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Tales from the Road – Part 1

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Jackie Outreach

One of the greatest benefits of my job is meeting new people and making a difference in how they understand the GET Program. My work takes me to parent meetings, children and family events, school activities and conferences from Olympia to Spokane, Seattle to Vancouver and even Tonasket to the TriCities. In every community I have the pleasure of spending time with parents and grandparents who are beginning to explore ways to save for their children’s future college expenses. A few weeks ago at a PTA meeting in Olympia one Mom said “if I don’t start now, I’m sure I never will.” I told her that getting started is typically the hardest part, but once you make some time to jot down your savings goals and gather some resources you’re nearly half way there. “That’s the problem,” she exclaimed, “I don’t know what to look for or even how to choose.” To which I replied “That’s what I’m here for!”

That’s my job with the GET Program – as the Community Relations Manager I get to meet people one-on-one and help them maneuver through information, clear up misconceptions, talk about their savings goals and provide resources to help them get started. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, because parents can expect to pay 2/3 of their children’s college costs through a combination of savings, income and loans, it is imperative that they start saving as early and regularly as possible. One of the first things I tell a parent is that they aren’t alone. With work, children, and life in general, sorting through all of the information in a Google search about the best ways to save for college is painful and time consuming. So here are a few tips to get you started:

Make time: Schedule a time to sit down alone or with your spouse and jot down your initial thoughts on what you want to accomplish with your savings plan. Believe me; this will save you countless hours and headaches in the long run by getting your goals, fears, and perceived barriers to savings out of your head and in writing. You might have to change things around later and that’s okay. Just start brainstorming and create a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related (SMART) plan.

outreach womens showKnow your budget:      Know what you can afford today. There are so many things vying for your attention and your pocket book so know your boundaries. Live in the ‘here and now’ but develop a plan for how to align your savings over a period of time. Start with something, and add more to your budget later when you are no longer paying for things like diapers and daycare.

Have a goal: When I started saving for my children I ‘wanted’ to have four years of expenses saved by the time they graduated from high school, but my reality dictated that improbability, so I adjusted my goal. I focused on saving what I could, when I could.

Keep an open mind: There’s a lot of information out there about the best ways to save, but realistically there isn’t simply one way. The College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) advises to consider a 529 plan as one of your savings methods and include other ways of saving along the way. Just like retirement, a solid college savings portfolio is diversified.

Read: It would be easy to just let someone tell you what to do, but you have to read the fine print. Always make the time to read through the information on the savings plan you select. They were written for a reason.

Ask questions: I often hear people say ‘I’ve always wondered about______,’ which I’ve assumed meant they never asked the question in order to get the answer. Please ask…. that’s the only way to learn. Don’t end up in the same sticky situation as the parents whose daughter said to them on the day of her graduation, “Today I graduated from high school, where’s my GET money?”
Well, I’m off on another trip, this time to the Family Fun Fair in Spokane. If you’re there, stop by and meet me. I’d love to hear your story and be a resource for you.

Written by Jacquelyne Ferrado

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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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Green Ways to Save Some Green

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Save-GreenA couple of weeks ago we talked about six savings tips to boost your college savings. This week, in honor of Earth Day on April 22, we’ve compiled some more money-saving tips that will help you cut your costs and reduce your family’s carbon footprint. By making small adjustments and putting the savings towards future college expenses, you can make things a lot easier on yourself with the added benefit of giving the planet a helping hand.

Reduce Car Trips
When looking to cut your fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, the daily commute is the first place to look. From carpooling or taking public transit to walking or biking, there’s sure to be an option that suits you no matter how far you live from the office.  Another opportunity is to combine trips when running errands. By making weekly shopping lists and strategizing your route, you can significantly cut your number of trips, fill your tank less and save valuable time.

Consider Buying Used
Save yourself some serious some cash while extending the useful life of perfectly good items. There are lots of opportunities to get great deals, especially when it comes to picking up essentials for the kids such as strollers, clothes, toys and books. Garage sales, Craigslist and consignment stores are just a few places you can pick up some great treasures.

*Bonus: Keep the cycle going by selling or donating items as your kids outgrow them.

Reduce Energy Consumption
There are so many opportunities to cut energy costs in your home, ranging from simply shutting off lights when leaving a room and adjusting the thermostat by a few degrees, to more involved endeavors such as sealing gaps around doors and windows, adding insulation, and upgrading to energy efficient appliances. It may also be worth considering a home energy audit to find opportunities to cut your costs. Many cities and counties partner with local businesses or non-profit organizations to provide this service at a low or subsidized cost.

Be Water-Wise
While savings are more noticeable if you’re on a municipal water supply vs. a private well, reducing your water consumption is always smart choice for the planet. By avoiding running the water when brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers and installing water-saving flush valves on your toilets, you can potentially save hundreds, even thousands of gallons a year. When it comes to lawn and garden care, consider a rain barrel system for watering non-food plants and use mulch to reduce the amount of watering needed.

Water

Make More Meatless Meals
On a cost-per-pound basis (in terms of actual cost and environmental impact), meat packs a much bigger punch than non-animal protein sources such as grains, beans and legumes. Many schools, restaurants, and families now set aside at least one day a week that’s dedicated to completely meatless meals. While often promoted first for the positive health and environmental impacts, meatless meals will usually cost you significantly less to make.

While these are just a few simple tips, there are literally hundreds of other little efforts you can make that can add up to positive long-term impacts on the health of your family’s finances and the environment. We encourage you to continually look for those little opportunities and bank the savings in your college fund, because even small amounts can really add up over time.

Written by Lucas Minor

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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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‘GET’ting clarification on some common misconceptions

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As much as we here at GET would like to think otherwise, some of the specifics of how the program works are  not always straightforward. Whether I’m talking to families at community events throughout the state or overhearing conversations that our contact center team has with customers, I often hear the same questions and misunderstandings about GET and how it can be used. Below are some of the more common misconceptions about GET, along with detailed explanations that will hopefully provide some clarity.

I thought about GET, but I wish you could use it out-of-state.

The good news is that GET can be used to pay for school nearly anywhere in the country and even at some schools in other countries. Better yet, GET participants are not limited to traditional four-year universities. In addition to both public and private four-year institutions, GET can be used at community colleges and technical schools, and even for certificate programs and graduate school. The requirement for being able to use GET is that the institution participates in federal financial aid programs through the U.S. Department of Education. To find a list of qualifying schools, you can search the database on the FAFSA website.

Where GET's been used

If my child decides not to go to school or gets a scholarship, am I out of luck?

Fortunately GET is not a use-it-or-lose-it program. If your child decides not to attend school, or has another source of funding, such as a scholarship, there are many options available to you. You have up to ten years to begin using your units once your child graduates high school. We often find that kids who decide not to attend college right away may end up changing their mind later on. In that time, the value of your account will simply grow, keeping up with tuition inflation. Further, in the situation of a scholarship, there are often expenses that aren’t covered that GET can be used for. Remember that GET can be used not just for tuition, but for student fees, room and board, books and supplies, and any other qualified educational expenses.

If it becomes apparent that your child is very unlikely to use their GET units, then it’s time to consider the next option: transferring the unused funds to another family member, such as a sibling or cousin. Finally, if all else fails, you can always request a refund. Refunds pay out at the current value, so any gain you would have seen in the account is still yours. Keep in mind that program fees and/or IRS taxes and penalties may apply depending on the reason for the refund.

I want to save for college, but I’m afraid it will hurt my child’s financial aid eligibility.

Quote-for-3.24.14-postWhile this is a valid concern, fortunately, savings in a GET account (or any 529 plan for that matter) typically have a relatively small impact when being considered in the financial aid calculation. As long as the parent is named the “account owner,” the GET account is counted as a “parental asset” and makes up just a small component of the “expected family contribution” (parental assets make up about 5.6% of the formula).  Further, financial aid packages, especially those for middle class families, consist primarily of student loans that need to be repaid with interest. Every little bit you can put away ahead of time will substantially reduce the amount you owe after graduation.

There are other features and benefits of GET that aren’t always straightforward. In response, we have an FAQ page on our website that does a great job at answering the more common questions.

Written by Lucas Minor

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