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Opening a College Savings Account for Your Kid

It's never too early to start! Find out the differences between MET and MESP – and how these Michigan 529 plans help families with future costs.

Have a baby? Now is the time to start thinking about college, say financial experts – even though it's likely the last thing on your mind!

"The earlier a family starts saving money for their children, the better," says Bob Hoger, co-owner and co-founder of Michigan College Funding, LLC. "With college costs soaring, it's difficult today for families to save enough money to cover all of the expenses."

What's a 529 plan?

One of the primary ways families can save for college is to invest in one of Michigan's two college saving plans: the Michigan Education Savings Program (MESP) and the Michigan Education Trust (MET). Both are 529 savings plans.

The "529" stands for the federal code that designates contributions to these plans tax-exempt. Both plans can also be transferred to out-of-state schools.

MESP vs. MET

There are, however, some distinctions between these two.

MESP is similar to a 401(k), meaning funds will fluctuate with the economy. It can be started with as little as $25. There's no limit to how much money can be invested annually, but the maximum balance per account is $235,000. The funds cover tuition, room and board, and any additional college costs.

However, when it comes to MET, the money is used solely for tuition. "It allows parents, grandparents or others to purchase tuition at today's rates," says Robin Lott, the executive director for MET – and there are three plans to choose from: full, limited and community college.

If a child decides against attending college, the money can be refunded or transferred to a member of the immediate family.

Benefits of early planning

Investing in your child's future from the time he is in diapers helps you save more money for rising college costs – which Hoger predicts could be as much as $285,000 for five years, considering most students are taking five years to complete a bachelor's degree.

That's why careful long-term planning is the key for parents. For Jennifer Gamet, a mom of three from Brownstown, saving for her children's education started before her first son was born – around the eighth month of Gamet's pregnancy.

After meeting with a financial advisor, Gamet and her husband decided to invest in a life insurance policy – an investment that can pay out if tragedy strikes or can be tapped into for big expenses, like college or buying a house, as her children grow into adults.

"It's a fixed bill that we have every month," Gamet says.

Money is pulled directly from their account on a monthly basis, much like a loan payment or mortgage. A family's financial situation will determine the amount of money saved monthly, along with the best savings option, says Hoger.

Sticking to it

Discipline – along with a money saving strategy, whether its MET, MESP, a life insurance policy or many of the other savings options available – will help fund your child's future.

"Any savings you can do for your child is good for your child," Gamet says.

Old to new | New to old
Jun 6, 2013 12:48 pm
 Posted by  Marc

Good summary article. Also consider online college savings registries that allow you to tap your network for college contributions. That way, for birthday gifts your friends and family can contribute to junior's college fund rather than giving another book or toy that you really don't need.

Jun 11, 2013 02:46 pm
 Posted by  Skyscollegefund

Our son turns 13 next week and we have not started his college fund however we do not believe it is too late. We need help! Thanks

Aug 23, 2013 09:15 am
 Posted by  shapirom

529 plans and using insurance are both good ways for parents. Insurance is nice to kill two birds with one stone. I like both as they are the only type that grandparents can also contribute to.

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