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Opinion: Time to make plans to pay for higher education

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According to a Georgetown University study, the cost of higher education has increased 169% over the last 40 years. And according to Sallie Mae’s annual “How America Pays for College” survey, nearly half of American families have no plan for how to pay for higher education.

September is College Savings Month, a time to highlight the importance of planning to pay for higher education.

Missouri has programs that can help your higher education dreams become reality, while also helping you minimize expensive student loans.

Missouri’s 529 education plan is a tax-advantaged savings and investment account for education expenses, administered by the Treasurer’s Office. We’ve made the plan as flexible as possible. It can be used for two- and four-year colleges, as well as apprenticeships, trade school and graduate school tuition and expenses.

You can also use money in a 529 account to pay off up to $10,000 of student loans.

There’s more to a 529 plan than just savings, though, because contributors to the account, from parents, grandparents or whomever, can claim a Missouri state income tax deduction of up to $16,000 if married and filing jointly for contributions made each year.  

Because Most 529 accounts are savings and investment accounts, money in the accounts is invested to earn a greater return, and that return is not subject to state or federal taxes. This means that when saving over time, you will have more money saved for college and less money to borrow, if necessary. 

A dollar saved is worth more than a dollar borrowed because you won’t have to pay it back with interest. With a 529 plan, you can also save money on your annual taxes while saving for the future. That makes it a win-win-win.

For those who need to pay for education in the immediate future, my office has resources for you, too. The Treasurer’s Office Financial Literacy Portal has a section dedicated to paying for education now. On it, you will find information about state scholarships, the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the Show Me the Money Scholarship Search Engine. Through a partnership with Sallie Mae, a nationwide consumer banking institution specializing in student loans, the search engine gathers more than 6 million scholarships worth over $30 billion in one place for students. The search engine connects Missouri students with scholarship and grant opportunities tailored to their unique interests, even if they’re not a straight-A student or an athlete.

The Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development has resources, too. There are a variety of scholarships for low-income students, those with strong academics and those who want to attend community colleges and grants for programs in fields with a high need for employees. They also have information about future careers and how to pick the right school for your goals. 

I want Missourians to have the financial tools to achieve their goals without accruing burdensome debt.

The resources are out there. Now you have to make a plan. 

Scott Fitzpatrick is Missouri’s state treasurer. Resources noted above can be found at Treasurer.Mo.gov and JourneyToCollege.Mo.gov.

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