Have You Funded Your 529?

Florida’s 529 savings plans may ease the cost of higher educationHave You Funded Your 529?
Saving Strategies Help Beat the Higher Cost of Higher Education

By Robert Zerbe

Sometimes, the most challenging part of college life isn’t the microeconomics or advanced Shakespeare class – it’s paying tuition. And as time goes by, the cost of college isn’t getting any cheaper. The Web site finaid.org says the cost of tuition doubles every nine years – meaning children born today can expect to pay three times today’s rates when they attend college.

Florida offers a pair of affordable, tax-free 529 savings plans (named for the section of the Internal Revenue Code that authorizes them) so that parents (or grandparents or even business entities) can ease the pain of paying for higher education.

Florida’s original 529 plan is the popular Florida Prepaid College Plan which, after a lump-sum payment, monthly payments or payments spread out over five years, offers plans that will pay for tuition, dormitories and school fees at Florida public universities or community colleges. This plan can be used at an out-of-state or private school, but what’s transferred is basically the cash value of what tuition, fees, etc., would have been at a Florida college. It may not cover all costs, but it still helps.

For those who want more flexibility in saving, there is the Florida College Investment Plan, which began in 2002. For a small annual fee and contributions of as little as $25 per month, an account is set up that can be used at any accredited public or private university, college or technical school in the country for any education-related expense.

Holly Greuling and her husband, Mark, invested in both plans for their two children. Greuling, a part-time dietician, signed up for the Florida College Investment Plan for her 5-year-old daughter, Genevieve, this past year, but started saving for the Florida Prepaid College Plan for her son, Marcus, when he was 2. Marcus, now 7, won’t have to worry about his college tuition, as his parents already have paid it off, along with his lab fees.

“It’s a great feeling,” Greuling said. “You can’t change the future, so we’re doing the best we know with the tools we have right now.”

With tuition almost not even a concern, the Greulings must face a much more difficult problem: She’s a Gator and he’s a Seminole – and each is pushing for his or her alma mater.
To get more information about the plans – including a great side-by-side comparison of the two – go to florida529plans.com or call (800) 552-GRAD (800-552-4723).


 Shower Power

By Robert Zerbe 

It’s hard to beat a long, hot shower to wash away stress, but sometimes the ritual proves cumbersome – especially with teenagers in the house. The question “What are they doing in there for so long?” becomes a thing of the past with the Shower Manager. Produced by Global Network Solutions, the device allows the head of the household to set limits for water usage in the shower. According to the manufacturer, the device installs easily and can limit shower times to between five to 11 minutes. Visit showermanager.com for more information or to place an order.

In An Emergency, Please Contact …

By Crawford Atkins Jr.

It was a nightmare scenario: A teenage girl was killed in a car accident and – because contact information wasn’t available – it took law enforcement officers five hours to locate and notify her mother. The sad situation inspired the state to create a new system that allows those holding a current Florida driver’s license or identification card to submit up to three different phone numbers for two contacts who can be notified in case of an emergency.

The contact information can be filled out online and can be seen only by a police officer. If the license holder is in an accident, the information can be retrieved immediately. It’s an important service as more and more families rely on cellular phones to communicate rather than home-based land lines.

To register contact information for your children – and  yourself – visit hsmv.state.fl.us and click on “Emergency Contact Information.”

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