It’s Never Too Late to Start Saving for College

When should you start saving for college? While it's true that earlier is ideal, it's not always reality. Learn how to gain ground with an MESP or MET account.

With the rising costs of higher education, opening a college savings account is a must for families. And the earlier you start saving for college, the better.

But if your child is already in high school, there’s still time to save. In fact, even a couple years of savings helps ease financial stress for families.

After all, with tuition, room and board, books and supplies, costs quickly add up when it’s time for your teen to head off to college.In fact, according to the College Board’s 2020 report via CollegeData.com, the “moderate” cost of in-state public college tuition for four years was $26,820 — and for an in-state private college, that price was $43,280.

With so many other financial burdens placed on families — coupled with financial difficulties the pandemic has caused — it’s difficult to come up with tens of thousands of dollars to send kids to the university of their dreams.

And while most parents understand the importance of saving for their child’s college costs, not all are doing it. About 36% are neither planning nor saving for their child’s college education, notes EducationData.com — and 21% plan to use retirement savings if necessary.

But the good news is, it’s not too late to make an impact. Whether your child is 6 months old or just turned 16, discover how 529 plans can support your student’s college education.

The power of 529 plans

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 that allow you to invest and earn a return on that investment. 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.

And while both plans are 529 plans, there are some distinctions between these two ways to start saving for college.

About MESP

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 at any accredited public or private university, community college or vocational school in the United States — and even abroad.

The money you (and family members/friends) invest grows over time. For example, MESP notes, if you start with investing $500 when your child is 8 — and add nothing else — by the time they’re 18, they could “hypothetically have nearly $900.”

“That’s the power of compounding and it happens to every dollar you put away in MESP,” it notes.

Ultimately, any unused funds from your child’s MESP account can be used toward an eligible family member’s college savings plan.

About MET

With MET, money is used solely for tuition — and there are three plans to choose from: full, limited and community college. MET allows families to pre-purchase tuition at today’s rates, which will then be paid out as the future cost of the child’s college education.

A MET contract ensures your child can attend and afford their college of choice, even if it is out of state. If your child lands a scholarship that covers the cost of their education, or if they choose not to attend college, the MET contract can be terminated and refunded.

Opening an MESP account

Visit the open an account page on MISaves.com — or print your enrollment forms from the site, fill them out, and mail them back to MESP.

You can request an enrollment kit online, or call to have the materials sent to you. Call 877-861-MESP from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday.

To set up an account, you’ll want to have a few things prepared to make filling out the forms quicker. Here’s what MESP recommends:

  • A blank check and/or deposit slip
  • Your bank branch’s phone number
  • Your Social Security Number or Taxpayer Identification Number
  • The name and Social Security Number or Taxpayer Identification Number of the beneficiary

The first Social Security Number you’ll enter on the form is for the account owner (parents, grandparents, etc.), and the second is the beneficiary (your child, niece, etc.).

Opening a MET account

There are three plan options to choose from for those considering a MET account.

A full benefits plan covers in-state tuition and mandatory fees at any Michigan public university, or tuition and mandatory fees at in-district or out-of-district Michigan community colleges. You can purchase up to five years, or 150 credit hours.

With a limited benefits plan, if your student’s college choice does not exceed 105% of the average weighted tuition of all Michigan public four-year universities, tuition is covered. If the tuition is higher, the number of credits is prorated based on the number of credit hours MET can purchase with 105% of the average cost of a Michigan four-year public university. You can purchase up to five years, or 150 credit hours, under this plan.

And a community college plan provides in-district tuition and mandatory fees at Michigan public community colleges. Some community colleges in the state are not in-district, so students are responsible to pay the difference in costs. You can purchase up to four semesters, or two years, under this plan.

There are also three ways to contribute. You can “pay as you go,” buying at least one credit hour for any age and, after that, adding $25 minimum at any time. Second is lump sum, whee you buy semesters (15 credits/semester) for any age. Or pick a monthly plan, where you commit to buy one semester of college over four, seven, 10 or 15 years.

Visit SetWithMET.com to enroll online or request a free enrollment kit by filling out a form to have info mailed to you. You can then fill out the form and mail it back to MET.

The bottom line

Whether you choose MESP, MET or both, encourage family and friends to donate to your child’s college savings fund, too, to start saving for college.

For birthdays and holidays, suggest to family members to opt for one present and a contribution to your kid’s educational future. Contributions from part-time jobs are another smart move, especially for teens.

This post was originally published in 2018 and is updated regularly.

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