Are parents responsible for paying college costs?
Dear Mr. Berko:
My wife and I are both 55. She’s an office manager earning $38,000 and I’m a salesman who makes between $55,000 and $70,000 a year. We have two sons. The oldest joined the Navy five years ago, and our youngest just got accepted to an Ivy League college where the tuition exceeds $32,000 a year.
We began saving for both sons’ college education costs when they were born and cannot qualify for financial aid. But we failed to move into more conservative issues before the bear market began in 2000. As a result, the college account is now valued at $41,000, down from its high of $84,000. My wife and I have spent many evenings agonizing over our possible choices so we can pay for our son’s tuition. It seems that we have five choices: Take out a home equity loan; sell our large home and move to a smaller one; sell some of the mutual funds in our 401(k) plans; ask our retired parents to help pay the tuition (our parents don’t have excess money but they seem to be modestly comfortable); or a little bit from all of the above. Please help us make a decision.
R.T., Springfield, Ill.
Dear R.T.: Don’t you dare ask your folks for a dime! It’s insufferably presumptuous, unforgivably selfish and cruelly uncaring that you would even fantasize about asking your parents for the kid’s tuition.
Those grandparents earned their “modestly comfortable” lifestyles. You would need a lot of gall to take some of it from them, considering all they must have given each of you from tots to teens to parenthood.
Both of you have excellent mutual funds in your 401(k)s. However, they, too, are about 40 percent lower than their 2000 peaks. The most important reason you shouldn’t invade your 401(k)s concerns your retirement in 12 years. If you take money from them now, you may be forced to collect food stamps and postpone necessary health-care visits.
Your combined 401(k)s of $112,000 plus the value of your home might not keep you in peanuts, pretzels and beer when you both retire. You’re going to need a lot more money, and you’re both bloody fools if you allow your son to deprive you of a “modestly comfortable” retirement as you would your folks.
Here’s my advice. If you fail to follow it, you’ll end up on the doorsteps of the Salvation Army. Take that $41,000 of college money and invest it in one of those variable annuities that guarantees you a minimum 6 percent annual return. Forget about it for a dozen years, at which time you’ll both be 67, hopefully retired, collecting Social Security and that $41,000 (an investment earning 6 percent doubles in 12 years) will be worth a minimum of $82,000. Meanwhile, commence an individual retirement account (contribute the maximum) and continue contributing the maximum to your current 401(k)s.
Here are alternatives for the kid:
1. Like his brother, tell him to join the armed services and allow the Army, Navy or Air Force to pay for his college costs.
2. There are a number of excellent community colleges in your area where the tuition for a full course load costs less than $3,000 a year. Meanwhile, the kid can work evenings for beer and pizza.
3. If the kid got accepted to an Ivy League school, he must have a few brains in his skull. Tell him to search for some academic scholarships. There are a bunch of them just pleading for applicants.
4. Tell the kid to get a full-time day job with a big corporation and take night courses. Many big companies will reimburse tuition payments if the employee passes his course work.
You do not have an obligation to pay for your son’s college education.
The National Education Association, the American Association of University Professors, etc., have done a credible propaganda job convincing parents that they have a responsibility to pay for their children’s college costs. Both of you, like other impressionable, naive parents, swallowed the bait and hook.
Your responsibility is to make certain that you have enough bucks to be “modestly comfortable” in your retirement so you won’t have to beg either of your sons for money when you hang up your tools.
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 1416,
Boca Raton, Fla. 33429 or e-mail him at email@example.com.