Parents, How to Send Your Kids to Dream College without Going Broke


Sending your child to college is a major financial commitment for most families, and the costs can be staggering. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees at a private, four-year college is over $37,000 per year. However, with some smart planning and a few key strategies, it is possible to send your child to their dream college without going broke.

  1. Start Saving Early

One of the best ways to prepare for college costs is to start saving early. Even small contributions to a college savings account can add up over time, thanks to the power of compound interest. Popular college savings options include 529 plans and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), both of which offer tax advantages for qualified education expenses.

It’s important to start saving as early as possible, ideally when your child is born or even before. However, it’s never too late to start saving, and even small contributions can make a big difference over time.

  1. Consider Financial Aid

Financial aid can be a valuable resource for families looking to send their child to college without breaking the bank. Financial aid can come in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans. Some financial aid is need-based, while other aid is merit-based, and there are many sources of financial aid available from government agencies, private organizations, and individual colleges and universities.

To maximize your chances of receiving financial aid, it’s important to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible. The FAFSA is used to determine your eligibility for federal and state financial aid, as well as aid offered by individual colleges and universities.

  1. Research College Costs

When it comes to college costs, not all schools are created equal. It’s important to research the costs of different colleges and universities to find the best fit for your budget. In addition to tuition and fees, you’ll want to consider the cost-of-living expenses, such as room and board, transportation, and books and supplies.

It’s also important to consider the potential return on investment of different colleges and majors. Some majors and schools have a higher earning potential than others, which can help to justify the higher costs of attending certain schools.

  1. Consider Community College or Online Programs

Community colleges and online programs can be a cost-effective alternative to traditional four-year colleges and universities. Community colleges typically offer lower tuition rates and can provide a valuable opportunity for students to earn college credits while saving money. Online programs can also be a flexible and cost-effective way to earn a degree.

It’s important to note that not all degrees and majors are available through community colleges and online programs, and it’s important to consider the potential impact on future job prospects when choosing an alternative education option.

  1. Negotiate Financial Aid Packages

Finally, it’s important to remember that financial aid packages are not set in stone. If you feel that a college or university is not offering enough financial aid, it’s possible to negotiate for a better package. This may involve appealing for more aid, asking for a re-evaluation of your financial need, or exploring other options such as work-study programs or external scholarships.

Sending your child to college is a major financial commitment, but with some smart planning and a few key strategies, it is possible to send your child to their dream college without going broke. By starting to save early, exploring financial aid options, researching college costs, considering alternative education options, and negotiating financial aid packages, parents can better prepare for the costs of higher education and help their children achieve their academic and career goals.

How to Help Your College Students Have Positive College Experiences


I call the period that runs from every September to next May college application season for high school seniors across the country. The 2020/21 college application season is almost over. Now it is time for most high school seniors to weigh the offers and envision the lives they will be living for the next four years.

This is a time of excitement as well as anxieties for both students and their families. As parents of soon-to-be college freshmen, they all want their children to have four successful college years. But, I know that “success” is a highly subjective word. And student’s college experiences may be different due to the kind of colleges or universities they attend.

So, first let us define what success in college means. Success in college, according to many college students themselves, means achieving good grades, graduating on time, maintaining a balanced social life and landing a good job after graduation. On the surface, these goals seem to be simple and easy to achieve, right? In reality, however, there is no small number of students either struggle academically or have a hard time fitting in socially.

After perusing books and articles related to this subject and talking to some parents whose kids have already gone through colleges, I found out some universal traits of college students who have had positive experiences during college.

The first trait of such a student is having definite goals for life. I cannot stress enough of the importance for a college student to have definite goals for his or her life. But, there is a caveat. The goals should be what the students truly want for themselves, not the goals their parents or society set for them. Lucky are those who have concrete goals even before they set foot on college campuses. These students are motivated, self-driven and confident. They will seek and even create the kind of college experiences that help them achieve these goals.  

The second trait of a successful college student is having a good amount of self-control. The majority of high school seniors will leave their childhood homes and live in some kind of campus housing arrangements for the first time. No longer in their lives will there be nagging about eating healthy food and finishing their homework on time. At the same time, they are constantly facing the tasks of making choices: going to parties or working on that course assignment which is due very soon, eating healthy meals or eating whatever they want, and etc. Life is about trade offs. College life is no exception. The students who have successful college lives are those who are able to make good decisions most of the time. Generally speaking, making good decisions need good amounts of self-control.    

The third trait of a successful college student is the possession of good study skills. Academics are a big part of college life. It is hard to believe that a college student is having a positive experience when he or she struggles academically. For students who lack confidence in this skill set, I would like to share with them the formula for academic success outlined in Purdue University’s Guide to Creating a Successful College Experience:

  • Read the syllabus
  • Go to every class
  • Sit near the front in class
  • Find a study partner or group in every class
  • Take good notes.
  • At the beginning of each semester, ask yourself:
    • Do I understand what is expected of me in each class?
    • Do I have contact information for someone in every class to study with or contact in case I’m sick?
  • Manage your time wisely
  • Never let a week go by where you don’t understand the content in your courses
  • If you are confused or lost in a class, visit your professor, go to a help lab or study with a friend. Use your campus resources — they are there to help you
  • Study 2 hours for every hour you are in class

The fourth trait of a successful college student is getting involved in a wide range of activities. We know that college success is more than just good grades. Activities outside classrooms not only enrich students’ lives, they also help students explore their interests, develop social skills and possibly gain life-long friendships. Some of the activities include volunteering, working part-time on campus, getting involved in student’s residence hall, doing internships or studying abroad.

In addition to the above four traits, another factor affecting students’ college experiences is the emotional support or lack of it from their families. College years are coincident with a person’s transition period to adulthood. And this transition period is filled with stresses and struggles. In Janet Hibbs and Anthony Rostain’s apt named book – “The Stressed Years of Their Lives”, they talked about the mental problems facing today’s college students. Alarmingly, almost one-third of all college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning in the last twelve months according to the authors. Although so called “helicopter parents” are mocked and discouraged, this does not mean that parents can stay out of their college-age children’s lives other than writing tuition checks.

Before parents send off their children to college, they need to be aware of two important laws that could be critical to their children’s well beings. They are HIPAA and FERPA. HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA protects a person’s confidential health information. FERPA stands for the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. FERPA was designed to protect the privacy of educational records and to give students the right to inspect and review their educational records (

In most states 18 is the legal age of majority, which means most college students’ health information and academic records are protected under law and not shared with their parents without the students’ consent. By checking the students’ academic records parents could detect early signs of their children’s mental issues. In order to access their students’ transcripts parents need a consent form to disclosure of FERPA protected academic records. In the age of Covid-19, it is also important for parents to have signed HIPAA waiver and health care proxy from their college-age children in order to make medical decisions on their children’s behalf. If parents need more information on these forms they can contact their financial advisors and/or family attorneys for help.

Looking back, 2020/21 college application process is quite a journey for both high school seniors and their families amid a global pandemic. As the high school seniors are about to open a new chapter of their lives, I wish them all successes in college.

Your 2021 Essential Financial To-do List


2020 is finally behind us. What is your plan for year 2021? Here I outlined some financial tips for you to put on your early 2021 to-do list to jump start the year to be a successful and prosperous one for you and your loved ones. Below are some of the essential personal financial information you will want to save and keep in handy as your reference guide throughout the year.

  • Adjust your retirement plan contributions for 2021

2021 retirement plan contribution limits

Plan Maximum
Age 50
and Over
401(k)/403(b) $19,500 $6,500  

Deductible IRA
$6,000 $1,000
Non-Deductible IRA $6,000 $1,000  
Roth IRA $6,000 $1,000

The individual IRA contribution deadline for 2020 is April 15, 2021.

Phase out range for deductible IRA is $105,000-$125,000 for joint filing if covered by a workplace retirement plan; Phase out range for Roth IRA is modified AGI from $198,000-208,000 for joint filers.

Health Savings Account Contribution Limit for 2021:

  Self-only Family Coverage
Contribution Limit $3600 $7200
Contribution Limit over age 55 $4600 $8200
High-deductible health plan
minimum deductible  
$1400 $2800
High-deductible health plan
out-of-pocket maximum  
$7000 $14,000
  • Keep in mind these important income tax facts for 2021:

2021 Income Tax Brackets and Rates:

Single Filer
Income Range
Married File Jointly
Income Range
10% $9,950 or less $19,900 or less
12% $9,951- $40,525 $19,901 – $81,050
22% $40,526 and $86,375 $81,051 and $172,750
24% $86,376 and $164,925 $172,751 and $329,850
32% $164,926 and $209,425 $329,851 and $418,850
35% $209,426 and $523,600 $418,851 and $628,300
37% $523,601 or more $628,301 or more

The standard deduction is $12,550 for individuals and $25,100 for married couples filing jointly.

2021 Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemption Amounts:

  Single or
Head of
Married File Jointly
Qualified Widow
Married File
$ 73,600 $ 114,600 $ 57,300
25% reduction
if over:
523,600 1,047,200 523,600          
818,000 1,505,600 752,800

2021 Qualified Dividend and Long-term Capital Gain Tax Rate:

Income Range:
Single filer
Income Range:
Married file jointly
Capital Gain Tax Rate
$0-$40,400 $0-$80,800 0%
$40,401-$445,850 $80,801-$501,600 15%
Over $445,850 Over $501,600 20%

Net Investment Income Tax:

Individuals will owe the tax if they have Net Investment Income and also have modified adjusted gross income over the following thresholds:

Filing Status Threshold Amount
Married filing jointly $250,000
Married filing separately $125,000
Head of household (with qualifying person) $200,000
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child $250,000
Single $200,000

The Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) applies at a rate of 3.8% to certain net investment income of individuals, estates and trusts that have income above the statutory threshold amounts.

  • Annual Exclusion for Estates and Gifts

In 2021, the first $15,000 of gifts to any person is excluded from tax.

Since 2018, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act temporarily increased the basic exclusion amount for estate and gift taxes for tax years 2018 through 2025, with both dollar amounts adjusted for inflation. For 2021 the exclusion amount is $11,700,000 per individual, and $23,400,000 for a couple.

  • Review your Insurance policies

If your situation has changed during 2020, such as change of job, birth of a new child, or purchases of new car, house, etc., you need to review your insurance coverage or talk to your financial adviser to help you come up with proper coverage amount for your current insurance needs.

Don’t forget the deadline for individual tax filing is Thursday April 15, 2021.

Gather and organize all your paperwork such as W-2 forms, bank statements, mortgage payment statements, property tax receipt, business expenses, investment statements from your broker-dealers, charity donation receipts, etc. for your 2020 tax filing.

  • A couple of events that you might want to keep an eye on:
    • House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal plans to reintroduce in the new Congress the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020, which would boost the required minimum distribution age from 72 to 75. In 2019, the Secure Act passed by congress has pushed the age that retirement plan participants need to take the required minimum distributions (RMD) from 701/2 to 72. If this new bill passes, it would create more favorable financial planning opportunities to people contributing to various retirement plans.
    • Another thing to watch for is for families with kids applying for college in the fall 2021. The dates and places of taking the SAT/ACT had been changed a couple of times last year by the institutions which offer these tests due to the pandemic. Since the pandemic is still going on parents need to make sure their high school kids know the exact dates and places of taking these tests. Parents and students can go to to check out the latest updates on SAT test or for ACT tests.

College Application Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic


This is the third installment of our series of articles on teen and money. These days, college application becomes more and more complicated and time-consuming. Not to speak that sending your child to college is no small task given the cost of higher education. Even worse is the coronavirus pandemic we are in right now raise not-before-seen uncertainties of college applications for high school seniors graduating spring 2021.

We know that 2020 is an unusual year for colleges and universities big or small, public or private. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, some schools are discounting tuition costs for various reasons. For example, Princeton University announced a 10% cut in tuition costs for the full year because students will only be allowed on campus for one semester or less. Others are cutting tuition costs in order to boost freshman enrollments. Therefore, parents need to do a little research if the colleges their teens are interested in have made or will make such move in terms of college costs.

In addition, several trends related to college application and admissions have emerged since the onset of this pandemic. According to some college application surveys taken after the pandemic starts students surveyed generally say they are less likely to attend schools far away from their homes. If this trend continues even after the pandemic is over, it could benefit the students who are willing to look outside their state borders and apply to schools a bit farther from their home state. Generally speaking, many colleges and universities are willing to give out some aid money to attract out-of-state students.

 Another trend emerged from the pandemic is more incoming fall 2020 students have asked colleges for a deferral because of limited college experiences due to remote learning. It was estimated by college application experts that among some elite universities approximately 10% to 15% of incoming freshman class would defer their enrollments. Could this mean more fierce competition among your student’s peers to get into their dream colleges or universities next year? The impact of the deferments on college admissions for 2021 applicants remained to be seen.

Unlike the past, the campus touring is drastically different this year. Some college campuses are closed for in-person learning and consequently these schools opt to offer only virtual campus tours. This alters the experiences parents and students get from what they get from traditional campus tours. Consequently, parents and students need to adjust their strategies to make the most of these virtual tours. One way to find out which schools offer virtual tour is to check with your student’s high school counselor.

Lastly, some previously scheduled standardized tests such as SAT and ACT got canceled due to health concerns. If your student is not happy about his or her test results taken before the pandemic, they need to coordinate the timing of their application with the next available SAT or ACT test they plan to take. You can go to or to check the test schedules.

All in all, parents and their high school senior students are facing a different college application landscape this fall. They need to adjust their strategies and tactics accordingly in order to achieve the best results.

Should You Let Your College Kid(s) Have Their Own Credit Cards?


Parents with college age children often face a dilemma: should we allow our kids to apply for a credit card of their own? If yes, what if they become irresponsible and rack up credit card debt? These are the legitimate concerns parents should have.

On one hand, young adults need to build their own credit history. With good, established credit history young adults could get favorable financial treatment when someday down the road they need to apply for loans to purchase a house or a car, or rent an apartment of their own. Therefore, it is beneficial for college students to have their own credit cards and build good credit scores by using them responsibly and pay the credit card companies in full and on time every month.

On the other hand, some of these students are still in their teen years, and the freedom of having a credit card to use is too tempting. It is not uncommon for college students to abuse credit cards and accumulate debts that they may hide from their parents, causing financial damages to themselves and their parents.

So, after stating the pros and cons of giving college students a credit card of their own, what can parents do?

This advisor thinks that there are several steps which parents can do to maximize the benefits of letting your college age kids have their own credit cards while minimize its potential financial harms.

As a parent, you need to start fostering good financial habits of your children early, specifically, the habits of budgeting and spending within their means. Talk to your teenage children about financial responsibility and the harm of abusing credit cards long before you allow them to have one.

If you are still not confident about your children’s ability to handle their personal finance, alternatively, during their freshman and sophomore years you can give them debit cards to use. That way, you can monitor their spending while teach them how to spend responsibly.

Another option of giving your college students a chance of building their credit history is for parents to add them as authorized users of parents’ credit cards. But, parents be aware, you are ultimately responsible if your children rack up large credit card debt. So parents need to think it through before adding your kids as authorized users.

If your kids demonstrate financial responsibility during his or her freshman and sophomore years in college, then you can decide if they can apply for their own credit cards in junior or senior year.

 One kind of credit cards students and parents may consider is so called secured credit cards. These cards can be ideal for college students who have no credit history or income. These cards are secured with a cash deposit, i.e. $300 or $500, from the card owner. Other than that, it works like a regular credit card. This kind of card is not a debit card. The cash deposit serves as a backup, not a payment for the card owner’s credit card bill. Students still need to pay their monthly credit card bill on time.

Ultimately, it is parents’ responsibility to know their children well and provide continuing guidance and supervision throughout their children’s college years in order for the kids to reap the benefits of building good credit history in college.

The Secure Act and Your Early 2020 Financial To-do List


What are your financial moves in year 2020? First, I think you need to start by checking out a legislation called the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (Secure) Act of 2019, which is effective on January 1, 2020. In this article, I will outline some of the key changes in the Act and how these changes may impact a person’s retirement, college and/or estate planning.

The following are some positive changes coming out of the Secure Act:

  • The Act allows families to pay for up to $10,000 in student loans tax free using the money in their 529 college savings plans.
  • The Act has pushed back the age that retirement plan participants need to take the required minimum distributions (RMD) from 701/2 to 72.
  • The Act encourages retirement plan sponsors to include annuity as an option in their plans by reducing plan sponsor’s liability if the insurer which sells annuity fails to meet its financial obligations.
  • The Act states that any employer who creates a 401(K) or SIMPLE IRA plan with automatic enrollment will get a maximum tax credit of $500 per year.
  • The Act also makes it easier for small businesses to set up 401(K) plans.

Now, on to some of the negative changes brought by the Secure Act:

  • The Act mandates that inherited IRAs for non-spouse beneficiaries must be distributed over 10 years.
  • The changes for the age that requires RMD from 701/2 to 72 creates confusions among individuals who attain age 701/2 in 2019 or 2020.

In order to minimize the confusion, the IRS issued Notice 2020-6 saying that the Secure Act did not change the required beginning date for IRA owners who attained age 701/2 prior to January 1, 2020. Given its significance, the first thing I suggest you to do is to learn more of this Secure Act and plan accordingly based on your individual situations.

Second, you need to know updated retirement and Health Savings Account contribution limits for 2020 and adjust your own contributions accordingly. According to the Internal Revenue Service the contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $19,000 to $19,500. The catch-up contribution limit for employees aged 50 and over who participate in these plans is increased from $6,000 to $6,500. The limitation regarding SIMPLE retirement accounts for 2020 is increased to $13,500.

Taxpayers can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA if they meet certain conditions. If during the year either the taxpayer or his or her spouse was covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction may be reduced, or phased out, until it is eliminated, depending on filing status and income. (If neither the taxpayer nor his or her spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work, the phase-outs of the deduction do not apply.) Here are the phase-out ranges for 2020: 

  • For single taxpayers covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $65,000 to $75,000.
  • For married couples filing jointly, where the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is $104,000 to $124,000.
  • For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple’s income is between $196,000 and $206,000.
  • For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range is not subject to an annual cost-of-living adjustment and remains $0 to $10,000.

The limit on annual contributions to an IRA remains unchanged at $6,000. The additional catch-up contribution limit for individuals aged 50 and over remains at $1,000. The income phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $124,000 to $139,000 for singles and heads of household. For married couples filing jointly, the income phase-out range is $196,000 to $206,000.

The income limit for the Saver’s Credit (also known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit) for low- and moderate-income workers is $65,000 for married couples filing jointly; $48,750 for heads of household; and $32,500 for singles and married individuals filing separately.

Annual HSA contributions for 2020 for individuals with family coverage are increased from $7000 to $7100. Account holders ages 55 or older can contribute an additional $1,000. However, in order to qualify for the contribution, a person must be enrolled in one of employer sponsored HSA-qualified high deductible high premium health insurance plans.

In 2020, the annual exclusion for gift tax is still the first $15,000 of gifts to any individual.

(Sources: IRS publications)