Saving for College at All-time High, but Parents Are on Track to Reach Just 29 Percent of Their College Funding Goal. Can Grandparents Do More to Help?

Fidelity® Study Finds Six in 10 High-Net-Worth Grandparents Are Not Helping Grandchildren Save for College, Even Though Nearly Seven in 10 Are Willing to Help Foot the Bill

  • College Planning
  • College Planning
  • College Planning

BOSTON — Parents across the country are experiencing sticker shock over the rising cost of higher education and are feeling pressure to prioritize college savings now more than ever. According to Fidelity Investments' 2016 College Savings Indicator Study, a record 72 percent of American families are saving for their children's higher education, up 24 percent since the study was first published in 2007. Additionally, more families (41 percent) are saving with a dedicated college savings account, such as a 529 plan, reflecting a 62 percent increase over the last decade. And yet, despite a nationwide emphasis on the importance of higher education, it seems many high-net-worth grandparents haven't loosened their purse strings to help.

According to Fidelity's 2016 Family and Finance Study, only four in 10 high-net-worth grandparents (39 percent) are helping with their grandchildren's college savings, even though most high-net-worth individuals surveyed (74 percent) would be willing to support the cost of their grandchildren's education when the time comes. Similarly, seven in 10 parents who work with advisers agree that financial contributions from family members will be important to funding their child's education, but only 28 percent of parents say family members have offered to help with college savings.2 In a climate where the cost of education continues to rise, assisting the next generation with college savings can mean the difference between grandchildren graduating with little or no debt and postponing progress on major financial goals like saving for retirement.

"It's not surprising to learn that the majority of grandparents have yet to discuss college gifting with their children or grandchildren, despite both a strong desire and the financial ability to assist with higher education," said Chris McDermott, senior vice president, Private Wealth Management at Fidelity Investments. "These conversations can be challenging on a number of levels, both from a relationship perspective as well as a financial and tax planning perspective."

Only a third of parents and their adult children agree on the appropriate time to initiate family financial planning conversations. "We encourage grandparents to discuss their desire to help fund major life milestones immediately, and we even help facilitate family financial conversations around topics like funding college, weddings and first-time home purchases," added McDermott. "The more families discuss financial planning goals and values around money, the more likely their children and grandchildren will develop an appreciation of their financial position and their family's commitment to their future success."

Gifting for college education is not a simple as just writing out a check, however. Grandparents seeking to help fund college costs for their grandchildren may want to consider enlisting the help of a wealth management adviser who can explain the tax implications of the most common gifting strategies. This is an important first step when deciding which option could make the most sense, including:

  • Gifting to a 529 Plan account owned by the grandparent
  • Gifting to a 529 Plan account owned by the parents
  • Establishing a UGMA or UTMA custodial account
  • Paying the college or university directly
  • Waiting until after graduation to gift the funds directly to the grandchild

Wealth advisers can also moderate college planning conversations among families to help bridge any gaps, and ensure families have a comprehensive wealth plan that reflects their entire financial situation. If education is an important part of the family's legacy, financial professionals can also help reinforce how important education is the family's core values.

For more information on college savings, Fidelity provides tools and resources for families, including:

About the Fidelity Investments 2016 Family & Finance Study

The third biennial Fidelity Investments® Family & Finance Study, previously known as the Fidelity Investment's Intra-Family Generational Finance Study, is unique in that it surveys parents and their adult children separately on a range of financial and retirement planning topics to identify their level of agreement. The study was conducted online among U.S. parents and their adult children during the period of February 26 – March 22, 2016 by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communication, using GfK's KnowledgePanel®. The total sample recruited for this study included 1,273 parents of which 238 self-report a high net worth of $1 million plus and 103 self-report a high net worth of $2 million plus and 221 adult children. To qualify, parents had to be at least 55 years of age, have an adult child older than 25 and have investable assets of at least $100,000. Their children qualified if they were at least 25 years of age, had money saved in an IRA, 401(k) or other investment account. In addition, adult children 30 and older were required to have at least $10,000 saved. This qualifier was waived for the children under 30.

About the Fidelity Investments 2016 College Savings Indicator Study

As part of the study, Fidelity conducted a survey of parents with college-bound children of all ages. Parents provided data on their current and projected household asset levels including college savings, use of an investment advisor and general expectations and attitudes toward financing their children's college education. Using Fidelity's proprietary asset-liability modeling engine, the company was able to calculate future college savings levels per household against anticipated college costs. The results provided insight into the financial challenges parents face in saving for college. Data for the Indicator (number of children in household, time to matriculation, school type, current savings and expected future contributions) was collected by Boston Research Technologies, an independent research firm, through an online survey from May 13 – June 12, 2016, of 2,196 parents nationwide with children aged 18 and younger who are expected to attend college. The survey respondents had household incomes of $30,000 a year or more, and were the financial decision makers in their household. College costs were sourced from the College Board's Trends in College Pricing 2015. Future assets per household were computed by Strategic Advisers, Inc. (a registered investment adviser and wholly owned subsidiary of FMR LLC). Within Fidelity's asset-liability model, Monte Carlo simulations were used to estimate future assets at a 75 percent confidence level. The results of the Fidelity College Savings Indicator may not be representative of all parents and students meeting the same criteria as those surveyed for this study.

About Fidelity Investments

Fidelity's goal is to make financial expertise broadly accessible and effective in helping people live the lives they want. With assets under administration of $5.6 trillion, including managed assets of $2.1 trillion as of July 31, 2016, we focus on meeting the unique needs of a diverse set of customers: helping more than 25 million people invest their own life savings, nearly 20,000 businesses manage employee benefit programs, as well as providing nearly 10,000 advisory firms with investment and technology solutions to invest their own clients' money. Privately held for nearly 70 years, Fidelity employs 45,000 associates who are focused on the long-term success of our customers. For more information about Fidelity Investments, visit https://www.fidelity.com/about.

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