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Why college financial planning is a very good business opportunity

College Financial Planning is a high value service for your existing clients, a valuable service for new client prospecting, and a point of differentiation from traditional wealth and retirement advisory.

1 - It is an opportunity to expand your business by creating significant value for your clients. You can save your clients $thousands annually in college tuitions, and then add hundreds of $thousands to their child’s lifetime earnings. It is also an offset to margin erosion in investment advisory, and the challenges in differentiation from other wealth advisors. College planning involves hands-on client engagement, which is an excellent hedge against the robo-advising trend.

The market opportunity is significant as families make $500 billion in college commitments annually. Each year, 2.5 million students enroll in college. Every parent wants their kid to succeed in college, and the 50 years thereafter. College selection is tricky when each college has a formula that results in some students paying zero tuition, some pay full price, while the remaining 80% are spread across a distribution between those 2 extremes. Your value creation for the client will come from showing the family how they can save on tuition costs, and developing a plan that leads to a real career.

College planning engagements range from completing the FAFSA ($400 starting point to $1200 for families with assets) through to college and academic major selection at $5000 on up. Another aspect of college planning is ‘financial positioning’ which involves moving assets for the purpose of reducing exposure.

And finally, college planning is a very different discussion than the standard topics of portfolio management and retirement planning. College planning is personal, it is time sensitive, and it goes to the essence of the family, their future, their legacy. Showing a family that you care about their children, and can bring material assistance to a highly uncertain element of the families’ future is much closer to home than talking about a few basis points or tax deferments. These are engagements that are priceless to your client families.

2 - It is a national imperative – young people entering the workforce have historically been crucial contributors to the economic stability and future of America. For generations, persons aged 22 to 30, landed a career tracking job, got married, bought a house, started a family, and planned for retirement. These productive people paid into the tax systems, fed their pensions, funded social security, and accumulated wealth, while preparing their children to repeat the process.

From 2005 onward, the entire calculus of ‘the American dream’ changed dramatically for the worse. A majority of this newest cohort became ‘economically constrained’ in two main financial areas: 1- 60% were ill equipped for the labor market and landed in lower paying occupations (retail, hospitality, service sector), 2- were allocating a significant portion of earnings to student loans that would previously have been used for mortgage payments and investments.

Why does this matter to you and your clients? Which side of the ledger should young people be on? Earning, contributing, investing, and successful? Or burdened with student loans and dead end jobs? Let’s work together to help families make the right decisions.

3 - Working with families on college plans leverages your core skills in financial planning, while introducing a strategic component that is fascinating. It’s a high value service that can’t be replaced by ‘robo advising’ or a ‘software solution’. It’s not simply a function of filling out applications and picking a college. This is thoughtful and strategic planning - and that is why the value creation is so high. Over the course of 4 chapters, you’ll learn the technicalities of college planning, such as the paperwork and applications side of the process. You’ll also gain extremely valuable insights into admissions pricing models and how to select a college using that knowledge – to save your clients $thousands on tuitions annually.

This is college to career planning – it’s not about getting the child in. As everyone is now aware, with a big enough check, anyone can get into even the elite colleges. This is about building a practical college plan that gets the kid out, on time, with a degree that leads to a real job. And when that happens, you’ve got a legacy client that will become generational when the graduate opens an investment account with you.

This Section focuses on applications, paperwork, checklist management, and other administrative functions. We’ll tell you upfront that preparing for, and applying to college requires a lot of forms being filed, the process is not particularly intuitive, and it does require reasonably good organizational skills. Missed dates and incomplete forms can be costly or even cause a student to not be considered for a specific college. Many clients choose to offload the paperwork burden to their Advisor – therefore, the paperwork administration can be a service that brings in new business.

To support your efforts in working with families in college to career planning, we created the Financial Advisors College Planning System. The System is referenced throughout this guide. It contains information that is used in college planning, links to programs and resources for college planning, and most importantly – all of the information within the System is organized in a sequential, process oriented manner. You don’t need to follow the steps of the System verbatim – many advisors use it 'a la carte’, leaning on what they need, depending upon the clients’ needs. Do think of it as a resource you’ll want to bookmark and use as an all in one reference.

One last comment regarding the System – we have an accompaniment to the System for families, and it’s the College To Career Planning System. This was designed to inform parents and enable them to have cost conscious discussions with their kids that underscore the importance of real career planning.

Here we go:

  1. FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) – everything flows off of the FAFSA, including the applications to specific colleges. The FAFSA is much like a tax filing and includes much of the same information that is submitted to the IRS in a schedule 1040 Federal Tax Return.
  2. CSS Profile (College Student Scholarship Profile) – is like a ‘FAFSA lite’ and it determines if the student will qualify for any scholarship monies. It’s worth doing when you complete the FAFSA.
  3. Our Checklist is an indispensable project management tool. This will help you and your client to understand the important functions of college planning, as well as keep track of key dates and deadlines.
  4. Services and pricing schedule – this pricing document, Advisors Services and Fees shows the common functions that an advisor will provide for clients, along with a pricing schedule for those functions.
  5. It is strongly recommended that you spend some time in Module 1 of our Financial Advisors College Planning System. Within Module 1, you’ll learn about the intersection of the FAFSA and college pricing models. Income, financial assets and the students’ SAT/ACT scores are the major determinants of the tuition that the family will be charged. All of this information is provided in Module 1. You’ll also find guides to help you fill out the FAFSA and other applications.
  6. If you’ve got a competent administrative manager in your office, it’s worthwhile to have that individual be the point person for FAFSA’s, applications, and Checklist management. Families are easily overwhelmed with the various functions and many will happily hand all of this off to capable hands.

Module 2 Text

Coming April 16 - will discuss the functions that have up front cost saving strategies and near term consequences

Module 3 Text

Coming April 30 - will discuss the decisions that have longer term consequences such as academic major and career planning.

Module 4 Text

Coming May 15 - this module will focus on 'closing the loop'.... working with the student through a career plan, leading to investment mgmt for the student as they become self sufficient.

Business Development – your existing clientele are obvious candidates for college planning services. Prospecting with college planning can be an excellent way for bringing in new clients. Below are some of the ways we can help you to grow your business.

Use of the Financial Advisors College Planning System, and programs within the System is free. Subscribe for full access to premium data for $99 annually per financial advisor, regardless of the number of families who benefit from the data.