The average college cost of tuition, fees, room and board for 2019-2020 was $22,180 for one year as an in-state student at a state school and $50,770 for a private college, according to College Board. That adds up to $88,720 for four years at a state school and $203,080 at a private college.

When Northwestern Mutual wealth management advisor Mark Kull helps clients determine how much they will have to save, he assumes that tuition will go up 5 percent per year — which is about how much they have increased annually over the last 10 years.

If that trend continues, that means that in five years, a four-year college degree will cost $113,232 at a state school and $259,188 at a private school. Since many students now take more than four years to graduate, that could further increase the costs.

If you currently have an 8-year-old son or daughter, his or her college costs will be even higher: $155,720 at a state school or $356,443 at a private college. And if you have a toddler who won’t be attending school for another 15 years? Be ready to pay $198,743 for a state school or a whopping $454,992 for a private college.

Of course, a number of factors could slow the rise of college costs over time. After the move to distance learning in the wake of COVID-19, there is the possibility that many colleges may offer a combination of on-campus and online classes in the future, which could have a lasting impact on tuition and room and board costs.

But it’s better to be prepared. The key to saving for college is to start as early as possible, says Kull, since compound interest will help your money go further. Kull believes that a 529 plan, which lets you save for college in a tax-advantaged account, is a great place to put college savings.

But many of his clients also use non-traditional ways to save for their children’s schooling, such as buying permanent life insurance policies and utilizing the accrued cash value to pay for college costs. Since the money isn’t earmarked for school, there are no penalties if you don’t use it all for college, as is the case with 529 plans, on which you’ll pay a 10 percent penalty on any money you withdraw after college costs are covered.

Despite the financial burden, “it’s important to parents to help their kids go to school,” Kull says, “either because their own parents helped them or they struggled to pay off loans.”

But he cautions that parents make sure they’re planning for their own financial future before they start saving for college. “It’s important that you have an emergency fund built up and proper insurance, and that you’re on track for your retirement first,” he says.

Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, LLC (NMIS) (securities), subsidiary of NM, registered investment adviser, broker-dealer, member FINRA and SIPC. All investments carry some level of risk including the potential loss of principal invested.

Utilizing the cash values through policy loans, surrenders, or cash withdrawals will reduce the death benefit; and may necessitate greater outlay than anticipated and/or result in an unexpected taxable event.

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