Of course all of that financial planning will not amount to a hill of beans if you have no money with which to fund it. The good news is that you probably have hidden funds, you just do not know where to look. Here are 8 ways to access money you did not know you had.
1. Make It Automatic
The easiest way to save your money is to never see it in the first place. Studies show that consumers who prioritize savings by having money automatically transferred into a savings, retirement, or college savings account save more than those who don't.
2. Sell Your Stuff
We all have stuff we do not use just laying around. Make your stuff work for you by selling it at a yard sale or on eBay. Once you have your excess sold, stick that money straight into an interest-generating account to make your money go even farther.
3. Ask For Help
You are not the only one interested in your family's educational goals. When Grandma, Grandpa, relatives, and friends give to your child, request that it comes in cash form, deposited directly into your child's college savings account. Pre-teens and older kids may be bummed to get such an unsexy gift—let's face it, there is no way to make a 529 contribution more appealing than L.A. Noire—but younger kids probably won't know the difference.
4. Get Your Kids Involved
Kids under age 15 may not be old enough to have a job, but they are capable of doing household chores, clipping coupons, working to lower household energy expenses, completing odd jobs around the neighborhood, and brainstorming ways the family can cut back. By getting the family involved in college savings, not only will your family bank more money, you will also produce children who are well aware of just how much their family worked for that one college education.
5. Shop Around
You would not take the first car you spotted on the lot. Why do the same with your college savings plan? College savings vehicles come with fees, but they range from incredibly cheap (0.3%) to outrageously expensive (2%). Once you have chosen the vehicle that is right for your family, shop around for companies and nonprofits with a strong financial history that offer low fee products.
6. Match Those Funds
Some states will actually pay you to save for college. A handful of states across the nation offer matches for parents contributing to that state's 529 plan. Matches all have strings attached, such as income limitations and caps on how much the state will match, but it's still free money. Call your state's 529 plan to get the skinny on if they offer a matching grants and what's required to get it.
7. Use Educational Tax Credits
We know...tax credits might be the least sexy subject on earth. That said, do not miss out on them. While certain college savings vehicles offer tax benefits, the federal government also offers tax credits for families with students already in college. The American Opportunity Tax Credit offers a credit of up to $2,500 per student for the first four years of technical, community college, or undergraduate education. To get the full credit, parents must spend at least $4,000 out of pocket on tuition and fees, have gross adjusted incomes of $160,000 or less ($80,000 or less for single filers), and the student must be enrolled at least half-time. Families who do not qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit may be eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit which allows parents to claim up to $2,000 for as many years as they like. Unlike the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit requires parents to spend $10,000 to get the full credit, families can only claim the credit once per household (not once per student), and the credit is only available for families with gross adjusted incomes of $120,000 or below ($60,000 for single filers).
8. Rebate Programs
You get gas money, airline miles, and retail gift cards through your credit cards. Now you can save for college too. Through Upromise and Baby Mint, parents can get earn college dollars simply by shopping at their favorite online retailers. Both services are free, but parents can level their savings up even more by opting for the Upromise credit card which deposits 1 percent of all purchases into a 529 plan.