Many Need Help Understanding College Financing

Although 99% of parents and grandparents believe in the importance of sending their children to college, many do not choose the most cost-effective financial vehicles to pay college expenses.

That was the finding of The Hartford’s fifth annual college savings survey, which also found that 94% of parents and grandparents are willing to contribute financially to a college education.

Although most surveyed are aware of 529 plans, many are not familiar with their potential gift- and estate-tax benefits and are instead using vehicles that are not tax efficient such as bank savings accounts, CDs and even retirement accounts to pay for college-related costs.

While those who use financial advisers are more likely to understand and invest via a 529 college savings plan, the survey found that advisers could be doing more to help clients gain the maximum benefits from a 529.

Of those surveyed who do not save for college, three-quarters indicated the primary reason is that there is not enough in the monthly household income after expenses.

“This is an opportunity for advisers to provide their expertise to clients and build customer loyalty,” said Jeff Coghan, director of college savings at The Hartford. “For many families, paying for a college education will be one of the most significant financial investments they will ever make. Advisers can enable clients to make more informed decisions when saving for college, and in many cases help lessen the financial burden by explaining the unique tax and estate advantages of a 529.”

The survey was conducted Aug. 20-30, 2010 by Toluna, a market research and polling firm.