Tuesday, August 30, 2011

15 Facts All Parents Should Know About 529 Plans - Helpful Article

One of the editors of the site: www.onlinecollege.org/ saw my post on Indiana 529 Plans from earlier in the year (Feb 3, 2011) & emailed me a link to the following article, suggesting I share it with my blog followers. If you have a 529 Plan for your kid(s) or are thinking of one, check out the article below. We opened 529 Plans on each of our boys when they were born and we faithfully contribute a little each month. I appreciated the first point below, which reminded me that even a little bit each month can help!

15 Facts All Parents Should Know About 529 Plans

Saving money for college can be a scary thing. It's hard to know how much you'll need, how you're going to save, and where you're going to put the money until you need it, possibly 18 or more years from now. 529 plans can help take some of the burden off parents, offering a tax advantaged way to prepay for tuition, or invest and grow your college savings. They're a great choice for many families, but there's so much that most people, even those with 529 plans, don't know. Read on to learn about 15 facts all parents should know when considering starting a 529 plan for their children.
  1. The earlier you start, the better

    As with all college saving, getting started early on a 529 can pay off big time. Start when your baby is born, and you could be thousands of dollars ahead of where you'd be if you waited five years. Babble crunched the numbers, reporting that by investing just $50 a month when your child is born, you'll have more than $17,500 when it's time for college, which is $6,000 more than you'd have if you start saving five years later. Take advantage of time while it's on your side, but remember that it's never too late to start.
  2. You can prepay tuition

    You may be familiar with 529 college savings plans that invest your money to grow until you're ready to send your child off to college, but prepaid tuition plans exist as well. With a prepaid tuition plan, you can lock in tuition prices at eligible public and private colleges and universities. With tuition costs rising constantly, many families are increasingly attracted to this option that essentially future-proofs your child's education. By buying tuition credits, you can pay for your child's future tuition and fees at today's prices, and then lock them away until you're ready to use them.
  3. Anyone can contribute

    Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends often want to help out with college expenses, frequently in the form of savings bonds. Although bonds can be saved and used for school, 529 contributions are often an option as well. Parents own 529 accounts and set their child as beneficiary, but for most plans, anyone can make a contribution to the account. Many plans offer printable gift coupons: one part that is mailed with a check to the plan administrator, and another that can be sent to parents as a notification.
  4. You can only make one change per year

    Investment 529 plans can be impacted by the stock market, and panicked investors may be quick to change investments. But if this is the case, it's important to remember that typically, you are only allowed to make one investment change per year. Of course, there can be exceptions to this rule, and with the volatile market of 2009, the IRS made a one time exemption that allowed for two changes but there are no plans to make this exemption again.
  5. You can transfer funds

    So, you've saved for years and years, growing a great nest egg for your student to use in college. But what happens if your child has other plans? Or, in a brighter scenario, what happens if he or she lands a great scholarship and doesn't need all of the funds from your 529? Your money isn't locked away, only to be used for one student. It is transferable to another beneficiary, like a younger sibling, or even a parent going back to school.

  1. You may be able to get state tax deductions

    Many states offer tax deductions for 529 plan contributions, but only for money contributed to the plan in that state. This is a great way to get a tax savings, but only if you plan to remain in that state. If you open a plan in one state, then move, you can still use the funds, but you will no longer receive state tax deductions for your contributions, as only residents are eligible.
  2. You can roll savings bonds into a 529

    Some grandparents and others giving gifts prefer to do so in the form of savings bonds, but if you would like to use the funds for your 529 instead, you can do it without penalty. Just cash them out, and reinvest in your savings plan. When you do your taxes, you will need to remember IRS Form 8815, which excludes savings bond interest from your income taxes.
  3. States may match funds

    Like with 401(k)s, you may find yourself in a fortunate situation with matching funds for your 529. Some states offer matching contributions. Often, they can be small and tied to income levels, but it's free college money nonetheless. These matching funds programs offer a great incentive to stick with in-state schools when the time comes.
  4. 529 savings plans are treated as parental assets

    Who cares if 529 plans belong to the parent or the student, it's all going to the same place, right? Correct, but when it comes to need-based financial aid, it's ideal for money to be on the parental side. Students are expected to contribute 35% of their assets and 50% of their income, while parents only contribute 5.64% of their assets and income. Several thousand dollars in a 529 allocated to parental assets makes much less of a difference than the same amount in a student's financial portfolio, allowing room for more financial assistance if necessary.
  5. Contributions are nearly limitless

    Although 529 savings plans typically have a $20,000 limit, prepaid plans do not, and you can open as many plans, both prepaid or savings, as you want. That means you can save as much as you want for college, if you have the funds to do so. Of course, that money has to be used eventually, but even if you over-fund one student's college savings, 529 funds can be used for a sibling, cousin, or even a parent.

  1. You may owe taxes if you're not careful

    529 money grows tax free, and withdrawing for college usually doesn't trigger taxes. But if you're not careful, you may owe. Withdrawing more than a student's college expenses can stick you with a penalty, as well as income taxes on the extra cash. Additionally, "double dipping" on your taxes by claiming education tax credits for the same expenses paid for with a 529 can trigger a punishment for claiming a tax freebie twice. Be sure to read the IRS publication Tax Benefits for Education when planning withdrawals and taxes related to your 529.
  2. Watch out for fees

    Although 529s are a smart way to save for college, there are some plans with extremely high fees that can eat into your savings. Annual fees, such as maintenance and asset-based management fees can hit hard, and in some cases, eat up more than you earn in investments. However, you may find that your savings plan waives annual maintenance fees if you're an in-state resident, make automatic contributions, or maintain a large account balance. Be sure to read all of the fine print and find out if your plan is subject to fees that can wipe out your earnings.
  3. A savings plan may earn you more than you'd save going prepaid

    Many families today are spooked by the stock market, and at the same time, scared of rising tuition costs, sending them running to prepaid plans that lock in tuition without the volatility of investment. But that's not always the right choice for every family. Savings plans, with smart investment decisions, can do much better earning money in stocks, outpacing the money you'd save by purchasing prepaid to hedge against inflation and tuition increases. Of course, for those that don't consider themselves savvy investors, prepaid plans may be the way to go.
  4. There may be restrictions on age and enrollment

    529 savings plans are open to enroll in all year, but prepaid plans have a limited enrollment window. Typically, newborns (up to 1 year old) may enroll at any time. If parents miss this initial window, they'll have to wait until the plan opens enrollment to everyone, which can be several months away. There may also be age restrictions for using the funds, or limits on educational expenses covered, so be sure to read the fine print.
  5. 529 plan funds are controlled by the parent

    529 plans have a named beneficiary, your child, but the account and the money itself is controlled by you alone. That means parents can build a nest egg without worrying that their child will run off with the money and take a wild trip to Cancun, a possibility with accounts that are kept under the child's name. This also makes 529s a safe bet for divorced parents, as each parent can own the assets, controlling their portion of college funds without worry about one raiding another's stash of money.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kidsignments Sale in Marion - September 16th & 17th, 2011

 If you have never been to the Kidsignments sale in Marion, and you have kids, you MUST go and check it out!  The next sale is just a few weeks away - Sept. 16 & 17th. 

When I moved to Marion 2 years ago I heard about this sale, but had never been to anything like it, so was a bit confused as to what it was/is.  It is a weekend-long, extremely organized sale, held at the Grant County Fairgrounds this year, where local families consign gently used kids items.  For me, it is a way to clear out all the old stuff my kids don't use/need/fit into any more and to get new stuff! The past two years I have gotten almost all my boys' clothes, games, bikes, books at this sale, and have usually spent the same amount that I make from consigning items they no longer need, making my net cost ZERO dollars.  How cool is that?  Last year I took care of all of their Christmas shopping at this sale, and the prize item that was opened by each of my boys on Christmas morning was a Spiderman sippy cup (I paid $2 for 2 cups at the sale, and they were in like-new condition!).  Upon opening his Spiderman cup, my then 3-year old exclaimed, "Mom, this is just what I always wanted!".  It was precious. He was also very excited about some CARS slippers & matching PJs I found ($2/each!).

Per the Kidsignments website:
The children's consignment sale is an organized and advertised large group sale, in order to sell gently used children's items: including clothing from newborn to pre-teen, maternity clothing, toys, baby equipment, books, videos, outdoor play equipment. Prices are reasonable but higher than garage sales. 

For more information and to learn how to consign your items, see their website at:

Hope to see you at the sale!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fort Wayne Festivals This Weekend - Taste of the Arts Festival (Aug 27) & Viva Fort Wayne (Aug 27 & 28)

Looking for something to do this weekend with your family? Head to Fort Wayne!

Fort Wayne Taste of the Arts Festival - August 27.  Fort Wayne's finest arts and food festival.  Five performance stages, art marketplace, hands-on activities, over 18 local restaurant vendors, and more! For more info: www.tasteoftheartsfortwayne.org


August 27 & 28 - Viva Fort Wayne!  Come take part in a celebration of Hispanic culture that includes ethnic food, dancing, kids activities and more!  For more info: www.elmexicanonews.com

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Own a Home? You should considering refinancing NOW!

I saw a piece on the news over the weekend that was talking about how crazy low interest rates are right now.  They were interviewing a mortgage broker who said that it is definitely worth a conversation with your current mortgage lender & also worth shopping around a bit to other lenders to see if refinancing makes sense for you.

I was curious, but also apprehensive as my husband and I only bought our first home two years ago, so this whole mortgage thing is new to me, and "refinancing" just sounds, well... frankly, a little scary.  That said, I'm always looking for a deal, so on Monday I went into our current mortgage broker's office and told them I wanted to just see what refinancing options I might have.  Turns out that we are able to refinance from a 30-year to a 15-year mortgage right now for about only $95 more per month on our payment.  We'll incur some costs to refinance (title, new appraisal on our home), but it looks like those costs will be able to be rolled into our mortgage, meaning nothing extra is out of pocket for us right now.  Our mortgage lender is walking us through the process, and while it is a little scary, she's been helpful to explain how things work, making them seem less daunting.  While we're not totally sure where an extra $95/month is going to come from in our budget right now, we are CONFIDENT that in 15 years when our house is paid off and our kids are headed to college, we will be so glad we refinanced now & found that extra $95/month!

A few things to note:  when we went into talk with our mortgage broker, I was "equipped" with knowledge of what other banks/lenders in town were offering for their rates because I'd looked at the Sunday paper.  Turns out that a couple of local credit unions and banks were more competitive than my current lender, and this caused my current lender to get creative to offer us a better deal.  It is worth shopping around or picking up Sunday's paper to see what rates are right now.  From the Sunday paper, I'd seen that I can get a 15 year fixed rate for 3.25% and a 30 year fixed rate for 4.125%.  Our current rate is 5.375%, so either way we're ahead (general rule of thumb is that if you can lower your interest rate by 1% it is worth looking into).  When you talk to your lender it is worth looking at both refinancing from a 30 to a 30 year mortgage and the option of going to a 30 to a 15.  There are pros & cons to both that they'll walk you through.

All this said, the most important thing to know is that rates are down, and it is worth a phone call or a meeting to see if you can get a better deal than you have right now.... do it today, and you'll probably be glad you did! 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sick of Junk Mail? Take 1 minute to get your name OFF lists.

Want to cut down on your junk mail, specifically insurance and credit card offers?  Take 1 minute (max!) and go to optoutprescreen.com  to enter your info (& your spouse's) & stop unsolicited credit card & insurance offers for five years.  This is a free service, and worth the minute it takes to sign up! 

Want to get rid of even more junk mail?  Catalogchoice.org is also FREE and lets you search for the companies that inundate you most frequently and register to have your name taken off their list.

Want to stop the flood of coupon mailers, magazine offers, insurance promos, sweepstakes entries and more?  For about $41 for 5 years the nonprofit 41pounds.org will keep all of your family members' names off the consumer mailing lists for five years.  

Declutter your life & protect your personal information.  Do it today!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Indiana Black Expo - Fort Wayne Aug 14 - 20

Celebrate Fort Wayne's black heritage and enjoy entertainment, arts, crafts, food & more!

For more info:  www.ibeonline.com

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Indiana State Fair

Looking for something to do with your kiddos before they head back to school?  Don't forget that the Indiana State Fair is currently underway and will be through Aug 21.  I took my boys last year on a week day, and was pleasantly surprised at how it was not overcrowded and at how much we were able to do.  I was also pleased that I was able to take our own food & drink in with us, and I highly recommend making sure you take PLENTY of water.  We had a fun time last summer, but it was HOT and we were THIRSTY very quickly! 

For more info go to www.indianastatefair.com

Have fun!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Van Buren Popcorn Festival - Aug 11-13

It is that time of year again - the 39th annual Van Buren Popcorn Festival is Aug 11 - 13. 

Featuring "popcorn athletics", Beers & Jessup Amusement Rides, Clown Ineraction Kid Show&, a Silly Safari.

For more info & a full schedule of events, visit www.popcornfestival.org or call #765-934-4888

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fandana Festival at Huntington University (Aug 11-13)

Are you a live music fan?  You may want to check out the Fandana Festival Aug 11-13

More than 30 bands will perform on multiple stages around campus, including Switchfoot, Sidewalk Prophets, Photoside Cafe, Attaboy and Me in Motion.  The festival will also feature an indie band competition, seminars and an indie film component.

Tickets are $19 in advance, $25 at the gate.
Group rate for 15 or more is $15/ticket.

For more info and tickets:  www.fandanafestival.com

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Free Clinic with the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum Corps!! Wednesday, August 10, 1-3 PM

Have an aspiring drummer in your household?  Check out this FREE opportunity below!

Free Clinic!!  The Santa Clara Vanguard (6 times Drum Corps International World Champions) will present a free clinic on Wednesday, August 10 from 1:00-3:00 on the Athletic Field of Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, IN). They will begin with a performance of their show. They will then conduct open sectionals at various nearby locations. The clinic will conclude with a repeat performance of their show and an opportunity for questions and answers.  Musicians young and old as well as fans of marching music are strongly encouraged to attend!!!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sweetser Farmer's Market - Saturdays 8:30-11:30am

Sweetser has a new Farmer's Market on Saturdays through September, from 8:30am - 11:30am.  It is located on the Sweetser Switch Trail, and it got a good write up in the paper last week making it look like a great event!  I think I'm going to try it out this weekend ... want to join me? 

Marion's First Friday - TONIGHT 8/5, at 6:00pm

Tonight is Marion's First Friday event, from 6pm - 9pm downtown in Marion.  Food booths, organizations' booths, rides, music.  This event is free to get into, but food/rides/etc. cost money, so you probably want to bring some cash.  Remember, God's House is handing out FREE backpacks with school supplies to any children in the community who need them (and who are present). 

This is the second to last First Friday event (the last being in Sept), so if you haven't been to one yet, check it out!  I may see you there! :)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

One GIANT Palooza - Family Event - (8/6)

There is a family event this weekend in Marion sponsored by a handful of businesses & organizations in Marion, including Indiana Wesleyan and Taylor University. 

Saturday, Aug 6th from 1pm - 9pm is ONE GIANT Palooza
(not sure exactly what that means?)
Location: 3340 S. Lincoln Blvd (Formerly Southeast Elementary School)

As advertised in Sunday's paper:
  • Children's Area (juggler, illusionist, bounce house, etc.)
  • Music (bluegrass, rap, southern gospel, Aaron Moses)
  • Food (cotton candy, popcorn, etc.)
  • Demonstrations (model rockets, k-9 police, midget race car, health screenings, etc.)

The ad in the paper is not very specific & doesn't give much info, but it looks like a fun family event that I'm assuming is either free or very low cost.  I think my family & I are going to try it out - hope to see you there!  For more info #765-662-2345.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gospel Singing Convention This Week in Marion

The 12th Annual Northern Gospel Singing Convention is at Sunnycrest Baptist Family Life Center in Marion this week (2172 W. Chapel Pike).  There will be over 30 gospel singers, and it sounds like a lot of fun!

The schedule is as follows:
Thurs, Aug 4 at 5pm
Fri, Aug 5 at 1pm
Fri, Aug 5 at 5pm
Sat, Aug 6 at 1pm
Sat, Aug 6 at 5pm

Tickets available at Tree of Life Bookstore on the Bypass in Marion.  (Tickets $8/$10 in advance, $10/$12 at the door - Matinee Tickets are cheapest)

Fore more info call #260-348-5164 (ask for Alan) or www.the-northmen.com

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Free Backpacks & School Supplies - This Friday at Marion's First Friday

1,200 Backpacks filled with school supplies will be given away to school-aged children in the community this Friday at 6pm at Marion's First Friday, along the river in downtown Marion.  Backpacks are being given away by God's House to any kids in the community who need them.  Children must be present to receive a backpack.  If you know of kids in the community who could use the backpack & supplies, invite them to First Friday! 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Are Pizza Boxes Recyclable? NO!

The Pizza Box Recycling Mystery

From Recyclebank.com

Many people assume that pizza boxes are recyclable. In fact, most boxes have recycling symbols on them and are traditionally made from corrugated cardboard. They are, in and of themselves, recyclable.

However, what makes parts of them non-recyclable is the hot, tasty treat that comes inside them, specifically, the grease and cheese from pizza that soil the cardboard.

So there you have it, pizza boxes that are tarnished with food, or any paper product that is stained with grease or food, are not recyclable - unless you remove the tainted portions.

But why is this? And what are the implications for the general, pizza-loving public? Mmm, pizza.

How it Gets Recycled
Food is one of the worst contaminants in the paper recycling process. Grease and oil are not as big of a problem for plastic, metal and glass, as those materials are recycled using a heat process. But when paper products, like cardboard, are recycled, they are mixed with water and turned into a slurry. Since we all know water and oil don't mix, the issue is clear.

Grease from pizza boxes causes oil to form at the top of the slurry, and paper fibers cannot separate from oils during the pulping process. Essentially, this contaminant causes the entire batch to be ruined. This is the reason that other food related items are non-recyclable (used paper plates, used napkins, used paper towels, etc).

"The oil gets in when you're doing your process of making paper," said Terry Gellenbeck, a solid waste administrative analyst for the City of Phoenix. "The oil causes great problems for the quality of the paper, especially the binding of the fibers. It puts in contaminants, so when they do squeeze the water out, it has spots and holes."

But what about other things regularly found on paper products, like ink? "Most inks are not petroleum-based so they break down fast. Food is a big problem," he said.

Also, be mindful of adhesives that may be on the pizza box (coupons, stickers, etc.) as those are contaminants. Known as "pressure sensitive adhesives (PSAs)" these can ruin the recycling process just as much as oil or food remains.

Many people admit trying to "sneak" their pizza boxes in with cardboard boxes and such. In reality, this does more harm than good as the contaminated cardboard could ruin the whole recycling batch.

In fact, contamination in the recycling business is a big problem. Some estimates put the costs of irresponsible contamination in the neighborhood of $700 million per year industry-wide. Gellenbeck estimates that for the City of Phoenix, contamination costs them around $1 million annually, because of damage to machinery, disposal costs for the non-recyclable material and wasted time, materials and efficiency. With the City processing 129,000 tons of materials in 2008 (around 7 percent of this is cardboard), money is an important factor as to why residents should know what their municipalities do and do not accept.

So, What Do I Do?
The easiest remedy for this problem is to cut or tear out the soiled portions of your pizza boxes and trash them. For example, you can tear the top of the box off, recycle that and throw away the bottom part containing the grease. If the entire box is grease-free, the whole box can be recycled with a guilt-free conscience.

Another option to recycling cardboard is to compost it, although the grease rule still applies here as well. "Even with oils, you shouldn't compost [greased cardboard]. It causes rotting, you get more bugs and smell and it's just not good for the plants," said Gellenbeck.

Most importantly, being well-versed on what your local recyclers accept, can make the biggest difference. "It all depends on where your processor sends your paper, too," said Gellenbeck, whose authority applies only to the City of Phoenix. "If you can keep a particular thing like the food out, the plastics out, all those things that really shouldn't be there, it would help."