Are 529 College Savings Plans Worth It?
We all know college is expensive. In 2019, the average sticker price of an in-state public college education was $10,116, while private colleges average a whopping $36,801. With the ever-increasing price of sending kids to college, more parents than ever feel the need to find ways to save for their children's college expenses.
529 college savings plans' popularity and growth have continued to rise since their creation under the Small Business Protection Act of 1996, but studies still show that most Americans still don't know what a 529 savings plan is. We break down the basic pros and cons of 529 plans, giving you a better understanding of how they work and if they may be the right college savings vehicle for your kids.
What Is a 529 College Savings Plan?
529 plans are tax-advantaged investment accounts that are state or state agency run to save for college expenses.
There are no income, age, or contribution limits to 529 savings plans. You don't have to worry if the account beneficiary doesn't go to college right away; they can use it whenever! Additionally, the beneficiary of the plan can be changed to another family member. This means that, as the account owner, you can transfer it to another family member, including yourself! Parents can feel better about staying in control of the money, too. Unlike UGMA (Uniform Gift to Minors Act) and UTMA (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act) accounts, the custodian of a 529 savings plan always stays the owner; it will never switch over to the control of the beneficiary. This means parents can rest assured that their child can't withdraw the money to purchase the Mustang they've been eyeing!
The most obvious disadvantage to 529 plans is that you are limited to withdrawing the money only for college expenses. If withdrawn for any other reason, you may be subject to income tax along with penalty expenses on the earning portions of the account. Luckily, the list of qualified college expenses is vast, including the most recent addition to the list: student loan payments.Since 529 plans are run by states and institutional agencies, a big concern is whether or not the plan that is opened will transfer easily if the beneficiary ends up going to college out of state. In most 529 plans, your choice of college is not affected by the state in which it was opened.
Most states offer a full or partial tax deduction for 529 contributions. Some states even allow a tax credit for the contributions. Account owners can also feel better knowing that the earnings grow tax-free and will never be taxed as long as the money is used for qualified expenses.
Most plans are low maintenance and have automatic investment management options, which means less work and worry on your end. Many 529 plans use target-date funds, which change based on the beneficiary's age and become more conservative the closer they get to college age. These types of funds can be great for the account owner, who wants to be able to "set it and forget it." but it can also be troublesome for those more involved with managing their own investments. Account owners can only make investment changes twice a year in 529 accounts (there is a loophole for this if you switch the beneficiary; then the investment change limit is reset)
529 Plans' Effect on Financial Aid
There is much debate over how a 529 plan can affect a college applicant's ability to receive financial aid. A lot of factors go into the decision-making on FASFA (free application for federal student aid) forms, so it's important to look into each individual case. Since student assets are assessed at higher rates than parents', in most cases it is best to keep the account in the parent's name. However, 529 accounts owned by a grandparent will be counted on the FASFA application as the student's assets, so it will be assessed at a higher percentage.
In my personal opinion, as a former personal banker and mother of two, 529 plans are the best way to save for college, as long as you start early– it doesn't make much sense to open one if your child will be attending college in just a few short years. The best advice I can give people is to act early, set clear goals for the future, and meet with a financial professional to discuss your exact situation.
It's Southwest Companion Pass Season. Here's Why It's The Best Flight Deal on the Market
There’s all this talk about solo travel. And for good reason — no wasting precious time waiting for others to get their act together, take the plans out of the group chat and actually buy the tickets. Going solo, you can be spontaneous. You can plan your trips according to your precise tastes. You can hop on any flight and fly awayyyyyy.
But what if each time you flew you’d get a free ticket? That’s what you get with the Southwest Companion Pass.
Award status, upgrades, lounge access — there are many perks in the frequent flier game. But one of the coveted holy grails is the Southwest Companion Pass.
What is the Southwest Companion Pass?
The Companion Pass is part of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. You get to choose one person to be your “companion,” and they fly with you for free (plus some taxes and fees) on every flight. That’s right. Two for the price of one. That’s half off each ticket if you split it! Whether you’re flying with a partner, family member, friend, or anyone else, they can tag along for free.
And it gets better: once you earn the pass, you can reap the rewards for that full calendar year … AND the next. That’s why people go mad trying to earn a companion pass during the early months of the year. The sooner you qualify, the longer you can use it.
There are also no blackout dates. There are no limits. And if you didn’t purchase the ticket (think: work travel, your companion, or a generous benefactor), there are no restrictions! As long as you’re the one on the plane, your companion can also … be on the plane.
You can also switch out your designated companion 3x a year. So, no need to stay in a relationship simply to get the most out of your companion pass! Ghost and fly away — with a whole new companion!
If this sounds too good to be true — it’s not. But there is one small catch. It’s kinda tough to earn this mega reward.
How to qualify for the Southwest Companion Pass?
You can qualify for the pass in one of two ways:
- Fly 100 qualifying one-way flights
- Earn 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year.
Clearly, this is no small feat — especially if you’re trying to qualify ASAP.
So how do you actually earn the Southwest Companion Pass?
Don’t worry, there’s a path to earning this amazing reward without climbing on 100 flights or spending an exorbitant amount of money.
Earning 135K reward points may seem completely impossible, but it’s easier than it sounds. Simply sign up for a Southwest Credit Card and turn those spending habits into a rapid rewards account. Through the Rewards Priority Credit Card, earn points when using local transit and commuting, plus score major points and miles whenever you spend.
Stay with me here. This is not some scheme to get you into credit card debt. Many airline cards come with potential savings, giantic rewards, awarding you points, and cashback with every purchase you make that can be redeemed for travel. And often they can come with passive sign-up bonuses. If you spend a specific amount of money within a certain timeframe of opening the card, you can be in for a windfall of points.
Now that’s where the companion pass comes in:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card
- Southwest Priority Credit Card
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card
- Southwest Performance Business Credit Card
Southwest has three personal cards and a business card. Each of these cards offers rewards between 30K-80K points. In the past, people could open two cards and get a bonus that granted enough points to almost meet the minimum. However, with new restrictions on personal cards, you can only get one bonus every 24 months. Boo!
However, this doesn’t apply to business cards. If you’re eligible, have good credit, and not likely to spiral into insane credit card debt, you can open a business card and a personal card, and accrue 100K+ points. The Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card will get you points after you spend money in no time.
Now to earn the rest of them.
The secret to gaining these credit card points is to plan your card sign-ups around big purchases. Just before a recent move, I opened a card . . . and the rewards came rolling in — a small balm to ease the pain of how exorbitant moving can be.
Put everyday spend — especially big purchases or bulk items — on your Southwest credit card and watch your award points quickly add up. Typically, you earn 1 point per $1 spent on your Southwest card and 2 points per $1 on actual Southwest purchases.
But there are other ways to earn points, including:
- Flying Southwest: Booking travel on Southwest earns more points. The cost of this travel will be worth it with your companion pass
- Shopping from Rapid Rewards Partners: Purchases with Southwest’s “Home & Lifestyle” and “Shop and Dine” Partners also earn Companion Pass qualifying points. While you shouldn’t make gratuitous purchases, browse Southwest’s partners to see if you could earn extra points for items you'd be purchasing anyway. All this, simply from enrolling in their Dining Program and shopping with their partners.
So there you have it! And since it’s almost Spring, get to earning and soon you’ll be flying two for the price of one!
How to Get a Better Job That Pays You More
Though the wave of tech layoffs and the threat of a recession has overshadowed yesteryear's news of the great recession, everywhere you look, employees are asking for more — and getting it. Though this time of uncertainty could have given employers back the power, it's still in the hands of the workforce.
From Gen-Z's boundary setting and penchant for quiet quitting when they're being under-recognized, to labor unions and even the WGA writer's strike, we're in an era where workers can make demands about how they work — and where they work. And for many people, they want to work from home.
For many employees, full-time remote work offered newfound flexibility to work around their schedules — whether it be picking up kids from school, or working when they feel most productive. Many employees seized this freedom to escape big cities and relocate and prioritize their quality of life. Remote work lovers are demanding offices remain closed or requesting it as a benefit or work option. And if their company insists they return? Many would rather look for new jobs in the flourishing remote-first corporate environment.
However, some missed the structure of the office and its offers of accountability, collaboration, more amenities, and . . . friendship. But not all companies are created equal. Some hope to lure employees back by upgrading the office experience. Turns out, the millennial start-up with that Day-Glo ping-pong table and IPAbeer-on-tap isn’t actually the dream if it comes with a toxic work environment (we’re looking at you WeWork). As companies add in-office perks, employees are requesting more support, boundaries — and even arrangements like the four-day workweek.
For the best of both worlds, companies are adopting hybrid systems. However, reports from CNBC and BBC imply that this may be a taxing option. Having one foot in the office and the other in your office kitchen is far from ideal for most employees, research says.
LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report reveals that of the 500 C-level executives surveyed, 81% said they’re changing workplace policies to offer greater flexibility.
But according to CNBC, “emerging data is beginning to show that hybrid work can be exhausting, leading to the very problem workers thought it could solve: burnout. More than 80% of human resources executives report that hybrid is proving to be exhausting for employees. This is according to a global study by employee engagement platform TinyPulse. Workers also reported that hybrid was more emotionally draining than fully remote and more taxing than even full-time office-based work.”
BBC agrees, reporting: “Emerging data is beginning to back up such anecdotal evidence: many workers report that hybrid is emotionally draining … Workers, too, reported hybrid was more emotionally taxing than fully remote arrangements – and, concerningly, even full-time office-based work. Given many businesses plan on implementing permanent hybrid working models, and that employees, by and large, want their working weeks spent between home and the office, such figures sound alarm bells. But what is it specifically about hybrid working that is so emotionally exhausting? And how can workers and companies avoid pitfalls so that hybrid actually works?”
“Overall, human resources executives thought that hybrid and remote work were the most emotionally exhausting for employees, but that wasn’t the case,” Elora Voyles, a people scientist at TinyPulse, told CNBC.
So with every employee having various experiences and opinions about what works best for them and their lifestyles, it makes sense that people are job-hopping to suit their newfound preferences.
Frankly, some are job-hopping to enhance their compensation. Statistically, most people realize their greatest salary increases when they move from one job to another. Remaining at the same company for years and years often limits how much you can make as your career advances. One popular female finance guru, Cinneah El-Amin told Afrotech: “I am a staunch advocate for more women to job-hop, to get the money they deserve, and to stop playing small when it comes to our careers and the next step in our careers.”
The research supports this, with Zippia claiming: “Generally speaking, a good salary increase when changing jobs is between 10-20%. The national average is around 14.8%, so don't be afraid to ask for a similar increase. At a minimum, you should expect a wage growth of at least 5.8% when you change positions.”
However, a job search can be daunting, despite the potential benefits. But if you can land a role in a new company — and potentially boost your salary while you’re at it — you will challenge yourself and constantly keep learning. LinkedIn Learning, for example, is one platform that can help you level up your skills and give you an edge to land the job.
LinkedIn Learning allows you to take advantage of the moments that truly matter. It offers courses on subjects that will carry you through every step of your career. Their instructors have real-world experience.
With their one-month free trial, you can explore over 16,000 classes that will help you hone specific skills, ignite your passion for learning, and discover skills to reach your career goals.
Check out the LinkedIn Learning Pathfinder and it will generate a custom list of courses based on what you want to achieve. Learn more about recent top career development goals and acquire the skills to help you reach them.Unsure what to do and how to start your job search? Let LinkedIn Learning be the first step you take in the path to a new and improved career.
Best Female-Founded Brands to Support
Oh, how far we’ve come! Recently, it was revealed that — finally! — women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies outnumber male CEOs named John. A dubious milestone, but it's something to celebrate.
Though women have come pretty far in society, the progress we've made is far from enough. From the pay gap to daily microaggressions, it’s still obvious that women are treated as lesser than in society. This is especially clear when you look at how few female-founded businesses there are.
According to Rolling Stone, it’s crucial to support female-owned businesses. They report: “While it is true that the different experiences and backgrounds that women and men have undoubtedly affect business approaches, this is actually a good thing. A business with diverse perspectives is an innovative business that can actually push the boundaries of industries.” Like with any other social justice cause, uplifting marginalized folks is good for everyone involved. We all benefit from the increased, diverse worldviews brought about by representation.
The article continues: “Having a gender-diverse business yields better consumer insight, and in turn, a more profitable business. Back in 2015, McKinsey & Company found businesses that were more gender-diverse were likely to outperform approximately 15 percent above the industry median. Years later in 2020, they found that the percentage had increased to 25 percent.”
Therefore, even if we aren’t focused on all the social and political reasons to uplift female entrepreneurs, it’s better for everyone’s bottom line if we do.
Yet, despite this oft-proven reality, archaic stereotypes and oppressive systems stand in the way of progress in every sector. An article in Business News Daily outlines some of the obstacles women face as entrepreneurs. The number one hurdle they face? Social expectations.
The article advises that in order to beat this imposter syndrome, female founders should stick to their guns rather than trying to conform. “Women may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically "male" attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive, and sometimes harsh. But successful female CEOs believe that remaining true to yourself and finding your own voice are the keys to rising above preconceived expectations.”
But often, women are told their lack of professional advancement is their fault. You’re too shy. You’re not assertive enough. You need to ask for what you want. Otherwise, how do you expect to get it?
However, despite this refrain, it’s actually not their own fault. This scapegoating convinces ambitious women that if their careers are stifled, it’s their fault. This causes imposter syndrome, lack of representation, and real industry consequences.
According to BND, “Raising capital is even more difficult for women-owned businesses. A 2014 Babson College report found that less than 3% of companies with venture capital funding had female CEOs … venture capitalists tend to invest in startups run by people of their own ‘tribe.’”
Other things that get in the way of women climbing the ladder to success include: struggling to be taken seriously, owning their accomplishments, building a support network, balancing business and family life, and coping with the fear of failure.
These are real, tangible barriers that most female entrepreneurs face. The women who have succeeded should be celebrated — and this month is the perfect one to do so. Luckily for us, we can vote with our dollars, supporting the businesses we love so that there can be more like-minded companies out there in the world.
Here are some of my favorite female-owned brands to support in the pursuit of equality: