Opinion: Give the gift of higher education
Education is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child and the key to success and climbing the economic ladder. Statistics from the Pew Research Center show that, while today’s college graduates are having a more difficult time finding a job than their predecessors, they still out-earn peers with only a high school diploma.
Unfortunately, the cost of sending a child to college seems to grow exponentially every year, with more and more families worrying that higher education is out of reach. You can start saving for college as soon as your child is born, but will it be enough?
One of the ways Connecticut is helping families save and invest for college is through the Connecticut Higher Education Trust, or CHET. CHET is a federally recognized 529 college savings plan unique to Connecticut that offers families a quick and easy way to begin saving for their children’s education.
One of the best aspects of this program is that you do not have to be a parent or grandparent to open and contribute to an account. Anyone can take this step to help a child they know save for college. It only costs $25 to start, and an investment plan can be chosen based on the age of the child. Investment programs can be aggressive, moderate or conservative, and are administered through the Connecticut Treasurer’s Office by TIAA-CREF.
You can start an account for your child at any time. The younger the child is when investing begins, the greater the benefit, especially for infants.
I recently attended a meeting of the CHET Advisory Committee and learned that 4,094 infants were signed up for the CHET Baby Scholars program through the third quarter of 2016. As a result, $980,000 was added to these accounts through the state’s matching contribution plan.
CHET Baby Scholars was launched in 2014 with $4.4 million dollars from the Connecticut Student Loan Foundation. The program contributes $100 when accounts are opened for a newborn or newly adopted child. If another $150 is added to the account by the time the child is 4 years old, the program makes a matching contribution of $150.
What a great way to start saving for a child’s future!
Another positive aspect of the CHET program is that the money you pay into the account can be deducted on your Connecticut Income Tax Return. Single individuals can deduct up to $5,000 in contributions from their state taxes, and married couples can deduct up to $10,000 in contributions each year.
When the time comes for the student to use the money, no taxes are owed on the withdrawal, as long as it is used to pay for a “qualifying” expense. Qualifying expenses include tuition, housing, fees, books, and even computers and software required by the institution.
The rules on the use of CHET money do not require that it be used strictly for college. It can be used at any post-secondary school eligible for student aid through the U.S. Department of Education. This could be a public, private, proprietary or vocational school.
The program also offers scholarships for grade schoolers and high school students. The CHET Dream Big! Scholarship asks students from kindergarten through eighth grade to either draw a picture or write an essay about what they will do after college. This year, the competition awarded $26,000 in CHET contributions to 48 students throughout the state.
The CHET Advance Scholarship will award $500,000 in scholarships this year to 100 ninth-graders and 100 high school seniors to help defray the expense of college. Seniors are awarded scholarships of $2,500 and ninth-graders receive scholarships of $2,000. If the ninth-grader’s family contributes $500 to the student’s CHET account before graduation, CHET will match that amount to bring the scholarship up to $2,500.
If you have not already, I hope you will take advantage of the CHET program. No matter the age of the students in your life, now is a great time to start investing in their future.
More information about the CHET program is available online at www.aboutchet.com or by phone at 888-799-2438.
State Sen. Boucher represents Bethel, Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, Westport, Weston and New Canaan.