my parents eyes on commencement day, I knew that diploma I was holding was just as much theirs as it was mine. It was not an easy accomplishment; I worked throughout school, earned a few scholarships along the way and most importantly had the great fortune of having the financial and emotional support of my parents. It was because of this powerful experience that one of the first things my wife and I did when both my daughter and son were born was to open a 529 Prepaid Tuition Plan through Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program. Little did I know at the time I opened the accounts that six years later I would begin working for the GET program.

What my wife and I loved about the prepaid tuition plan, was the guarantee that no matter how much tuition increased over the next 18 years of our children’s lives, we knew that our savings would increase at the same rate as tuition in our state. This was very reassuring after reading headlines in our local paper about year-after-year double digit tuition hikes at our state’s public universities.

IMG_0349GET’s prepaid tuition plan also provides a host of other benefits that made this savings option attractive to us. First, funds can be used nationwide at universities, community colleges and technical schools. Second, dollars in prepaid plans grow tax free and withdrawals are tax free for qualified education expenses like tuition, room and board, books and lab fees. With our GET accounts we were also able to set up custom monthly payment plans that make saving affordable and attainable. Even better, we have encouraged family and friends to contribute to our children’s accounts for holidays and birthdays.

Since there are so many different ways to save for your children’s education, it can become overwhelming trying to absorb all the information related to the various plans that are out in the marketplace. A good resource for wading through all the details is the College Savings Plan Network (CSPN) and their website collegesavings.org.

The most important thing to remember is that some savings is better than no savings, and the sooner you can start saving the better off you will be in the long-run because your money has more time to grow. Last and most importantly, even though it may not seem like it at times, your children are listening and looking up to you. It’s critical that you know your actions in saving for their future education will be instrumental in shaping their future.

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Financial Literacy & Consumer Focused Legislation Keys to Success for the Future of College Savings

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USCapitolBuildingThere are two things I really enjoy in life. One is visiting our nation’s capital. The other is watching Saturday Night Live. For years, I have been a lucky person because it seems like these two things always seem to find each other in funny satire political skits. Whether it’s Will Ferrell impersonating President George W. Bush or Jay Pharoah taking on the persona of President Barack Obama, you never have to look too hard to find humor in American politics. As easy as it is to poke fun at our country’s leaders, a trip to D.C. reminds one what a tough and big job our federal leaders have. From the economy to education and foreign policy to the environment; each day brings a new set of challenges for our elected officials. They are consistently pressed for their time and attention, just like many of us with our own jobs. The key to their success –like our own — is having an understanding of a variety of topics, issues and subject matters, while not losing sight of the big picture and remembering what’s most important. Two weeks ago I returned to my office after spending a productive week in D.C. at the National Association of State Treasurers (NAST) Legislative Conference where financial literacy was an overarching theme. Given treasurers’ responsibilities of managing the finances of their states, they are very interested in the financial literacy of their citizens. This made me think about my own job in helping families save for their children’s college education and how we have an incredible opportunity to help young parents understand the basics of financial planning and budgeting. In addition to financial literacy, several state 529 program directors met with legislative staff to educate and gain support for H.R. 4333 and to also identify co-sponsors for the technical bill, which was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives late last week. This legislation will make 529 plans more flexible and remove some of the barriers participants may have to saving, including:

  • Making computers an eligible expense;
  • Allowing for investment changes up to four times a year (right now it is limited to once a year);
  • Allowing the redeposit of funds for certain circumstances (e.g. a student gets sick at the beginning of the term) (Right now you can’t redeposit funds to an account once they are disbursed);
  • Allowing leftover funds from a 529 to roll over to a Roth IRA under certain circumstances (e.g. a student gets a scholarship their last year, or graduates early).

While all of this technical work is important; it’s critical to remember why we are doing it. Our goal is to help improve the lives of families and children through education and smart financial planning. As student loan debt surpasses $1 trillion, it’s now more important than ever to ensure families have accessible and affordable ways to save for education and avoid being saddled with more student loan debt. We thank Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) for their leadership and effort to help American families as they strive to save for college. We look toward a swift action by Congress to ensure these measures are passed.

Written by Betty Lochner, GET Director and CSPN National Chair

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