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Florida Families Can Plan Now for Child’s Future Education by Joanie B. Stein, CPA

Posted on November 29, 2017 by Joanie Stein

Enrollment in Florida’s Prepaid College Program kicked off on Oct. 15, 2017, continuing the state’s 30-year tradition of helping families save for their children’s future college education. Florida residents have until Feb. 28, 2018, to enroll in the program and lock in today’s lower tuition costs at one of the state’s public universities.

Prices for enrolling a newborn child in the 2017-2018 Florida Prepaid College Program begin as low as $47 per month for a 1-Year Florida University Plan and up to $187 per month for a 4-Year Florida University Plan. Plan participants have the option to make their contributions in one lump sum, on a monthly basis or over a five-year period until the total amount is paid off.  All payments to the plans are guaranteed by the state, ensuring that participants never risk losing any of the money they contribute.

Who can enroll?

Families can take advantage of Florida’s prepaid program if they have a child born before Feb. 29, 2018, or a student in the 11th grade or younger. All children and their legal guardians must have been residents of Florida for the past 12 months. To enroll, simply visit www.myfloridaprepaid.com.

Will the prepaid plan cover all of my child’s future higher education costs?

The Florida Prepaid College Plan covers tuition and differential fees at a public Florida institution for the number of credit hours described in each of the selected plans. For example, a four-year plan will cover the costs required for a child to earn a bachelor’s degree with 120 credit hours. Should students have any money left over in their plans after completing the required credits for earning an undergraduate degree, they may apply that amount toward tuition at any graduate or professional schools nationwide.

While costs for housing are not included in any of the state’s undergraduate tuition plans, families may choose to also enroll in a Florida Prepaid Dormitory Plan and pay today’s costs for up to two years of on-campus housing in the future.

Additional expenses that are not included in the prepaid tuition plans are those that a college student will incur for meals, books and other incidentals. To cover these future costs, families may consider supplementing their prepaid plans with contributions to self-directed 529 college savings plans. Earnings in a 529 plan escape federal taxes and may be withdrawn tax-free when used to pay for “qualifying education expenses”, which can include tuition, fees, books, on-campus housing and computer technology required for the student to earn his or her degree.

What if my child attends an out-of-state university?

The flexibility of the Florida Prepaid College Plan allows students to apply their plan contributions toward the costs of tuition at any public or private school nationwide. In most cases, however, those contributions will not cover the full costs of today’s tuition at an institution outside of Florida’s public college and university system.

What if my child enrolls in college earlier or later than expected?

Children have up to 10 years after their intended college enrollment date to use their prepaid plan savings toward future tuition costs. Should a child begin college before the enrollment date projected on their plan documents, he or she must notify the Prepaid College Board 180-days prior to the revised enrollment date and pay any additional amounts to the plan.

What if my child receives scholarship money?

If students with prepaid plans attend a public university in Florida and qualify to receive scholarship money, they may receive back from the plan a portion of their initial contributions.  For example, Florida high school graduates who meet specific academic and community service achievements may be eligible to receive scholarship funds from Florida’s Bright Futures Program.

Student loans are currently the second-highest source of debt in America causing significant financial burdens to students and their families. To avoid becoming another statistic in this growing problem, families should and can plan ahead for a child’s future educational goals and needs through a variety of savings vehicles, including the Florida’s Prepaid College Program and 529 Savings Plans.

 

About the Author: Joanie B. Stein, CPA, is a senior manager with Berkowitz Pollack Brant’s Tax Services practice, where she helps individuals and businesses implement sound tax-planning strategies.  She can be reached at the CPA firm’s Miami office at (305) 379-7000 or at info@bpbcpa.com.

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