It's Time To Get Smart About College Savings

(NAPS) - Sponsored content  |  2017-12-05

The sooner you start saving for your child’s education, the better—and special investment plans can help. Photo courtesy NAPS

(NAPS) - Fall: It’s a time of bright leaves, crisp apples, family feasts and a chill in the air. But for many American families, there’s a chill in the pocketbook, too, as parents around the country consider the daunting challenge of saving for their children’s college education.

The cost of college is rising and Americans are wrestling with ever-increasing amounts of student debt. It has been estimated that by 2033, based on inflation rates, it could cost $262,000 to cover four years of tuition, room and board at a private college. The situation isn’t much better if you go the public route. Sending your child to a four-year state university could set you back up to $134,000.

While saving for college may seem like an overwhelming task, there are tools available to make the impossible seem possible. One essential tool that all parents (and students) should consider is the 529 college savings plan, a tax-advantaged savings plan that is specifically designed to encourage saving for future college costs.

“A 529 college savings plan is an incredibly helpful investment tool to consider when it comes time to buckle down and save for college,” said Rachel Ramos, Product Manager of Investment Services Wealth Management at Capital Group, home of the American Funds® and one of the world’s leading investment management firms. “They are designed to benefit families and come with attractive and compelling benefits.”

Why 529s Are so Valuable

A 529 plan should be a part of your college savings plan for many reasons:

• Investments within the plan grow tax-free, and in many states, the account owner is eligible for full or partial state income tax deductions for contributions to a 529 plan.

• When money is withdrawn from the account, it is tax-free if the funds are used for qualified education expenses, including tuition, books, room and board, computers or other supplies.

• If your student is awarded a scholarship or doesn’t use the entirety of the funds, the owner of the 529 account can change beneficiaries at his or her own discretion and without limitation.

• These accounts never expire, so those assets can be used for graduate school, or can even be passed down to younger siblings or future grandchildren.

“It’s a common misperception that 529s are only for college savings,” continued Ramos. “But 529s are surprisingly flexible. For example, if you’re interested in pursuing higher education for a new hobby or skill, those expenses could be covered with money saved in a 529 plan.”

Millennials—the generation seemingly most impacted by student loan debt—are very focused on saving for their children’s education. According to a recent survey issued by Capital Group, 31 percent of millennials report that not having enough money to pay for their children’s education keeps them up at night. A similar number, about one in three, said that 529 college savings plans are a very important benefit an employer could offer. 

How 529s Work

Think a 529 isn’t for you? Consider this: Anyone, regardless of income, can contribute to a 529 account, making it a nice one-size-fits-all gift that never goes out of style. Plus, 529s are not just for saving for a child’s education—529s can be used to explore intellectual passions and expand horizons well into retirement.

In a 529, investors are able to front-load up to five years in contributions, or contribute up to $14,000 ($28,000 for married couples) annually, without gift-tax consequences. These benefits make contributing into a 529 plan, or opening up a new one, an attractive gift choice for grandparents and family members.

How to Choose the Right 529

There are a number of choices that savers can make when choosing a 529 plan. Most importantly: Do your homework and select the right one for your family that will pay off in the long run. Determine investment goals and then find a plan with flexibility, low fees and low minimum investment.

In addition to state-sponsored 529 options, a number of investment firms offer 529s. CollegeAmerica® 529 Savings Plans, the nation’s largest 529 college savings plan, is a strong option that offers low expenses and flexible, easy-to-use investment options, including target date funds. CollegeAmerica® has been consistently recognized by Morningstar®, an investment research and investment management firm, as a highly rated advisor-sold 529 plan.

Paying for college shouldn’t be the most difficult part about college. Relax, take a deep breath and start saving. 

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Sacramento STEM Fair Winners Head to Global Competition in Los Angeles

Source: NorCal STEM Education Foundation  |  2017-04-13

The NorCal STEM Education Foundation has awarded top honors to three projects at the Sacramento region’s largest STEM competition on Saturday, positioning three students to vie for a title in a global science and engineering competition in May.  The local winners and their projects:

  • Grand Prize 3rd – Guadalupe Bernal, Folsom High School, Autonomous Off-Road Vehicle Using Computer Vision for Surveillance applications. (Rough-cut video available at https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B7qjuaEG9E4SYkZodkJON3cxQ28)
  • Grand Prize 2nd – Arya Goutam, The Nueva School, ResQ: A low-cost wearable motion-sensing device that alerts family members via cell phone in the event of a person’s fall, even if he or she goes unconscious. Goutam built and demonstrated the device and wrote the cell phone app that it operates.
  • Grand Prize 1st – Teevyah Yuva Raju, Mira Loma High School, The Reversal of Harms Done by the Drought: How carbon and nitrogen levels affect Fusarium oxysporum f. sp., a fungus that has decimated California's tomato crop.

All three Grand Prize projects qualify, all expenses paid, at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. The global competition runs May 14-19.

The annual competition last weekend, organized by the non-profit NorCal STEM Education Foundation, highlighted projects that students had worked on for a year. Their research and experiments focused on seven categories: behavioral and social sciences; biological sciences, chemistry and health sciences; energy and transportation; engineering, math and computer sciences; and physical sciences. California Association of Professional Scientists, Professional Engineers in California Government, Intel, SMUD and American River College – which hosted the competition – where among the STEM Fair sponsors.

The NorCal STEM Education Foundation’s mission is to encourage students to find their passion for and spark their interest in scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical degrees and careers.

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Back to School? Learn About Tax Credits for Education

Source: Internal Revenue Service  |  2016-09-15

If you pay for college in 2016, you may receive some tax savings on your federal tax return, even if you’re studying outside of the U.S. Both the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit may reduce the amount of tax you owe, but only the AOTC is partially refundable.

Here are a few things you should know about education credits:

The American Opportunity Tax Credit is worth up to $2,500 per year for an eligible student. This credit is available for the first four years of higher education. Forty percent of the AOTC is refundable. That means, if you’re eligible, you can get up to $1,000 of the credit as a refund, even if you do not owe any tax.

The Lifetime Learning Credit is worth up to $2,000 per tax return. There is no limit on the number of years that you can claim the LLC for an eligible student.

You may use only qualified expenses paid to figure your credit. These expenses include the costs you pay for tuition, fees and other related expenses for an eligible student to enroll at, or attend, an eligible educational institution. Refer to IRS.gov for more on the rules that apply to each credit.

Eligible educational institutions are those that offer education beyond high school. This includes most colleges and universities. Vocational schools or other postsecondary schools may also qualify. If you aren’t sure if your school is eligible ask your school if it is an eligible educational institution, or see if your school is on the U.S. Department of Education’s Accreditation database.

In most cases, you should receive Form 1098-T, Tuition Statement, from your school by February 1. This form reports your qualified expenses to the IRS and to you. The amounts shown on the form may be either: (1) the amount you paid for qualified tuition and related expenses, or (2) the amount that your school billed for qualified tuition and related expenses; therefore, the amounts shown on the form may be different than the amounts you actually paid. Don’t forget that you can only claim an education credit for the qualified tuition and related expenses that you paid in the tax year and not just the amount that your school billed.

The education credits are subject to income limitations and may be reduced, or eliminated, based on your income.

To see if you’re eligible to claim education credits, use the Interactive Tax Assistant tool on www.IRS.gov.

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7 Ways to Keep Your Child Learning This Summer

Brandpoint  |  2016-04-21

(BPT) - When school dismisses for the summer, parents across the country worry about how much their children will forget over the vacation months. Will all those hours helping them with math and reading dissolve with the carefree hours spent at the pool or playground?

“While a break from the long days of school is needed, studies show that most kids lose up to two months of their math skills between school grades,” says Dominique Ciccarelli, Ed.M., education specialist for Kumon North America. “The brain is like a muscle and needs a regular dose of exercise to stay strong. Connections in your brain multiply when you learn new topics, and through this process, you get smarter.”

Added to this concern is how much time over the summer parents will be able to commit to helping their children retain and reinforce what they learned during the previous school year. While millions of children are eager for the freedom of summer, parents are coming up with plans to keep the learning momentum going.

Here are seven fun ways to keep your child engaged over the summer with enriching experiences.

Have a scavenger hunt at the museum. One way to turn a visit to the museum into a fun and educational experience is to make it a scavenger hunt. If you’re going to an art museum, your list can include things you might see in paintings or sculptures from a certain country. If it’s a natural history museum, you can include dinosaurs and animals.

Find the right learning program. For families with children looking for enrichment activities, the right learning program is invaluable. With nearly 1,500 centers throughout the United States, Kumon uses an individualized approach that helps children develop a solid command of math and reading skills. To help students continue learning through the summer, Kumon is offering free registration in June at participating centers.

Develop their green thumb. Gardening allows children to not only play and build something - as they might do in a sandbox - but learn about the life cycle of plants and the importance of nutrition. One way to make this more exciting is to try to grow something giant, like a huge squash or zucchini that will provide an end goal to the entire experience.

Let them be your travel agents. Before you set off on your summer vacation, get your children involved in the planning process. Let them help you search for lodging within your budget and in the area you want to stay. Together, you can learn about nearby attractions and plan your visit accordingly. The entire process not only builds confidence, but serves as a finance, geography, history and social studies lesson all wrapped in one.

Have adventures in reading. Reading is one of the most important skills to maintain and develop. Reading to your children each day establishes a positive association in their mind and makes them excited to read on their own. Be sure to stay up to date with the activities at your local library, which provides fun and sociable learning opportunities.

Make something. While there are plenty of kits out there to promote STEM learning skills, you can encourage your children to use their creativity and knowledge to build projects from common household materials. Some classic examples of this would be making a raft out of empty milk cartons or plastic bottles, a homemade volcano using vinegar and baking soda or a homemade electromagnet.

Become a collector. A great way for children to get hands-on knowledge of the natural world is for them to build a collection while discovering the outdoors. Rocks, plants, bugs - these are the things that excite a young mind. Search for different kinds of leaves to press at home, then work with your children to identify their types.

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Sugar Gliders, Pangolins & Foxes, Oh My! New Novel Entertains for Earth Day

NewsUSA  |  2016-04-19

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - Just in time for Earth Day, a new book introduces young readers aged 7 to 11 to a whole new world of unique and compelling endangered species, environmental awareness, teamwork and, best of all, a rollicking, outlandish group of characters that entertain the whole family.

The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions, by Tracey Hecht, focuses on a group of animals who form an unlikely team to solve the mystery of why other nocturnal denizens of their forest are disappearing. Dawn the fox, Tobin the pangolin and Bismark the sugar glider embark on a fantastic adventure that takes them to the depths of the earth and places their survival at stake.

R.L. Stine, author of the bestselling Goosebumps children’s series, describes the book as “an enchanting story about a group of animals who band together to protect their friends and find adventure. The characters are delightful, and the nighttime landscape is captivating. It was just as I expected -- because the best stories always take place in the dark!”

The book is aimed not only at children, but at their parents, and is written with an ear toward being read aloud to educate all ages about the importance of protecting animals and the environment. The story combines snappy dialogue with plot twists and action, and slips in education about different types of animals and how they live and behave.

Author Tracey Hecht noted in an interview that the benefits of shared reading aren’t limited to pre-readers.

“I didn’t stop reading aloud to my kids -- I still haven’t -- and it’s the best part of my day,” she said. “I keep books everywhere and I think of reading like a conversation -- just have it. Just pick up a book and have it. You’ll be amazed at how well it bridges the gaps,” she emphasized.

Children, parents and teachers can visit www.nocturnalsworld.com for more information about the book, including a sample chapter that introduces the main characters. In addition, the website offers bonus animated shorts, activities and educational materials, including a Next Generation Science Guide, templates for animal trading cards and library resources including guidelines for middle grade book clubs.

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Nurses Address Global Health Care Concerns Through Virtual Learning

Brandpoint  |  2016-03-29

(BPT) - People are more connected now than ever before thanks to the globalization of technology, international travel, commerce and industry. But this interconnectedness also means that health concerns, which were once limited to a community, can have a global impact. The Zika virus, the outbreak recently declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), is the latest example of a foreign health issue that quickly raised concern within our borders.

Nurses are using the technology that connects us to prepare for this new reality. Through virtual simulation education, they are learning to care for diverse populations and practicing global health scenarios including epidemics, rare illnesses and other infectious diseases.

“Globalization has changed our approach to health care. Viral diseases can spread rapidly, so we have to be ready,” says Dee McGonigle, professor in Chamberlain College of Nursing’s Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program. “Virtual learning environments provide valuable, interactive education on best practices for patient safety and disease containment in a real-time scenario that mimics real life.”

Dr. McGonigle heads up the college’s 3-D Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, she and several colleagues built the Virtual Ebola Treatment Center (VETC) in Second Life, a virtual world created by its global community of users. In Second Life, users - known as residents - are represented by avatars that can walk, run, sit, stand, fly and interact with other residents.

Chamberlain students learned how to admit and care for Ebola patients by practicing scenarios in the VETC within Second Life. Faculty from the MSN Informatics specialty track facilitated and mentored students through the risk-free virtual learning experience.

Like the Zika virus, the Ebola crisis was a wake-up call that proved how quickly disease can spread and how important it is to be prepared. Seemingly overnight, health care professionals and students nationwide were tasked with developing expertise on a disease that was previously of little concern to U.S. citizens.

“Nurses around the world were looking for answers,” says Dr. McGonigle. “We knew we had the opportunity to build a critical training tool to prepare our students to treat Ebola patients.”

Chamberlain alumna Kellany Cadogan-Noland, now a clinical learning lab specialist at Chamberlain, utilized Second Life for her MSN Informatics Specialty Track nursing project. Second Life nursing projects are designed to help those who cannot complete them in a real-world situation because of geographic or other limitations.

Cadogan-Noland used the VETC to test potential responses to an Ebola outbreak in the United States. She collaborated with mentors around the country to determine which infrastructures and clinical processes - such as clinical dressing locations for hospital staff - were most effective at disease containment. Within weeks of completing her project, the West African outbreak had spread to the United States. Cadogan-Noland and her team adjusted their VETC strategy to implement and test containment plans as they were announced by the WHO.

“I benefitted more from Second Life than I would have through an onsite project because we could adapt the virtual environment to our learning needs so quickly,” Cadogan-Noland says. “I was able to quickly test scenarios through simulations. We couldn’t have accomplished this within such a short timeframe in a brick and mortar facility.”

Chamberlain faculty and students can easily adapt their model of virtual simulation education to address other emerging global health issues like the Zika virus, giving nurses like Cadogan-Noland an extraordinary window to the rest of the world. Dr. McGonigle and other Chamberlain leaders behind the VETC are planning more interprofessional collaboration in the future to explore new innovative applications of the virtual learning experience for their students.

“The quality of virtual learning is continually evolving with enhanced technology and feedback from putting simulation methods into practice,” says Dr. McGonigle. “We have so much more to discover with virtual learning. We are just getting started as we use it this to educate nurses who will go on to transform health care worldwide.”

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Turning Travel Time Into Learning Time With Kids

NewsUSA  |  2016-03-16

Road trips can be a learning opportunity.

(NewsUSA) - Sponsored News - With many parents making plans to get out of town this spring, it’s the perfect time to introduce fun toys that can turn a road trip or visit to Grandma’s house into a learning opportunity.

Whether you’re playing peek-a-boo, singing nursery rhymes or reading a book to your little one, experts suggest that learning through play is imperative to a child’s development.

“Engaging children in play at an early age is incredibly beneficial to their physical and mental development, but it’s important that they’re getting the right kinds of interaction,” said Dr. Lise Eliot, early brain development expert and member of the expert panel at VTech, a world leader in interactive learning toys for all ages.

To help create the right toy for every age, VTech works closely with doctors such as Eliot, as well as its expert panel of early childhood education and development experts to ensure its toys help children meet important milestones. The result is an extensive range of more than 100 baby, infant and preschool learning products that cater to each child’s unique age and stage.

“Learning begins at birth, and babies absorb much more than we realize from their moment-to-moment interactions with the world around them,” said Dr. Eliot. “As parents strive to do what’s best for their child, they can introduce activities that help him or her learn through play. Babies are strongly motivated to reach developmental milestones all by themselves, and toys in VTech’s baby line can encourage them, make learning fun and grow with your little one over those important early years.”

To help discern which toy is right for your child, VTech has taken the guesswork out of the decision with its easy-to-follow milestones guide. The recommendations include some toys that are great for travel, such as:

  • For babies, VTech’s Crinkle & Roar Lion features buttons, sounds and tactile fabrics for little hands to discover, and a baby-safe mirror to help introduce self-awareness. It can be attached to carriers, strollers and more, making it the perfect take-along toy.

  • Infants will love the working Spin & Learn Color Flashlight, which introduces opposites, colors, letters and animals. They can spin the color-changing ring and explore buttons to hear fun melodies, nature sounds or play an interactive game.

  • For long car rides, the Count and Learn Turtle encourages early math skills with toddlers and preschoolers, and lets them explore colors, shapes and instruments. Kids can also exercise their memory and hand-eye coordination skills with a fun repeating sequence game.

For more information, visit www.vtechkids.com/milestones.

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