Author: Deborah Goodkin, Managing Director, Savings Plans, First National Bank of Omaha

It’s the beginning of a new year, which means many of us are taking the opportunity to make resolutions for 2019. During this season of resolutions, keep in mind that making plans and setting goals are some of the most important steps in the college savings process. No matter where you are in the journey, whether you’re saving for a newborn or a junior in high school, now is the perfect time to make a plan – not only for the year ahead, but for years to come. Not sure where to get started? We’ve put together a guide to help you along the way.

Early Years

When it comes to saving for college, the earlier you begin contributing the more time your funds have to grow, without paying income tax on that growth. NEST 529 makes it easy to manage and contribute to your account, so busy parents, grandparents and other family members and friends can still find time to save for a child’s future.

If you haven’t done so already, make sure to open an account for your loved one. Once opened, evaluate your current investment option and savings habits regularly to ensure they are in line with your savings goals. For more information on easy ways to increase your contributions search for “Grow Contributions” at www.NEST529.com.

For the chance to give your savings an additional boost, check out the many NEST 529 scholarship opportunities we offer throughout the year. Visit www.NEST529.com/scholarships for a list of current opportunities.

Middle School

Middle school is an exciting time for young students, as they take on more responsibility and earn more independence. Work with your middle schooler to practice good study habits and find a balance between school, home and extracurriculars – these skills will be invaluable throughout high school and higher education. Then, encourage them to begin visualizing their goals for college – What are they passionate about? What are their favorite subjects? What kinds of careers might they be interested in?

Middle schoolers can also begin planning for college by chipping in to their NEST 529 account. If they earn pocket money from chores, babysitting or other responsibilities, offer to match or double any contribution they make to their NEST 529 account.

Now is also the time to increase your regular NEST 529 account contributions. As you evaluate your budget and determine how much to contribute, involve your child or grandchild in the conversation. This is a good opportunity to teach them about saving and financial preparations for higher education. After all, college is closer than they – or you – may think!

Freshmen and Sophomores

By the time your loved one begins high school, college applications and standardized testing are right around the corner. This is an important time to plan for higher education, both academically and financially.

Encourage your high schooler to prioritize their grades and schoolwork, help them enroll in a SAT or ACT prep course and set aside time for studying. This early work will help relieve the stress of the application process, and prepare them to achieve their higher education dreams.

During this time, map out your own financial goals as well. Assess the progress of your NEST 529 savings and increase your contributions if you can. Remember, NEST 529 account contributions make meaningful and impactful gifts, and family and friends can pitch in to help your savings grow. 

Juniors and Seniors

By their junior and senior years of high school, your child or grandchild is likely immersed in college preparations. Support them as they take their standardized tests, and share in the fun as they draw up their short-list of dream schools. Encourage them to build a calendar of important due dates, including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Next, sit down as a family to create a college applications budget, including standardized tests, campus tours and application fees. Follow this with a conversation about the cost of higher education. Discuss your budget for tuition, and determine which schools are within financial reach – this may mean seeking out schools that offer merit-based financial aid or in-state tuition, or choosing a community college before transferring to a four-year school. Setting a good example and encouraging financial responsibility throughout their life is an invaluable gift, and with the support of a NEST 529 College Savings account, their future is brighter than ever.

Before you know it, your loved one will be living their academic dreams. As you set your resolutions and make your plans for 2019, make sure you’re on track to achieve your savings goals. Happy New Year, and happy saving from all of us at NEST 529.