4 Steps to Balancing Retirement and Education Funding Goals

For many people, balancing the need to invest for retirement alongside other goals like saving for a child's college education can lead to difficult questions like:

  • How much should I be contributing toward each goal?
  • Should I prioritize one goal over another?
  • What should I do if I can only afford to focus on one goal at a given time?

While the thought of balancing these competing goals might cause anxiety, don't fret: PNC Investments is here to help. There are steps you can take to help keep on track as you work toward both goals.

Step 1: What's it going to cost?

When it comes to retirement, start by carefully evaluating how much money you're going to need to put away. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How much time do I have until I can reasonably expect to retire?
  • What does my personal vision of retirement look like?
  • How much income will I need in retirement? As a rule of thumb, you'll likely need to replace about 70% of income earned in your last year working.

Next, calculate the expected cost of your child's education

  • How much time do you have until he or she will enroll in college?
  • What are the expected costs? The annual average cost of attending a four-year public college is more than $28,000 and the average cost of attending a four-year private college is more than $59,000.1

Step 2: Prioritize

Once you know the costs of both your vision for retirement and your child's college education, you can revisit your budget and determine how much you can reasonably afford to invest toward each goal.

A word of advice, though: If you're considering scaling back your retirement contributions in favor of saving more for college, don't. You can always take out loans for college, but you can't do the same for retirement.

In addition, if you're contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan – like a 401(k) – that offers matching, be sure to continue contributing enough to take advantage of the full match; otherwise you're leaving free money on the table.

Step 3: Small Steps

It's also important to not let the numbers overwhelm you. Even if you can only contribute a small amount monthly, every bit helps.

For example, if you were to invest $50 a month for 18 years in an account earning 8% interest2, you'd have an estimated $22,470 set aside by the time your child starts school. It may not be enough to cover the full cost of a college education, but it certainly provides your child with a solid foundation from which to start.

Step 4: Take advantage of education savings vehicles

When it comes to investing for college, the most commonly used account is called a 529 plan, which is a tax-advantaged investment vehicle. Advantages of a 529 plan include:

  • Potential for tax-deferred growth
  • Qualified withdrawals are not subject to federal (and some state) income taxes
  • The option to change the plan's beneficiary at any time
  • The opportunity for substantial maximum contributions (over $300,000 per beneficiary in many state plans)

When in doubt, seek professional help

For many, funding a child's college education is a major priority. However, it's important not to do so at the expense of your retirement investments. PNC Investments can help you manage and prioritize your various financial goals.

For more information on investing for retirement or saving for college call 855-PNC-INVEST to speak with a financial professional.

  1. The College Board estimate of average cost of tuition and fees for the 2016–2017 school year.
  2. Example is for illustrative purposes only and assumes an annual rate of return of 8%. Rate of return does not reflect the actual return of any specific investment and does not guarantee or imply actual results.