A college education will likely be the most expensive purchase you will ever make for your child. Forget summer camp, bicycles, even the car you may be thinking of buying or leasing for him or her. College costs trump all of them – big time.
And the years go by fast. I should know. It seems like only yesterday I was researching preschools for my children and now my oldest will be sending out college applications this fall. It is scary how quickly time passes. What is even scarier is that I will be facing these expenses while divorced.
Just because you were a stay-at-home parent during your marriage or made less money than your spouse, you will probably not be off the hook for having to pay money for your children’s college education. Given recent trends in alimony reform, you will likely be responsible for paying a portion of your kids’ college tuitions and living expenses. The amount will depend on some factors including your earning capacity, the differential between your income and your spouse’s, and whether or not you have money already set aside to cover a portion the expense.
If your children are young and a discussion about how to finance college in the future feels uncomfortable, even silly, to discuss during your divorce negotiations, you are shortsighted, if not foolish. Better to outline as much as possible now, so there will be less disputing about it later. Post-judgment matters are not only aggravating, but they can also cost a lot of money, money that you could spend elsewhere, like on tuition!
Some expenses to consider when thinking about college costs include those that may arise years before the application process begins. Such expenditures include but are not limited to prep classes for standardized tests, study guides, tutoring, and college visits. All of these purchases can add up to thousands of dollars, and you do not want to get caught paying for all of them on your own.
With the application process itself come application fees. Depending on how many schools your child is applying to these payments can amount to a whole lot of money. Unless your agreement specifically outlines that you and your spouse will allocate such pre-college costs between you, you are leaving yourself open to the possibility that your former spouse will not contribute what you had hoped or expected.
After you determine what college expenses encompass and roughly how much those costs will amount to, it is next important to agree on what percentage you and your spouse, and possibly your child, will be responsible for contributing. Also, you should outline when you and your spouse are expected to produce such funds, who will be making the necessary payments, and who will have access to any college savings accumulated during the marriage.
Upon calculating a budget for future college expenses that includes some or all of the considerations discussed above, you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse need to start saving for your children’s future, especially if you have not yet begun to do so. If you have, you still need to figure out if the current savings will be enough and, if it is not, how much you will need to add in the coming years.
An effective way to save for your children’s education is to open a 529 plan. One of the biggest benefits to 529 plans is the tax benefit they offer. Plans vary. Therefore, it is best to consult with a reputable financial planner to find the right fit for your individual needs. Though you may believe paying for college is an impossible goal to reach, if you set a budget and regularly contribute to it, you can make more than just a dent in the cost. The more you know about what to expect in the future, the better you will be able to prepare. You tell your kids to do their homework. Now it is your turn to do yours.
Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice on any subject matter. Consult with an attorney for more information regarding your individual situation.