CSF Type: Research

CNBC: CSF Chair Rich Polimeni shared with CNBC’s Jessica Dickler the findings of CSF’s 10th Annual Youth Survey

Kids are increasingly worried about paying for college

Jessica Dickler @JDICKLER



  • College costs have been increasing significantly for decades.
  • As a result, the vast majority of high school students now say affordability is a factor in deciding where — even whether — to attend.

Parents, of course, worry about paying for college. Increasingly, their children share that concern.

Over the last decade, tuition and fees jumped 44% at four-year, private colleges and by 55% at public four-year schools. As a result, student debt has reached record proportions, with $1.6 trillion in loans outstanding.

Now, high school students are more cost-conscious than ever when it comes to choosing a school, according to the College Savings Foundation’s 10th annual “How Youth Plan to Fund College” survey.

The vast majority — 83% — said affordability was a factor in deciding which college to attend, up from 75% last year, the Washington-based research group said. In addition, 71% of students said costs could determine whether to attend college at all — up from last year’s 65%.

“This has been a growing problem and yet college costs will continue to go up,” said CSF Chairman Richard Polimeni. “The good news is that students are much more involved and they are better educated and more cost-conscious.”

To that end, 40% of students said they would attend public college and 26% said they would choose community college. A little more than 1 in 10 are considering technical schools or apprenticeship programs. (When it comes to college affordability, most students and their families are wary of pricey private schools. That may be a mistake.)

Of the more than 500 sophomores, juniors and seniors polled, 54% expect to receive financial aid, including student loans, the foundation said. About the same percentage said their parents are saving for college, and 48% expect to receive money for education from relatives.

In fact, income and savings from parents and students covered nearly half of an undergraduate’s tab, according to Sallie Mae’s most recent “How America Pays for College ” report. The share of college costs covered by scholarships and grants — money that does not have to be paid back — made up 28% of the total expense.

Borrowed money covered 24% of the tab, and contributions from grandparents or other relatives or friends paid for the remainder.

Rich Polimeni says “529 college savings plans have come of age,” in discussing the findings of CSF’s 12th Annual State of College Savings survey of parents across the country.

As student loan debt rises, parents of college-bound kids stash money away.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

While many parents report they are still making monthly payments on their own student loans, some are still making an effort to put away money to help their children avoid the same burden.

In its 12th annual survey of parents nationwide across all income brackets, the Washington, D.C.-based College Savings Foundation found that 529 college savings funds are a popular choice for households with college-bound children. 

A full 50 percent of all families have one of the savings plans in place — either in the parent’s name (33 percent) or in the name of the child (17 percent).

“529 college savings plans have come of age,” said Richard Polmeni, chair of the College Savings Foundation, a nonprofit backed by investment managers, broker-dealers, governmental bodies, and accounting and consulting firms, among others. Congress created the plans in the mid-1990s, the organization said.

“We are excited to see that parents are embracing proven strategies for funding their children’s higher education by saving early, often, and with the advantages of 529s,” he said.

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage setting aside money for future college costs. Money in the fund grows tax-deferred and the earnings are never taxed as long as it is used for qualified educational expenses.

This year’s survey found 45 percent of parents had stashed away more than $25,000 per child.

However, the percentage of parents who saved fell slightly from an all-time high of 83 percent last year to 79 percent.

Some parents may worry that savings might affect a child’s chances of receiving financial aid, which is heavily based on income. Money set aside in a 529 savings plan will not significantly bump up a family’s expected contribution.

In light of the survey’s findings that 45 percent of parents are still paying off student debt of their own, Pittsburgh financial adviser Paul Brahim believes families are better off making the sacrifice to save on the front end rather than endure the pain of servicing loan debt on the back end.

“You might remember the old Fram Oil Filter commercial from the ‘70s,” said Mr. Brahim, CEO of BPU Investment Management, Downtown. “The choice was a regular oil filter change or an engine rebuild. The ad said, ‘You can pay me now, or pay me later. But either way you will pay me.’

“Parents and grandparents have figured out that borrowing for school is a lot more expensive than saving for school,” he pointed out. “I think they know the new economy will demand new skills and they are willing to sacrifice today so their children and grandchildren have the right education for tomorrow.”

Parents also have broadened their definition of higher education beyond the traditional four-year school.

The survey found 64 percent of parents think about vocational schools and community college in the same way as they do about public and private education.

Still, some are opting out. About 40 percent of parents said their children had considered not going to college at all, up from 28 percent last year.

A third of those parents said their child didn’t want them to be paying that much money; 28 percent said their child felt that a particular career choice could be achieved without college; 18 percent said their child was indifferent to college; and 17 percent said the child didn’t want student debt.

Tim Grant: or 412-263-1591.

College Savings Foundation 12th Annual Survey

Contact: Lynthia Romney (914) 238-2145/(914) 589-2140


Survey Infographic

50% of families have a 529 earmarked for their children

Washington, DC, September 5 – Today’s parents are savvy college savers who are strategically planning for their children’s higher education and leveraging the benefits of 529 college savings plans to achieve their goals, reports the College Savings Foundation (CSF) in its 12th Annual State of College Savings survey.   Released in recognition of College Savings Month, the survey of parents across the country and income brackets found that the vast majority (79%) are saving for their children’s higher education, with 45% of them amassing more than $25,000 per child and three quarters more than $5,000 per child.

A full 50% of all families have a 529 college savings plan in place for their children – either with the parent (33%) or in the name of the child (17%).

“529 college saving plans have come of age.  We are excited to see that parents are embracing proven strategies for funding their children’s higher education by saving early, often and with the advantages of 529s,” said CSF Chair Richard J. Polimeni.  529 college savings plans enable American families to accumulate funds Federal and state tax free for qualified education expenses.

At the same time, parents and their children appear to be increasingly discerning about their higher education options.  In responding to questions that are new to the CSF survey, 83% of parents said they would like to see colleges and universities promote skills training, rather than majors, to help with future employment.  78% would prefer their child to go to a school taking this approach.

These findings align with results of CSF’s 2018 How Youth Plan to Fund College survey of 500 high school students, showing that 81% of students would like to see colleges promote this, and 70% would like to attend a school taking that approach.

Parents also continued to broaden their definition of higher education beyond the traditional four-year college.  64% said they think about vocational schools and community college in the same way as they do about public and private education – the highest level in the five years since that question has been asked.

Further, 40% of parents said their children had considered not going to college at all, up from 28% last year.  A third of those parents said that their child didn’t want them to be paying that much money; 28% of parents said their child felt that their career choice could be achieved without college; 18% said their child was indifferent to college, and 17% said the child didn’t want student debt.

Ultimately, the vast majority (85%) of parents whose children doubted they’d go to college said the children had decided to go after all. This is a significant uptick from last year’s survey which showed that only 48% of the doubting students would go on to higher ed.

Saving systematically despite student debt

Perhaps a motivator for many parents to save for their children’s higher education is the burden of their own debt, since 45% of parents are still paying off their own loans.  The number is even higher (49%) among those who are saving primarily by using 529 college savings plans.

Parents are also using key strategies such as systematic savings.   78% of all parents are saving regularly, with 51% saving on a monthly, 19% saving on a quarterly, and 8% saving on an annual basis.

In another positive uptick, 42% of parents are saving more than they were a year ago, up from 38%.

Some other high-level findings of the survey:

  • 72% of parents expect their children to contribute to their higher ed costs, through a job (46%) and through their own savings (24%).
  • Having their child living at home was the most popular cost-cutting strategy for 28% of parents, followed by attending community college and transferring to a 4-year college (26%) and getting as many AP and IB courses as possible (14%).
  • 48% of respondents work with a financial advisor, but 74% said they would work with one if that would help with college savings.
  • More than half (57%) of parents plan to borrow to pay for their children’s college, with 62% of them borrowing primarily through education loans, and 18% through credit cards or a credit line cash advance.

The 2018 State of College Savings survey reached nearly 800 parents across the country and income brackets. via Survey Monkey.  The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals.  For an infographic on these findings, please see

2017 Parents Survey

Contact: Lynthia Romney (914) 238-2145/(914) 589-2140

Have 529 College Savings Plans Come of Age? College Savings Foundation (CSF) 2017 Survey Shows Parents Saving More

With 529 college savings plans in existence for over 20 years, parents today are embracing saving as their favored way to pay for their children’s education, and 529s as their preferred savings vehicle.  In recognition of College Savings Month, the College Savings Foundation is releasing the results of its 11th Annual State of College Savings survey of parents across the country, finding that parents especially from their young 20s to mid-40s purposefully and regularly save for their children’s college education.

“We are pleased to see a strong preference for savings among a generation of parents who grew up with 529 college savings plans being available to American families,” said Richard J. Polimeni, Chair of CSF, a leading nonprofit helping American families save for higher education.

Among all respondents, 83% are saving – an all-time high in the eleven years of the survey’s history.  Of those, 71% had saved more than $5,000 per child and 36% of savers said 529 college savings plans were their primary college savings vehicle.

Among all respondents, 38% own a 529 plan, with 55% doing so because of the rising cost of college.

Impact of Free College

Respondents seem to be focused on college saving even at a time when “free college” has become a popular topic of discussion.  In a series of new questions this year about the concept of free college, 80% said they would still save for higher education if free college were adopted across the United States.

Perhaps part of that reasoning is awareness of related costs beyond tuition and fees.  Understanding there are limits to free college proposals, 60% said they were aware many college expenses are not covered under current proposals.

Results for other questions concerning free college showed that 75% of respondents thought college should be free; and 77% thought all states should adopt limited free college tuition.

College Debt a Motivator to Save for Children’s Education

Aversion to debt logged in as a strong motivator for saving among all parents.  46% of parents are still paying off student loans, with over half – 53% – owing over $20,000 in debt and nearly one-third, 31%, owing between $20,001 -$30,000.

“While many parents grapple with their own student debt, they are actively saving for their children’s future college expenses,” Polimeni added. 90% of parents who carry student debt said it made them consider other ways of financing college.  Saving was the most prevalent.

94% of parents are expecting to contribute toward their children’s future college costs, but with a focus on saving.  Of those parents expecting to contribute, 54% said saving is their primary strategy for paying for college.

54% of all respondents said they plan to borrow to finance their children’s college.  Education loans, at 65%, were far and away the number one choice to finance college through borrowing.  Of those borrowing through education loans, 52% are doing so through student loans, and 37% through student and parent loans.

Parents are also looking at ways to reduce college costs for their children.  Top strategies are attending community college for two years and transferring to a four-year college (29%), living at home (22%), and attending a state school (15%).

Parents and young people seem to be on the same page.  71% of parents expect their children to contribute to college costs.  CSF’s 2017 How Youth Plan to Fund College survey found that 87% of high school students have talked to their parents about their involvement in funding college.

Financial Advisors Play a Role

Half of all respondents use the expertise of a financial advisor, and for 59% of those, 529 college savings plans are the primary product recommended by the financial advisors for saving for college.  Interestingly, over half of respondents in the age groups of 21-30 and 31-35, and half of the 36-45-year olds, used financial advisors for college financial planning.

79% of all respondents, and a full 88% of the 21-30 year olds, said they would work with a financial advisor if they knew they could get help with college saving.

Other Key Findings

Respondents also demonstrated habits that encourage successful saving, including saving early and often.

  • Saving early: 57% had started saving between the time their child was born and 5 years old.
  • Saving often: 75% are saving systematically.

This time-tested strategy works: 38% of all respondents had saved more than they had one year ago.

Over half – 51% – knew investing in 529s could also fund their own educational expenses such as graduate school.

Respondents also view college as more than the traditional four-year experience: 63% said, when considering college options, they think of vocational and career schools in the same way as public and private schools.

In fact, 28% of parents said their child had considered not going to college at all – of which 48% decided to look at other options.  Among the reasons they considered not attending college were they didn’t want their parents to bear the burden of college costs and they believe their career goals could be achieved without college.

The CSF State of College Savings survey of parents was conducted through survey monkey with an audience from LLC of 800 parents across the country and evenly divided across income levels.

The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.-based not-for-profit organization helping American families save for higher education.

2016 State of College Savings

2016 Parents Survey

As high school students get ready for back to school, their parents are gearing up for the formidable task of paying for college. In its 10th Annual State of College Savings survey of parents across the country, in which the majority of respondents have at least one child aged 14-18, the College Savings Foundation (CSF) gained a window into the realistic choices that families are grappling with in the years prior to starting to pay for higher education.

US News & World Report – Find Out What Recent Changes to 529 College Savings Plans Mean

Buying a computer for college in 2016? You can use college savings.

College savings accounts may also be used to pay for Internet access, software and related equipment, like printers.

By Deborah Ziff

When David and Miyuki Nishijima bought their son James a computer for his freshman year at California Polytechnic State University—San Luis Obispo in the fall, they couldn’t use funds from his college savings account to foot the roughly $2,400 bill.

But that changed in late December, when Congress passed long-awaited legislation making computers and related equipment a qualified education expense under 529 plans, or tax-advantaged college savings accounts. Withdrawals that don’t qualify are subject to taxes and penalties.

The Nishijimas may have been among the first to take advantage of the new law – which took effect retroactively on Jan. 1, 2015 – withdrawing the funds from James’ 529 plan in late 2015 and reimbursing themselves for the cost of the Macbook.

Calling it a “significant expense for college,” David Nishijima says it was nonetheless a necessary one for his son, who is an electrical engineering major.

“These days it’s so core,” he says.

The legislation does two other things regarding 529 plans: It allows account owners who take a withdrawal but then get a refund from the school – for instance, because their child gets sick and has to drop out for the semester – to redeposit that money in the 529 plan within 60 days with no penalties. It also changes reporting standards that apply to account holders with more than one plan per beneficiary.

Here are answers to questions about the new legislation.

  1. What exactly is included under the new computer provision?The definition of qualified education expenses expanded to include computer and peripheral equipment, computer software or Internet access and related services, to be used primarily by the designated beneficiary of a 529 account while enrolled at an eligible educational institution.
  2. So, what’s a computer?“It’s pretty clear a desktop and laptop are a computer,” says Jamie Canup, a partner and chair of the tax practice at Hirschler Fleischer in Richmond, Virginia, and member of the College Savings Plans Network.Tablets, such as an iPad, also fall under the definition of a computer, says Randy Hardock, a partner at Davis & Harman in the District of Columbia, and counsel for the College Savings Foundation.
  3. What’s peripheral equipment, software and Internet access?Peripheral equipment is defined as auxiliary machines designed to be placed under control of the central processing unit of the computer. This includes printers, both Canup and Hardock say.
  4. Exceptions include typewriters, calculators, adding and accounting machines and copiers.While software is included, there are exceptions for software designed for games, sports and hobbies, unless it’s predominantly educational in nature, Hardock says.Beneficiaries will also be able to use 529 funds to pay for Internet access, but Hardock says to check with a tax professional if the Internet bill comes bundled with other services, such as cable.
  5. Since the legislation is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2015, can I withdraw funds now to pay for a computer I purchased last year?The rules aren’t clear once you cross the calendar year. The Nishijimas took advantage of the small window between the time the legislation passed and the end of the 2015 calendar year to get a reimbursement, but Canup says he wouldn’t risk trying to do it now that it’s 2016.”Most tax advisors tell their clients: ‘Make sure your expenses and distributions occur in the same year,'” he says.However, any college-related computer purchases in 2016 and beyond can be paid with 529 distributions.
  6. Can I still redeposit funds if I got a refund from a school in 2015?Yes. Congress included a special rule that states that account holders have 60 days from the date it became law, Dec. 18, to redeposit a refund from 2015 into a 529. That brings investors to Feb. 16.Still, account holders would be wise to hurry.”They’re running out of time,” Canup says. “They’ve got to be aware of the rule. They have to take the money if they still have it and recontribute it.”
  7. What are the new reporting standards, and will they affect me?The change in reporting affects only those account holders with more than one 529 account for the same beneficiary.Most 529 accounts are made up of money from contributions and earnings. Under the old rules, plan administrators aggregated all accounts with the same account holder and beneficiary, but under the new rules, each 529 account will maintain its own discrete ratio of contributions and earnings.This is good news for account holders, Canup says, because it allows them to cherry-pick where withdrawals are coming from. This matters because only earnings are subject to taxes and penalties for withdrawals that don’t qualify as educational expenses.

    Trying to save for college? Get tips and more in the U.S. News College Savings 101 center.


Nearly three quarters (72%) of children age 18 or under have accumulated savings for college, and for many of them utilizing a 529 college savings plan has been the savings vehicle of choice.  In recognition of College Savings Month, the College Savings Foundation has released a snapshot of Americans’ savings behaviors by the age of their children.  Additionally, for the vast majority of children with college savings, the saving process had started by the time they were five years old.

The data, drawn from CSF’s annual State of College Savings survey of parents across the country, showed that the 72% of children with college savings benefited from starting early and utilizing 529 college savings plans:

  • 76% have savings starting by age five, 21% starting between the ages of 6-10, 9% starting between 11-13, and 4% starting at ages 14-18.
  • 44% had utilized a 529 college savings plans.

“Higher education is a major life event and people are saving for it.  At a time of mounting student loan debt and repayment concerns, it is gratifying to see Americans saving to brighten their children’s future,” said Mary Morris, Chair of CSF, a leading nonprofit helping families save for higher education.

“Nearly 20 years ago, policymakers created 529 plans to help American families save for college.  Since then, year over year, we have seen their usage increase dramatically,” she added.

Overall the survey found that 28% of children of all respondents did not yet have savings set aside for college.  “We know that every dollar saved is one less that may have to be borrowed in the future, so it’s never too late to benefit from saving at any stage of a child’s life,” said Morris.

The data shows that savings starts and increases as the children get older.  The amount of savings increased by the age of the child, demonstrating that American families view savings for college as an important financial goal.  See the attached link of charts of savings by age and amount.

Among all children, families demonstrated a strong consistency in their saving discipline:  81% had saved at least as much or more this year than one year ago.

The College Savings Foundation’s 2015-2016 State of College Savings Survey was conducted by Survey Monkey of over 800 parents across the country and income levels.

Contact Lynthia Romney, 914-238-2145/914-589-2140

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