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Resources > College Support > How Much Should I Have Saved for College by Age—A Complete Guide

How Much Should I Have Saved for College by Age—A Complete Guide

With the rising cost of college, you should ideally plan your savings for your child’s education since their birth. If you don’t want your monthly contributions to the college fund to feel like a burden, setting savings goals is key.

However, this approach leaves many parents asking themselves—how much should I have saved for college by age five, ten, or sixteen? In this detailed guide, we’ll provide the amounts you’d want to have saved by specific ages and help you choose a college fund that fits your needs.

What Is the Average Amount Saved for College?

Recent data shows that, on average, the cost of tuition and fees in the academic year 2022–23 was almost $11,000 for a public 4-year in-state college or $39,400 for private, nonprofit colleges. Assuming your child will apply for scholarships and other forms of financial aid, experts recommend adhering to the one-third rule to come up with the total cost of tuition and fees. According to this rule, the total projected cost should be split in the following way:

  1. One-third covered by savings and investments
  2. One-third paid from current income
  3. One-third supplemented by financial aid

Costs are likely to rise in the future, so starting to save money as early as possible can help you set aside a larger amount as the one-third savings portion that may even cover the difference in future college costs.

What Are the Average College Savings by Age?

The average amount saved for college per month will fluctuate depending on your child’s age. Many parents find it financially challenging to set aside large sums of money as soon as their child is born because having a newborn isn’t cheap. However, as your child gets older, it typically gets easier to save larger sums of money as you’ll likely have fewer child-related expenses.

Another factor that can influence how much you save for college monthly is the type of college you’d like to be able to afford. Paying for a private college requires higher yearly contributions compared to a public institution or a two-year college.

Based on these factors, you can come up with a monthly savings range that can help you save up to around $47,000 from your child’s birth until they’re ready for college, which you’ll then supplement with current income and financial aid. Take a look at the average college savings by age you should set aside each month below.

Ages 0 to 5

If you’ve decided to start saving for college from your child’s birth, your goal should be to save between $50 and $100 per month. This may not be a large amount, but setting aside even a small amount this early is a great idea as it leaves time for money to add up over time to a substantial sum.

To ensure your contributions grow over time, you may also consider starting a college fund. Because of their potential for higher returns on investments, the two best savings plans for those starting early are:

  1. 529 Plan
  2. UGMA or UTMA custodial accounts

Ages 6 to 10

During this period, you can raise your monthly savings to $75–$150. When your child turns six, they transition from preschool or full-time daycare to school, which leaves you space to recover from the high expenses a newborn typically brings to the family and redirect these funds to your college savings.

Ages 11 to 14

Throughout your child’s middle school, consider increasing your monthly contributions to $150–$300 a month. At this age, your child may have a better idea of their goals, which can help you adjust your savings. Their grades and accomplishments in middle school can also be an indicator of the direction their further education might go. This is a great opportunity to talk to them about their future and gain insight into their aspirations so that you can plan your savings accordingly.

Ages 15 to 17

With college nearing, you can bump up your savings to $300–$500 per month if you haven’t saved enough or if you want to collect some extra cash for peace of mind. During this period, most children have a clear idea of which college they want to attend. If your child is interested in a private university and you’re behind on your savings, now’s your chance to make up for it.

However, even if you stick to your plan, your savings may not be enough to cover the full cost of college, depending on the institution your child attends. The average cost of a degree can go up to:

  • $156,162 at a 4-year in-state college
  • $223,360 at a 4-year nonprofit private college

In these cases, you may have to rely on additional funding sources that you can combine with your savings to come up with the full amount as suggested by the one-third rule.

How Much College Savings by Age Should I Have in the 529 Plan?

529 college savings plans are the most popular college funds in America, making up 30% of all college savings accounts. Most parents choose them because:

  • They have no yearly contribution limits, and their aggregated contribution limits are high ($350,000 or more, depending on the state) 
  • They offer tax-free contributions and withdrawals as long as you’re using the money for education-related expenses like tuition, fees, books, and supplies

As for the average amount saved for college with these plans, parents collected $26,783 on average in their 529 accounts in 2023. However, this doesn’t mean you should make this your savings target—your savings goals will depend on the institution you want to be able to afford. Plus, your savings don’t necessarily have to cover 100% of college expenses as parents aren’t obligated to pay for college. Rather, you can aim to cover 50% with a tax-advantaged plan like this and rely on financial aid or your child’s help to pay the rest.

Let’s say your child plans to attend a 4-year in-state college, which now costs around $11,000 per year. The table below shows the amount of college savings by age that you should have in your 529 account if you’re planning to cover the full cost of college with additional expenses (high-end) or pay for about half of the college tuition (low-end):

AgeLow-End ContributionsHigh-End Contributions
Up to age 5$6,000$39,000
Up to age 10$12,000$78,000
Up to age 15$18,000$117,000
Up to age 18$21,600$140,400

For the low-end contributions, you’d have to save $100 per month, while the high-end contributions would require saving $650 a month until your child goes to college.

What Are the Best College Savings Accounts?

Besides the 529 plans, there are other college funds you can rely on to cover college expenses, but each comes with unique rules and benefits. Some options are typically used to pay for education, while others may have other primary functions but can also be used to collect funds for college. Such accounts include:

  1. Coverdell ESA
  2. UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts
  3. Savings bonds
  4. Roth IRA

Coverdell ESA

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESA) are similar to 529 plans as they also offer tax-free contributions and withdrawals for college expenses. However, these accounts have lifetime contribution limits of $2,000 yearly, and the child must use the funds before their 30th birthday. There are also income limits on the contributors—you can’t fund the account if your income is over $95,000 (individual) or $190,000 (joint). 

UGMA/UTMA Custodial Accounts

With Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) and Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts, parents, as the account custodians, can transfer assets like cash or stocks to a minor child in their name. All the assets belong to the child, who may take control of the account when they reach the age of maturity (18–21 years old, depending on the state). Any earnings you make through a return on your investment are taxed yearly based on the child’s tax rate.

Savings Bonds

Another great way to pay for college is to purchase savings bonds in your child’s name using your Social Security number (SSN). All you need to do is:

  1. Buy savings bonds online
  2. Redeem them
  3. Save your earnings to pay for college

There’s no risk involved when saving money this way, and the funds are guaranteed by the government. Plus, bond interest can sometimes be tax-free if you redeem it within five years of the planned enrollment year and use it for education-related expenses.

Roth IRA

Although typically used as a retirement fund, you can use a Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA) as a college savings plan because it allows you to withdraw funds before you turn 59 ½ with no penalty. There are no taxes on qualified withdrawals or earnings, but contributions are limited to $7,000 per year as of 2024.

What if the Average Amount Saved for College Isn’t Enough?

While accumulating average college savings by age ten, 15, or 18 is likely to help you save for college comfortably, the saved amount may not be enough. For example, your child may change their mind and choose a private college instead of a public one, or they may not be awarded a scholarship you were counting on. In such cases, there are a few additional financial sources you can rely on. The most common ones include:

  1. Federal student aid
  2. Direct PLUS and private loans

Federal Student Aid

The Free Application for Federal Financial Aid (FAFSA) is a form your child needs to complete to get financial aid from the government and use the money to pay for college. According to statistics for the academic year 2022–23, 71% of families surveyed completed the FAFSA form. The key to getting federal financial aid is applying early, so make sure you apply as soon as the form is available (for the 2023–24 academic year, the release month was December 2023).

FAFSA’s main eligibility requirement is that your child is in financial need, and this is determined by examining documents like:

  • The family’s finances
  • Tax return information
  • The parent’s SSN
  • Documents related to current balances of savings, cash, and checking accounts
  • Net worth of businesses, investments, and farm assets

Direct PLUS and Private Loans

You can also fill out the FAFSA form to apply for Direct PLUS loans—federal loans that come in two types:

  1. Parent PLUS—A Direct PLUS federal loan made to an eligible parent borrower
  2. Grad PLUS—A Direct PLUS federal loan made to a professional or graduate student

Besides these, there are also many private loan options available. They’re usually offered by private institutions like banks, credit unions, or online lenders. However, they have stricter eligibility requirements than federal loans.

One aspect that Direct PLUS loans and private loans have in common is that they require a credit check. As a result, if your or your child’s credit score doesn’t meet the lender’s standards, you may not be approved for the loan. This is why helping your child build strong credit from a young age is essential—it improves their chances of securing loans to help finance their college education, among other benefits.

A great way to establish a good credit score early is to opt for a credit building service like FreeKick. Accessing credit options can be challenging for students, but FreeKick offers a solution by assisting your child in building a strong credit profile starting as early as the age of 13.

FreeKick—The Best Solution for Credit Building and ID Protection

Provided by Austin Capital Bank, FreeKick combines an FDIC-insured deposit account with different services. The platform helps young adults and minors between the ages of 13 and 25 establish good credit profiles by starting their credit building journey early. FreeKick also offers identity monitoring and protection for the whole family of up to two adult parents and six children.

Start Building Credit Early With FreeKick

Establishing a good credit profile from a young age can help your child save more than $200,000 throughout their life. Starting early with credit building is a great way to ensure your child can secure loans with favorable terms and interest rates, or get better job opportunities in the future. 

While the CARD Act of 2009 forbids children younger than 21 to obtain a credit card alone, FreeKick allows you to help build credit for your child starting as early as the age of 13. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Create an Account—Visit the FreeKick.bank and choose a plan that best fits your needs and budget
  2. Set It and Forget It—As soon as the account is activated, your child’s credit will automatically start building over the next 12 months
  3. Keep Growing—After the initial 12-month period ends, you can either close the account and get your full deposit back or renew it and keep building your child’s credit

Keep Your Identity Protected With FreeKick

Shocking statistics reveal that a child’s identity is being stolen every 30 seconds.

Students are especially vulnerable to identity theft as they’re among the groups most frequently targeted by identity thieves. For this reason, FreeKick offers comprehensive security features for both adults and minors that help monitor and protect your child’s identity as well as your own.

Services for Adult Children and ParentsServices for Minor Children
Credit profile monitoring
SSN monitoring
Dark web monitoring for personal information
Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
Lost wallet protection
Court records monitoring
Change of address monitoring
Non-credit (Payday) loan monitoring
Free FICO® Score monthly
FICO® Score factors
Experian credit report monthly
Credit profile monitoring
SSN monitoring
Dark web monitoring for children’s personal information
Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
Sex offender monitoring—based on sponsor parent’s address

FreeKick Pricing

Regardless of your budget and needs, FreeKick has a plan for your family. You can choose between two pricing options, with the deposits being FDIC-insured up to $250,000. Find the details in the table below:

FDIC-Insured Deposit AmountPlan Fee
$3,000$0 (Free)
No deposit$149/year

Establish a strong credit profile for your child and protect your whole from the risk of identity theft—sign up for FreeKick today.