Many parents putting kids' college education ahead of own retirement

Published: Thursday, Nov. 3 2011 10:56 a.m. MDT

For some parents looking forward to a retirement filled with vacations, gardening, doing family history or moving to St. George, those dreams have been put on hold to fund their child's college education.

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For some parents looking forward to a retirement filled with vacations, gardening, doing family history or moving to St. George, those dreams have been put on hold to fund their child's college education.

In low-income households, 37 percent of parents placed sending their kids to college as more important than saving for retirement, according to a study by Allianz Life Insurance. Although some view attending and graduating college as a standard for success, Dan Kadlec of TIME Magazine argued that saving for retirement cannot be compromised because time is one of the most essential components that collects a retirement savings program or 401(k).

"Young people can usually get education loans on favorable terms, or they can delay going to college for a few years or choose a lower-cost intitution," Kadlec wrote. "They have many years to figure it all out. But parents approaching retirement age do not have the luxury of time. Saving money and leaving it to grow is a long process."

He also said parents might have the best intentions when putting their child's college education over their own retirement fund, but it may come back to bite the child in the end.

"It may come down to this: Would you rather have your kids end up paying their student loans … or your medical bills?" Kadlec wrote.

Still others agree with Kadlec on prioritizing anything over saving for retirement, like Brian O'Connell of Mainstreet.com. He referred to a study by Mass Mutual that found that 71 percent of parents agree they don't want their children burdened with caring for them when they're older.

"American parents, knowing full well their own financial futures are at risk, are doing what they can to ensure their kids get a decent college education – even if it means they raid their own retirement savings to pay for college costs," O'Connell wrote.

He also talked with MassMutual sales manager Kevin Paasch who said it's important for parents to decide early on how to fund for their child's education.

"Planning for your children's education is a critical need, but prioritizing this above your own financial future may be risky."

Despite the way many cash-strapped parents view paying for college for their child (as an insurmountable obstacle), SmartMoney.com compiled a list of tips for parents to make the most of financial aid by schools and federally. Some tips weren't surprising, like advising parents and students to apply early for financial aid, make sure there are no errors on the application and avoid borrowing more than you can pay. However, one surprising fact they brought up was that even though expensive private universities may cost more in tuition, because of their extra expenses, more financial aid will be provided to the student.

"The more expensive and prestigious the school, the more likely it is well-endowed and can meet 100 percent of need," said Marcia Sullivan, an advisor for College Funding Advisors in the article. "You might be sending your kid to a state school that for you costs more than Harvard, MIT or Stanford."

Not only does the school matter for financial aid decisions but the retirement funds themselves, so parents taking money out for college savings instead of retirement savings are actually contradicting themselves.

Sandra Block wrote in USA Today that having funds in a 401(k) can improve a family's chances for financial aid.

"Parenthood is all about sacrifices," Block wrote. "When your children are babies, you give up sleep. When they're teenagers, you surrender your sanity. But there's one thing you shouldn't sacrifice for the kids: your retirement security."

EMAIL: sgambles@desnews.com

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