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 If withdrawn for any other reason, you may be subject to income tax along with penalty expenses on the earning portions of the account.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

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.