Special report: Start saving for college today - WFXS, MyFoxWausau - News and Weather for Wausau, WI

Special report: Start saving for college today

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WAUSAU (WAOW) -

Families in America are struggling to save for their children's education.

A recent study from Fidelity Investments shows two-thirds of families are saving for college, but they're only on track to meet about 30 percent of their savings goals.

With the tough economy, it can be hard to save. But there are ways to get started now and end up with a lot more than you might think is possible.

Randy and Kathy Pfantz of Lincoln County are examples of this. They have two children, and they've always made education a priority.

"It was like, I want my kids to go to college," said Randy.

They knew college isn't cheap, and costs continue to rise each year. But they also believe education is important.

"In this day and age, they got to have a college degree to succeed," said Randy.

So, these two parents decided to help make college a reality for their children.

"What we did is had money taken out of his check from when they were born," said Kathy.

There wasn't a lot of money to spare. But they say they did save, little by little.

"We started out with 10 dollars every pay period, which was every other week," said Kathy. "Then we increased it to 20 dollars so that once we had that in savings, we put that in a money market and had that grow."

Randy and Kathy say they saved consistently for almost two decades, something financial advisers say is important.

"Doing something is better than nothing with planning for college," said Ted Fox, managing director of investments at Wells Fargo Advisors in Wausau.

"Right now, a newborn born today, it's going to cost them approximately $125,000 for that parent, if they want to pay for it fully, to send them to the University of Wisconsin-Madison," said Fox. "That's a lot of money. What's the best way to do that? Do it in bits and pieces."

There are plenty of tools to help you figure out how much to save. One of them is a college savings calculator (http://www.savingforcollege.com/college-savings-calculator/). It helps you understand how your investment for college could add up quickly. Plug in the information, and let it do the rest.

For a child born this year, let's assume he or she will attend a school that costs $20,000 a year, and you want to pay for half that. Calculate the numbers, and you have to set aside $241 each month. Of course, you can always adjust the numbers.

"And if you break it down monthly and then do it monthly over a year, then over obviously 5 years, 10 years, all the way up to 18 years of age...you're going to see that you put away some pretty significant money if you choose the right investments to go with," said Fox.

But what is the right investment? Experts say a common one is known as a 529 plan.

"It grows tax free, and you can take it out tax free as long as it's for a qualified college expense, basically room, board, and tuition," said Fox.

If you take it out for any other reason, you could pay a penalty. But Fox says for the most part, the plans are flexible.

However you do it, experts say it's important to start saving now, even if your children are older and you haven't saved anything yet. They say every little bit helps.

Randy and Kathy Pfantz are glad they started early, and so are their children. Their daughter graduated with no debt. And their son, who's on a scholarship at UW-Madison, has been able to pay for living expenses.

But their success story didn't come without sacrifice.

"There's things that you'd like to have, four-wheelers or whatever," said Randy. But he says seeing them succeed makes any sacrifice more than worth it.

"Hopefully they can continue in life and do much better than I did," said Randy.

For more information on 529 college savings plans, visit http://www.savingforcollege.com/college_savings_201/.

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