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 If withdrawn for any other reason, you may be subject to income tax along with penalty expenses on the earning portions of the account.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.


Tax Benefits

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.

Investments

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.

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I thought I had a pretty good handle on my finances out of school. I worked several jobs while attending university and had little to no problem managing my income. However, once I graduated, I realized how much more complicated personal accounting could really be.

There were so many variables I needed to keep track of. Biweekly bills, monthly charges, and general necessities amounted to a heap of confusing numbers that were often impossible to decipher. The funniest part was that I was actually trying to do this by hand (I don't know what I was trying to prove to myself, either).

After messing up for the 17th time, I decided to give Microsoft Excel a shot. I used Excel a bit in school and I knew all the big-wig finance people used it, so what could I possibly have to lose? The answer is about six hours of my precious time. Excel isn't much of an improvement over handwriting and it's still dependent on the user to manually input all of the information. It's like doing everything by hand with the slightest help, meaning that it still required a tremendous amount of time and concentration. Well that was all for nothing, I guess.

It's sort of funny. I was certain that I could manage my personal finances with ease, when it's practically a full-time job. I was already stressed out enough with my first job and I knew I didn't have enough time to give my finances the attention it deserved.

That's why I decided to try out a budgeting app. My best friend told me that he uses an app called Truebill to manage his finances. "What does it even mean to manage your finances?" I asked him. He told me that Truebill was the personal financial assistant I wished I could have. It could aggregate all of my account information into one place and give me specific insights and actions.

I loved the idea of having full control over my finances, especially during a time of financial uncertainty, and I realized that Truebill would be the easiest way to accomplish this. The user interface is incredibly simple and intuitive, so it doesn't even feel like a finance app! Truebill offers a multitude of features, with their most popular being the ability to cancel subscriptions with the press of a button.

Okay, I had no idea how many subscriptions I was still subscribed to. In fact, I wasn't even using a quarter of the subscription services I was signed up for. Subscription boxes, streaming services, my old gym, and even an old subscription to my favorite magazine--it was all there and I was livid. How could I let myself waste all of this money and how did I never catch this? Thank goodness for Truebill.

Truebill also offers bill negotiations. There is a 40% fee based on how much you save and Truebill even claims that there is an 85% chance that they'll be able to lower your bill once a negotiation is requested. Why wouldn't I take them up on this? There was zero risk and I would only have to pay once my bill was lowered (which means that I would be saving money regardless).

More standard features of Truebill include the ability to generate a credit report on-demand and even request a pay advance. I only used the pay advance feature once when I wanted to buy a gift for my mom, but didn't have enough cash in hand and Truebill automatically reimbursed itself when I got my next paycheck.

The credit report is another fantastic feature and practically taught me what good credit meant. Truebill's credit report basically shows you which financial decisions have the most significant impact on your credit score and ways that you can improve your credit month-over-month. I've never had such control over my credit and it feels good.

I'll be the first to admit that I was extremely naive coming out of school. I figured that as long as I was attentive, I could manage my finances with ease. We manage money to some extent throughout our entire lives, but once you're thrown out on your own, it's a completely different story. With Truebill, I've finally been able to take control over my finances and stay on top of all of my responsibilities.

Update: Our friends at Truebill are extending a special offer to our readers! Follow this link to sign-up for Truebill.

My buddies and I always try to make it out to a game, but we never really care which one we end up at. Obviously we have our favorite sports and teams, but it was rarely about what game we went to or who we saw playing. It was about watching the game live.

In the early months of lockdown, all we had was Korean baseball, and trust me, we loved it. The only issue was, none of us had any idea what the commentators were saying. Even then, a few of my friends weren't huge fans of baseball. They were into sports like football and basketball, ones that moved at a quicker pace with less down-time in between plays.

We decided to see if there were any other events going down and came across horse racing. Yes, horse racing. It was perfect--short, fast-paced, and most importantly, an opportunity for betting.

I had never really considered watching a horse race any time other than the Belmont Stakes, but the prospects of the sport seemed exhilarating. Even better, with horse racing we knew we could still recreate the atmosphere of a race track. Salty snacks? Check. Stale beer? Check. A simple and easy way to bet? Check.

One quick Google search later, we came across TVG, powered by FanDuel. It's an online betting platform that takes you right to the heart of the action. We were a little apprehensive about using a mobile app to place our bets, but TVG's ability to bet on live horse races from all over the world was too good to pass up.

Here are 5 reasons why we are obsessed with horse racing thanks to TVG:

1. Betting has never been easier

Use your phone or computer to watch and bet on live horse races in real-time. TVG offers a bunch of features to make betting even simpler--live odds and handicapping tips leverage recent learnings to help you make your best bet. Not to mention, TVG's exclusive race content and wagering guide offers an under-the-hood look into the strategy behind horse race betting.

2. The biggest selection of horse races out there

If you're looking to drop a little dough on a horse race, chances are your best option is your local race track. But watching the same few horses races over and over again isn't the most exciting thing. With TVG you have access to over 150 tracks worldwide with races happening consistently throughout the day.

3. Get a generous sign-up offer when you place your first bet

Once you register your account, you will be eligible for a $200 risk-free bet. All you have to do is place your first bet and you're covered. If you happen to lose, TVG will insure you for up to $200 as a sort of wagering credit. I may have been a little trigger happy when placing my first bet, so having this insurance was a great perk. There are also a bunch of promotional offers available year-round.

4. Making deposits and cashing out at the touch of button

With a ton of payment options such as PayPal, BetCash, debit/credit, wire transfers, and other third-party services, making a deposit is a breeze. But what about the payout? Depending on your deposit method, your withdrawal will be available in a few days. No more waiting in-line to collect your winnings!

5. Watching live races with your friends while betting is exhilarating

Even when we were watching Korean baseball, Zoom calls with my friends were a little dull.

With TVG, we haven't had this sort of fun in months! Every weekend we'll turn on a race and throw our bets in. After a few races, and quite a few drinks, we'll tally up our winnings to see who won the most! Sometimes it's not even about making money, but just having a good time.

TVG is the perfect way to add a little excitement to an otherwise mundane afternoon. It introduced me to the world of horse racing, a sport I never would have considered otherwise.

The races just keep ramping up and thanks to TVG, I can always get in on the fun.

UPDATE: The biggest derby in horse racing is THIS WEEKEND. Get in on the action with your $200 risk-free bet!

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