Not Another New Year's Resolution!

sticky notes with different New Year's resolutions listed on them

It’s that time of year again—New Year’s Resolution time. I can hear the sighs and picture the eye rolls right now, but hear me out. This year instead of making a resolution to go to the gym more or to remove all carbs from your diet, make a resolution, that even if you only stick to it for a short while, it will have effects that will last a lifetime—start saving for your child’s college education.

It really is never too late or too early to save for college. Luckily for you, Michigan has a couple of great saving vehicles to help you. The Michigan Education Trust (MET) and the Michigan Education Savings Program (MESP) are two of Michigan’s 529 college savings programs. MET is the state’s prepaid tuition program where you can purchase college credits at today’s prices for use toward future tuition. MESP allows you to invest contributions and then use those funds for tuition, room and board, books and other school expenses. Probably the biggest reason to save in one of these programs is for the tax benefits. Michigan residents can deduct contributions made to 529 accounts on their Michigan income tax form in the year they are made. MET purchasers can deduct the entire purchase price of their contract. MESP account owners can deduct up to $5,000/year for single filers or up to $10,000/year for joint filers. In addition to the income tax deduction, earnings in both programs may be exempt from state or federal taxes when benefits are used for qualified higher education expenses.

Now you know where you should save your money, but how should you do it?

Set a goal

Don’t just say you are going to save money, make a plan. Your goal should be “S.M.A.R.T.,” specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For example, “I am going to save $100 per month for college by doing x, y and z.” By making a realistic savings goal and knowing how you are going to attain it you will be able to achieve your goal easier. In addition, if you fall off track you have a plan already in place and you can start right back again.

Automate your savings

How about saving without having to think about it? Automate your savings. Both MET and MESP allow you to set up automatic deductions from your checking or savings account. Or you can set up a payroll deduction. Money is then transferred into your college savings account before you have a chance to spend it on something else. You can contribute as little as $25 at a time in either program. Just making a $25 contribution twice a month will allow you to save an additional $600 per year. Factor in the growth of that money over time and you have a lot of extra money to pay for college.

How about saving without having to think about it? Automate your savings. Both MET and MESP allow you to set up automatic deductions from your checking or savings account. Or you can set up a payroll deduction. Money is then transferred into your college savings account before you have a chance to spend it on something else. You can contribute as little as $25 at a time in either program. Just making a $25 contribution twice a month will allow you to save an additional $600 per year. Factor in the growth of that money over time and you have a lot of extra money to pay for college.

A little is better than nothing

Just like with exercise, saving a little is better than saving nothing at all. Every dollar you save will be $2 you or your child won’t have to pay back in students loans in the future. Not everyone is going to be able to pay for their child’s whole four years of school, but know any amount you do save is good.

Having a plan pays off

According to Sallie Mae, two out of five families create a plan to pay for college. Those plans include saving, anticipating and researching costs and identify sources of funding. Families who plan save three and a half times more than non-planners and students borrow one third less than non-planners.

That new diet may only last until the third week of January, but taking the steps to create a plan and save money for college will have a lasting impact.