How to make sure your financial advisor is working in your best interest

(BPT) – Let’s face it: finances can be complicated. Whether opening a new investment account, saving for your child’s college fund or rolling over a 401(k), sometimes you need professional financial help.

But who to turn to? A financial advisor can be a great resource for professional guidance so that you’re not making critical investment decisions on your own, but did you know that not all financial advisors are equal? Some financial advisors may be little more than salespeople trying to sell you investment products that may or may not be in your best interest, but earn them a hefty commission.

If you’re looking for an advisor who truly has your back, you need to work with what is called a “fiduciary.” As a fiduciary, your advisor is legally required to place your interests ahead of their own.

It can be difficult to know who to trust — especially when advisors misrepresent their services with carefully crafted wording that gives the appearance of being a fiduciary, even when they are not. According to a recent survey from Financial Engines, America’s largest independent investment advisor, 53 percent of Americans mistakenly believe that financial advisors are already legally required to put their clients’ best interest first. Only 50 percent of investors who work with a financial advisor are certain that their advisor is a fiduciary, while 38 percent don’t know if their advisor is a fiduciary or not.

Most investors aren’t aware of how their advisors get paid and that advisors may not always be acting in their client’s sole best interest. For example, some advisors may recommend clients invest in funds or services that provide the advisor with a commission. Sometimes doing so is mutually beneficial for both the investor and the advisor. But other times, the investor may end up with higher or unnecessary fees and it’s the advisor who comes out on top.

So how can you tell if a potential or current advisor is a fiduciary? Here are a few key questions to ask before making a decision to work with them:

* Are you a fiduciary? A direct question deserves a direct answer. Pay attention to how the advisor responds. If your advisor has told you that he or she is acting as a fiduciary, ask them to show that to you in writing.

* Do you receive any type of compensation in addition to what I’m paying you? Some advisors receive commissions or other product-based compensation when they steer clients into particular investment products (including mutual funds, annuities and variable annuities). This is a clear conflict of interest and can indicate that the advisor is not, in fact, a fiduciary. Make sure your advisor is providing unbiased advice and not simply selling you investment products.

* Are you “dual-registered”? Some advisors are registered as both investment advisors and broker-dealers. Often, a broker-dealer is acting in the role of a salesperson. If your advisor is also a broker-dealer, make sure you understand which hat they are wearing when providing advice to you.

* Have you ever been cited by a professional or regulatory body for disciplinary reasons? To be extra sure, you can look up the advisor’s records on FINRA’s BrokerCheck to find out if they have any complaints — especially complaints related to providing financial and advisory services.

As your finances become more complex, you may consider getting help from a financial professional. Make sure your advisor is required to act in your best interest as a fiduciary before you trust them with your hard-earned money. By asking the right questions, you can confidently navigate the process and choose an advisor who is right for you.

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Crunching dollars and planning weddings: How to financially plan for the big day

(BPT) – Attending most weddings, with the exception of your creepy uncle’s third marriage, is great. You eat free food, get to dance to music and leave without having to take part in the cleanup or the costs.

It gets a little different when you’re the one footing the bill. Then you’re confronted with 127 different invitation styles, a guest list that keeps growing and awkward phone calls to cousins to tell them they can’t bring their bratty 7-year old twins.

Falling in love might have been easy and making the decision to spend the rest of your life together was probably a no-brainer. However, celebrating your love and funneling all that joy into one beautiful ceremony and one memorable party is where things get a little more complicated.

As a leader in creating credit scoring models and educating consumers on credit, VantageScore Solutions shares how important it is for couples to agree on how to manage their finances.

So let’s get into it and look at some of the financial topics you and your partner should go over.

Paying for your wedding

No doubt how to pay for your dream wedding will be one of the first conversations you’ll have with your loved one. Some people have months, sometimes even more than a year to plan and save up for the big day. Other times you may need to make a deposit or pay for something upfront and you might not have the cash to do it.

This is when you reach for your credit card.

Even if you don’t plan to use a credit card, it’s more than likely you’ll have to put some things on credit. This might include just about anything you purchase online, from the cute decorations you find on Etsy or novelty gifts you find on Amazon. In addition, many venues require you to have a credit card on file.

The point is, it’s likely that at some point you’ll use credit to pay for your wedding. When you do this, both you and your partner need to be aware of the potential perils of racking up debt. Provided you can responsibly manage the debt and have a plan to do so, your credit score won’t decline, which can lead to more purchasing opportunities in the future.

But first, you need to talk about credit with your partner.

The talk

Talking about credit might not exactly be a champagne and strawberries moment, but it is probably one of the most important discussions you can have.

Because it might be hard to get started on this topic, many couples find it’s easier to start by taking The Credit Score Quiz. This 12-question quiz is easy to take and can do a lot to reveal the knowledge gaps you and your partner may need to fill.

While the quiz is a great way to get started, resources like The Score, a monthly newsletter from VantageScore Solutions that covers all things credit, can help you continue on your conversation and guide you on your journey.

So while you’re debating what shade of off-white is right for your invitations, take the time to talk and use these credit-related resources. After the big day has come and gone, you’ll be glad that together, both of you were smart about your finances.

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How savvy Wi-Fi use saves data and dollars

(BPT) – Access to cellular data has become the lifeblood of communications in the 21st century. We stay connected to keep up with news, weather and sports, listen to music, check email, watch movies and videos or grab new apps that let us do even more. With today’s technology, a few clicks on your smartphone screen can bring the whole world into the palm of your hand.

This is great news for cellular providers, who ply us with increasingly large (and increasingly expensive) data packages to feed our modern need to surf and stream wherever we go. However, it may not be such great news when your cellphone bill arrives each month and you find yourself ponying up big bucks for cellular data.

So what’s the easiest way to stay connected without breaking the bank? Fortunately, the answer is now all around us.

Find the hotspots

Wi-Fi networks (“Wi-Fi” is short for wireless fidelity) are available just about anywhere you go these days, from hospitals to coffee shops to hotels to department stores. By connecting to Wi-Fi, it’s possible to stay connected all day long without using any of your cellular data. With rare exceptions, it’s completely free.

Wi-Fi technology allows you to connect smartphones, laptops or tablets to the internet through a communal access point, or “hotspot.” The resulting data usage is not occurring on your mobile network, meaning it does not count against the data on your cellphone plan.

It’s easy to connect to Wi-Fi by turning it on in your smartphone’s settings. By leaving it on, your phone will always be searching for a strong Wi-Fi signal, and will either connect automatically or alert you to sign-in if an available network is password protected.

More speed, more power

There are other advantages. In many cases, the speed of a strong, dedicated Wi-Fi connection will actually be faster than your cellular network. The difference might not be that obvious if you are only reading email or checking out a web page, but it is very noticeable if you need to transfer larger files.

In addition, using Wi-Fi can make a difference in extending your device’s battery life. The further you are from a cellular tower, the more energy you need for that data signal to be of any use. Wi-Fi access points are typically much closer, and therefore use less power to communicate and transfer data.

An essential “Plan B”

While hotspots are now quite common, you’ll still find yourself in locations where Wi-Fi simply isn’t accessible, especially when you’re traveling. That’s why having an adequate cellular data plan is still a necessity, even if you’re using it very little.

How much data do you really need? After you’ve started using Wi-Fi on a regular basis, take a look at your monthly cellphone bill. Compare the amount of data your plan offers to the amount you actually use. The average consumer uses about 1.8 gigabytes (GB) of data each month, which is far less than what’s included in most standard cellphone plans.

Don’t pay for more than you need

Today, many carriers tout the advantages of having “unlimited” data. The reality is that most people will never need it. See if your carrier offers a plan that’s better aligned with your actual usage, and if so, find out if it’s easy to switch.

If not, look to carriers like Consumer Cellular, who specialize in providing smaller, more affordable data plan options along with the flexibility to switch plans from month-to-month with no additional fees. This gives you the freedom to adjust your data plan to fit your specific needs, rather than paying for more than you’re likely to use.

Regularly connecting to Wi-Fi lets you preserve your cellular data for those situations when you really need it. Perhaps more importantly, it can help you save significantly on your monthly cellphone bill. It is a great way to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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How the state you live in affects your college savings strategy

(BPT) – The cost of a four-year college degree now hovers around the $100,000 mark, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. While high college costs seem universal these days, college savings strategies are far from a one-size-fits-all. Many factors influence how you’ll save for college, including your children’s ages when you start saving, what schools they might want to attend, and how old you’ll be when they enter college.

The factor most people don’t know about, however, is that the state you live in actually can dramatically affect how you save for education.

“Because states offer different incentives for college savings, the state you live in can play a large role in how you prioritize different savings opportunities,” says Nick Holeman, a certified financial planner with independent online financial adviser Betterment. “Tools like 529 savings plans, state tax credits and matching savings programs vary by state, creating a checkerboard of different savings opportunities.”

Why states affect college savings: 529 plans

The central reason why states have such an impact on college savings strategy is because of a special college savings account, created by the Internal Revenue Code, called a 529 plan.

States administer the plans, and so, different states can choose to offer different incentives for improving their residents’ college savings. In general, there are two types of 529 plans: pre-paid tuition plans and savings programs.

Pre-paid tuition plans allow you to pay for your child’s tuition, in advance, years before he or she will go to college. This allows you to pay current tuition prices, rather than the going rate when your child attends school in the future — when costs could be even higher. Compare that to savings plans that allow you to put money away for college, invest it so your money can grow, and forgo paying federal income tax on the earnings from your investment when you withdraw money to pay for college.

In general, 529 accounts are a great option for college savings because of their tax advantages. However, those tax savings also come with restrictions. Depending on where you live and your personal preferences, you may find these restrictions don’t outweigh the benefit of your state’s 529 plan.

Important questions to ask when building a college savings strategy

Because 529 plan incentives play such a big role in developing a college savings strategy, Holeman points to five key questions that savers should answer about their state before opening any accounts.

1. Does the state offer a match program?

According to SavingforCollege.com, 10 states currently have programs that provide matching dollars for contributions made to 529 savings plans held by low- and middle-income families. These programs may match contributions dollar-for-dollar up to a certain amount (as in Kansas) or have a tiered structure that increases the match for families with lower incomes (as in Arkansas). Other states allow employers to offer 529 matching dollars as a benefit to their employees. However, 529 match programs are only available for in-state account-holders, so if you have a 529 from Arkansas, but live in Ohio, you won’t be eligible for Arkansas’ program. If you’re eligible for a 529 match, you should consider contributing at least enough to max out that match.

2. What types of 529s does the state offer?

In addition to pre-paid tuition and savings accounts, a third type of 529, called 529 ABLE, helps people with disabilities save for college and other expenses without affecting other government benefits they might receive. Further, each of those three types of 529s can have structural differences from state to state. Some states may offer all types of plans, while others may offer only one or two. If your state doesn’t offer the type of 529 you’re looking for, you can opt for another state’s 529. Be aware though that you will likely miss out on any state tax benefits if you go with an out-of-state 529 plan.

3. What is the maximum account balance permitted?

While 529s can be a great way to save money for college, they do have limits. Every state sets a maximum account balance, and if your 529 reaches that limit, whether through contributions, investment growth or both, you won’t be allowed to make any more contributions to it. Limits vary from state to state. For example, Pennsylvania’s 529 max is $511,758, while Mississippi’s is less than half that. If you’re planning on saving for a private college or graduate school, these limits can become a factor.

4. Does the state offer a tax deduction for its 529s?

Some states offer full or partial tax deductions for 529 contributions, while others don’t. Most states only offer the tax deduction if you choose your state’s 529 plan. If you do get a tax deduction, it likely makes sense to stick with your state’s 529. If not, the tax benefits are much less.

5. What is the quality and quantity of schools in the state?

While most 529 funds can be used anywhere, there can be additional benefits to using 529 funds in the account’s home state. Before you commit to a 529 savings plan from any state, explore the availability of higher education in that state. For example, Texas has great public schools, so their pre-paid tuition program might make sense. For other states, the savings plan can make more sense though.

The key takeaway is that the state you live in can affect how beneficial a 529 plan is for you. Some people may even decide a 529 is not worth the added restrictions and instead opt to save for college in a standard taxable account.

To learn more about 529s and how they can help you save for college, visit www.savingforcollege.com. The most effective college savings strategies are part of a personalized financial plan. Learn more about setting goals to help maximize your savings at Betterment.com/financial-planning.

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Tips to prepare your budget before buying a home

(BPT) – It’s virtually impossible to know what size home you can afford if you aren’t fully aware of how much money you are earning and how much you are spending each month.

Start with your income: How much do you bring home after taxes and retirement plan contributions?

Next, look at your expenses: What are your necessary expenses? How much are you paying each month toward your debt? What additional expenses do you have that wouldn’t be deemed “necessary?” How much money do you have left (if any)?

This will help you see how much breathing room is in your current budget, what expenses might be on the chopping block and the space you have for additional home and mortgage expenses when buying a home.

Consider the potential costs of being a homeowner

While rent payments are generally straightforward and predictable, the same can’t always be said for homeownership costs. Your situation can vary depending on a variety of factors, but here are a few things you might need to prepare your budget for.

Property taxes: The amount you pay will depend on the area in which you are purchasing a home. This amount can be subject to annual adjustment by the municipality or local taxing authority.

Homeowners insurance: Lenders will require you to provide proof of coverage before closing. The amount you pay will depend on your level of coverage, your property and the location. Insurance costs can increase from time to time.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI) or mortgage insurance premiums (MIP): If your down payment is less than 20 percent on a conventional mortgage, your lender will require you to carry private mortgage insurance. If you have an FHA loan, you’ll be required to pay mortgage insurance premiums throughout the life of the loan.

Home ownership assistance: A company like Unison Home Ownership Investors can strengthen your down payment overnight and eliminate the need for private mortgage insurance (see their Unison HomeBuyer program). Using this method will typically save you between 15 and 20 percent per month on your mortgage payment, but you could owe a portion of the appreciation on the home when you sell.

Homeowners association fees: Fortunately, not all homes have a homeowners association to pay into. Purchasing a home with HOA-covered amenities could cost, on average, an additional $200-$400 per month.

Maintenance fees: Ah, the pitfalls of being a homeowner. The costs that would normally fall to a landlord, like fixing broken plumbing or a heater on the fritz, will now fall on your shoulders. Some suggest saving one percent of your home’s value annually for maintenance.

Utility costs: Unless your rent has included the cost of utilities, this is probably already an expense you’re used to. However, if you’re moving into a bigger home with less energy efficient appliances, you should be prepared to see an uptick.

Start living like a homeowner

If you want to avoid experiencing sticker shock after your home purchase is complete, start living like a homeowner now.

Consider your current rental or home-ownership costs and compare them to the costs for a home in your target price point. Can your current budget handle the difference? Are you still able to pay for your necessities plus shore up your financial future through short- and long-term savings? Or do you find yourself feeling desperate by the end of the month?

Not only will this allow you to get used to the change before the stakes are higher, but it can also help you save more money to put toward unexpected costs for your future home purchase.

Determine where to make adjustments

Does living like a homeowner make you a little wary for what’s next? Now is the perfect time to create space in your budget by cutting back expenses and paying down debt.

Now that you know where your money is going, determine the unnecessary leaks. Maybe your monthly food bill is exorbitantly high. Or maybe your subscription services have gotten out of hand. If your priority is purchasing a home — and being financially comfortable in that home — work to cut expenses that are contradictory to that goal.

Next, tackle your debt. There are two big benefits to beefing up your debt repayments now: You can lower your monthly obligation and improve your chances of getting approved for a loan. It’s a win-win.

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3 tips to save money every wedding guest should know

(BPT) – Wedding season fills summer weekends with nuptials, and while we enjoy celebrating the bride and groom, all the “something borrowed and something blue” adds up to some serious green. In fact, a new survey from Bankrate.com (April 2017) found that nearly half of those surveyed — 47 percent — will spend $100 or more on a wedding gift for close friends or family.

Here are three tips for taking in the festivities without going broke:

1) Use gift cards: You may be used to giving gift cards as wedding presents, but you also can use them to save money on gifts, guest attire, travel and other wedding expenses. Gift card exchanges like Cardpool.com buy gift cards from people who don’t plan to use them in order to sell them, at a discount, to someone who does. Gift cards for airlines, hotels and registry staples, like Target, as well as retailers where you can find the perfect guest attire, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and more are all available at great discounts on Cardpool.com, saving you money on everything you need to get through wedding season without breaking the bank.

2) Stack savings: Be sure to search for coupons for the stores on the bride and groom’s registry to save money on purchases. While most retailers don’t allow you to stack coupons, there is a discount-stacking trick you can try: use coupons in addition to discounted gift cards. Doing so means you save by redeeming the coupon and by using a gift card you purchased at a discount as your method of payment.

3) Gift as a group: Gathering up a group of friends to buy a nice bottle of champagne or a larger registry item helps you stay in budget while still giving a more extravagant gift than you’d give on your own. In fact, a number of popular retailers for newlyweds are making group gifting even easier. Target, for example, allows groups to set up accounts where friends and family can chip in toward items on the couple’s registry.

No matter the venue, registry location, travel needs or attire, these go-to tips could save you hundreds of dollars this wedding season. Whether you have one wedding to attend or 10, keep these in mind while shopping or booking travel.

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How to use your home equity in retirement

(BPT) – Most of us save and plan for decades to enjoy the period of our life when we no longer need to go into the office and work an eight-hour day for a paycheck.

But even with those decades of hard work, it can be tough to save up enough cash to cover all your costs in retirement. Many soon-to-be-retirees face a shortage between what they saved for retirement and what they actually need to live on.

For homeowners, that may be a problem that’s relatively easy to solve. Tapping into the equity in your home can help you stretch your nest egg quite a bit further.

Use a home equity loan or line of credit

You can tap the equity in your home with a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit (known as a HELOC). A home equity loan works like most other loans: you agree to borrow a set amount of money, receive a lump sum, and pay that back with interest and in installments each month.

A HELOC works a little differently, because it’s not a loan with pre-determined monthly payments. Instead, it’s a revolving line of credit, similar to a credit card. You usually have between five and 25 years to borrow against a certain amount of equity and repay (with interest) whatever you take out.

The time during which you can use the HELOC is called the draw period. The line of credit revolves during this period, so you can borrow and repay the balance multiple times. The total amount is due back in full with interest at the end of the draw period. Any time you have an amount outstanding, you will make monthly payments.

You can use a HELOC or home equity loan during retirement, but remember that you will need to pay the money back. You should have a plan in place for how to repay the funds — and the interest — before you agree to take a loan or a line of credit on your home.

Use a home ownership investment

A home ownership investment is a powerful way to unlock some of the equity in your home without taking out a loan.

The Unison HomeOwner program can unlock up to $500,000 of your home equity and the money can be used for anything you want — including paying monthly expenses, paying off debt or making home improvements. Because it’s a home ownership investment, not a loan, there are no monthly payments and no interest charges. Learn more at www.unison.com/homeowner.

Unison invests in the home alongside you. In return for the company’s investment in your home, they receive a portion of the future change in the value of your home. Unison shares both the upside and downside risk with you. When you choose to sell your home, up to 30 years later, if the home value rises, both you and Unison share in the appreciation. If the home value falls, both you and Unison share the loss.

Consider a reverse mortgage

A reverse mortgage can allow homeowners 62 years or older to turn equity in their homes into cash in a way that provides them with the income they need through retirement. You can get your cash in a lump sum or in monthly payments, or in a line of credit.

But it’s important to remember that a reverse mortgage is still a loan that comes with origination fees and interest charges. It requires that you have no other debt on your property, so if you have an existing mortgage loan, you will have to repay that in full from the reverse mortgage proceeds. You will also need to pay the reverse mortgage loan back when you move out of the home, sell it or pass away.

A reverse mortgage can give you income in retirement and whenever the home is sold, the money is used to pay off the loan. However, reverse mortgages can cause a lot of trouble if you’re not careful, and the high fees that you incur when you sell the home can leave you in a worse financial position than if you skipped the reverse mortgage altogether.

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5 Investment Strategies That Can Outlast Market Spikes

(BPT) – You’re familiar with the saying “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”?

Just like any other scheme to “get rich quick,” attempting to buy low and sell high based on intermittent fluctuations in the stock market—also known as “market timing”—is almost always a losing proposition over the long term for the investor. Studies have repeatedly shown that those who attempt to align their investments with short-term fluctuations earn less than those who stay in over the long haul.

“Once again, market fluctuations are messing with average investors’ minds,” says J.D. Roth, author of “Your Money: The Missing Manual” in Entrepreneur. “They panic and sell when prices drop, then fall victim to what Alan Greenspan in 1996 called ‘irrational exuberance’ and buy when prices soar. That’s a sure way to lose money.”

The truth is that even the most stellar investment advisor lacks a crystal ball into the future, and can only make recommendations based on historical research, industry guidelines, and experience. Unfortunately, past performance in the stock market is not at all an indicator of future performance.

So what are some better guidelines for investing in the stock market? Consider the following sound strategies, built on the mounds of evidence saying market timing doesn’t work as a long-term strategy:

1. Establish a long-term plan.

Set clear goals and objectives such as funding children’s college educations or investing for your own retirement. An advisor can help you evaluate risks, decide on asset allocation and set benchmarks for success while minimizing risk.

2. Use dollar-cost averaging.

Instead of trading when you think it’s the right time, the principle of dollar-cost averaging (DCA) says to invest a fixed dollar amount at predetermined intervals. The result is that you’ll end up buying fewer shares when prices are high and more shares when prices are low.

The advantage of dollar-cost averaging is that you put your money into the market earlier—increasing the likelihood of price change—rather than holding onto cash until you think prices are low. Regardless of whether you have a flat, positive, or negative price return, if your investments earn dividends, dollar-cost averaging is a useful strategy for earning dividend returns.

3. Ride the market by tracking an index and optimize your costs.

Trying to achieve alpha—i.e., beating the market with price returns—isn’t necessarily the most evidence-based way of getting the highest returns over time, especially looking at your returns net of costs and taxes.

By investing in funds that largely track a market index (index funds), historical results show that the lower fees typical of index funds and the long-term gains often outperform actively managed funds with higher fees. Investors should always focus on what they take home over the long term after fees and taxes. Looking purely at the price return can lead to lower-than-expected results.

4. Be aware of tax implications.

A major reason why investors should lean on professional support in today’s world is so that they can optimize their investments to lower taxes. Specifically, how assets are located within tax-advantaged and taxable accounts can be managed to lower your tax liability. Also, investment losses can be “harvested” via a process called “tax-loss harvesting,” and that’s generally a process many investors cannot do themselves.

Finally, any time you want to reinvest dividends or have reason to switch to a different investment, there are ways to make regular transactions as tax-efficient as possible. The same goes for making your eventual withdrawal. This kind of back-office tax work can have a major impact on how much you, as an investor, keep from your investment, so it’s important to find the right solution—whether that’s a financial advisor or learning to do it yourself.

5. Stay skeptical.

When it comes to outlasting a spike in the market, any investor should be aware of their own biases and behaviors. Pay little attention to financial TV shows and other media reports that hype short-term fluctuations. And be cognizant of the speaker’s motivation. Those who think they have a real get-rich-quick scheme are unlikely to share it with others.

Above all, don’t let uncertainty stop you from investing. If you look back all the way to 1926, keeping your money in cash/cash equivalents has underperformed both bonds and stocks. The key thing is to just get invested.

Betterment optimizes its technology and experience to help you make informed decisions in your investment strategy. Founded in 2008, the company manages $9 billion in assets. Investing in securities involves risks, and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest in securities. Before investing, consider your investment objectives and Betterment’s charges and expenses. Betterment distributed this article through Brandpoint. Visit Betterment.com for more information.

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7 tips for balancing retirement savings and paying for college

(BPT) – Most people want to help their children pay for a quality college education, but it can be difficult to balance personal financial goals and funding your kids’ educational aspirations. When retirement savings is sacrificed for college costs, it can be a disservice to the entire family.

To help guide you in determining the best way to pay for your kids’ college while still funding your retirement savings, personal finance expert and host of the So Money podcast Farnoosh Torabi offers seven smart tips.

Tip 1: Don’t put retirement on the back burner.

While funding your children’s college education is important, your retirement savings should take priority. Strive to contribute 10 to 15 percent of your take-home pay toward retirement savings. The reality is college is four years and retirement can be 30+ years. Plus, there’s no scholarship for retirement like there is for college!

Tip 2: Take the free money.

If your workplace retirement plan comes with a match, take it. Contribute the minimum to receive your employer match. At the end of the day, it’s free money and that’s the best kind.

Tip 3: Involve your children in the college cost discussion.

College is expensive, so make sure you’re discussing with your kids overall costs and what you’re willing to contribute. Have them help research financial aid and scholarship opportunities, too. Remember, you want to find a school that’s the best fit — so don’t let the initial “sticker price” scare your children from applying. Some private colleges may give the best aid packages, but other times they may not. Don’t make assumptions and always keep your options open. The goal is to find the college with the best value.

Tip 4: Don’t take on more than you can afford.

While involving your children in the discussion, it’s also important to make sure you’re not setting them up for failure when they graduate. As they research student loan possibilities, make sure they’ll be able to comfortably afford payments once they graduate, and that they’re not taking on too much debt.

An easy way to start researching together is to visit College Ave Student Loans and use the configure-it-out tool. Answer a short series of questions regarding how much you’ll borrow, how many years of schooling are left, whether you want to make payments during school or not, etc. This shows your child what repayment will look like under each option so you can both be clear on the details and agree on a game plan.

Tip 5: Consider the college savings plan that’s best for you.

Consider opening a 529 that allows flexible spending toward higher education. Should your child choose to forgo traditional college education or not require the funds set aside, you can easily change the beneficiary to another child or relative.

If you’re skeptical of a 529, consider a Roth IRA if your income limits allow. Although typically used for retirement, the Roth IRA has an exception where you can withdraw your contributions from the account at any time tax- and penalty-free for qualified education expenses. The remaining money can be collected in your retirement.

Tip 6: Starting late? Play catch-up.

If saving for retirement has not been a priority, it’s time to get aggressive. Pare down costs where possible and take advantage of catch-up contributions. People who are 50 or older can contribute an extra $6,000 to their 401(k) or an extra $1,000 to an IRA this tax year.

Tip 7: Don’t become the “bank of Mom and Dad.”

You want to help your kids, but once you set the precedent that it’s OK for your children to ask for money (or a contribution toward college), they may feel they can frequently approach you later in life for funds. Don’t set the tone that you’ll always be there to financially support them. You want them to grow wings so they can fly independently (and so you can happily enter retirement and enjoy those golden years).

While you should talk with your child about potential majors and career paths, it’s important also to add financial conversations into the mix. For more tips, and to learn more about personalized student loan solutions, visit www.collegeavestudentloans.com.

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