Tuesday, March 3, 2009

College Savings Plans

Plans for College Savings

For parents planning for their children's college education, there are several investment options to consider. One option that seems appealing is state-sponsored prepaid tuition plans available in several states. These plans allow parents to pay today's tuition rates with the assurance that the child will have the money to go to college when the time comes. They also allow participants to defer paying federal income tax on earnings until money is withdrawn for college.

These plans sound very attractive because of their guarantee as well as relative simplicity. Prepaid tuition plans differ from college savings plans that seek higher returns not tied to the increase in tuition. College savings plans do offer the potential for higher returns than the rate of tuition inflation, but there is a risk that your investment could lose value.
Prepaid tuition plans allow parents to lock in a tuition rate and begin paying the cost of college today.
If college is still a long-term consideration, parents may get a better rate of return by investing in stocks or a state-sponsored college savings plan that seeks higher returns.
Many plans do not allow for account transfers or payments to out-of-state colleges. Withdrawal of funds for anything other than tuition can result in substantial penalties.
Assets are attributed to the account owner, not the beneficiary, resulting in a lower impact on need-based financial aid.
Parents can also purchase CDs guaranteed to pay a full year's average tuition through College Savings Bank in Princeton, New Jersey.

Questions to Ask:
Is it transferable? To whom? When?
What is the enrollment period?
What costs are covered?
Can out-of-state residents participate?
What happens if you stop paying?
What happens if your child goes to private college?
What happens if your child goes to out-of-state college?
What is the tax effect?

Read the fine print on each prepaid tuition plan you evaluate. Make sure you understand all the fees and rules.
If you have more than one child, consider signing up for a plan that would let you transfer one child's unused money to a sibling.
If relatives ask for gift ideas, suggest a contribution to your child's prepaid tuition plan.
Encourage your child to contribute earnings from part-time work. He or she may take a college education more seriously after playing a role in financing it.

Retirement Relief

Sometimes good things come disguised as minor rule changes. And for retirees, that’s certainly true this year. In recent months senior citizens received two relatively small breaks designed to improve their retirement incomes—the suspension of required minimum distributions (RMDs) for IRA and 401(k) accounts for 2009, as well as a 5.8% cost of living adjustment (COLA) in Social Security payments. Nice, but no big deal, right? Actually, those changes could add up to a significant chunk of change

If you are age 70 ½ or older, you are normally required to withdraw a regular minimum amount from your tax-deferred accounts each year. (The exact amount is determined by a formula that factors in the account values and life expectancy.) Problem is, taking those RMDs now, in the midst of an epic bear market, means locking in big losses. So in December, Congress enacted a new law that suspends the RMDs for 2009. (There’s no exception for 2008 RMDs.) That change allows you to leave a sizeable amount in your IRA or 401(k) that can continue to grow as the market recovers, whenever that may be.

You might be surprised at the difference forgoing a single RMD makes to your nest egg. For example, someone age 75 with a $500,000 account would typically withdraw $21,834 in 2009. If you could afford to skip the distribution this year and let that money grow until age 90, you could end up with an extra $47,327, after adjusting for inflation and assuming a 7% annual average return. That’s nearly 10% more than your original portfolio.

Collecting Your Social Security COLA

The bout of inflation that raged in late 2007 and early 2008 (remember when we were worried about rising gas prices?) led to the 5.8% COLA for Social Security recipients this year. To put that in perspective, Social Security’s baseline assumption is for 2.8% annual increases.

For a 70-year-old retiree who is drawing maximum Social Security payments, the difference might seem small—only about $84 extra a month. Still, those three extra percentage points added to your cost of living adjustment make a big difference over time, with the biggest cumulative benefit going, of course, to younger retirees. That 70-year-old retiree will end up with an extra $35,623 between now and age 95,Someone age 80 will bank an extra $19,902.

Maybe it’s not enough to make up for your market losses, but every little bit helps.

How To Find A Body Shop

Accidents are bad enough without the added worry of making sure your car is properly repaired. You will receive lots of suggestions about which body shop to use, so make sure to ask the following questions to locate a good one:

Is the shop familiar with the make and model of your car?
How long has the shop been in business?
How do they handle disputes or complaints?
How does the shop look? Is it clean? Professional? Well-equipped?
How does the ongoing work look? How are other cars being handled?
Do they follow original manufacturer guidelines in making repairs?
Are there recognitions from business and industry groups hanging on the walls?
Are certificates of advanced courses or diplomas of competence for the employees displayed in the shop?
Are all policies, guarantees and methods of payment clearly posted?