Saving Big with The U.Plan: One Family's Story
My husband and I had an interesting conversation back in 1995, when I was pregnant with our first child. The topic of saving for college came up, and I was surprised to learn that we had very different feelings about it.
While I never wanted to put a second mortgage on our home in order to send our kids to school, I believed that we should do whatever we could to help them save. My husband, on the other hand, felt that our kids could "put themselves through college," just as he had done. I hated that idea!
Fortunately, when our son was just 3 days old, I saw a commercial for something called the U.Plan Prepaid Tuition Program. I didn't completely understand how "locking in tomorrow's tuition at today's rates" worked, but it sounded like the sort of compromise we were looking for. The U.Plan is run by MEFA (a name I was familiar with), and their representatives are wonderful to deal with. They helped us set up an account, and I was excited to start saving. There were over 70 Massachusetts colleges and universities that participated in the U.Plan. The kids would have plenty to choose from!
My personal goal was to save enough money so that if our children chose to attend any Massachusetts state college, their tuition and fees would be all paid for. At the time we started saving, tuition and fees at most Massachusetts state colleges were about $5,000 for one year. A conscious effort was made to put more than the $300 minimum yearly deposit into our son's account.
I set aside what I could each month, but also let family members know about the great new savings plan we had enrolled in. My mother-in-law used to give my son (and later, his brother and sister) two checks for special occasions - one was to spend on some type of treat, and the other was always for the U.Plan.
We managed to save the full $5,000 (100% of tuition and fees) for my son's freshman year before we knew it, and started saving immediately for our son's sophomore year at school. And so it went. When his brother and sister arrived (in 1997 and 2000), we opened up U.Plan accounts for them, and continued to save as much money as we could. Each year at school seemed to cost a little bit more (as tuition and fees increased over the years), but in 2012, we were finally done. We had saved 100% of tuition and fees for 4 years at any Massachusetts state college for each of our three kids. Although it felt wonderful, I still didn't entirely grasp what we had managed to do.
Our son was accepted to attend UMass Lowell after graduating from high school in 2014. At the time, tuition and fees were just over $12,000 for one year of school. We were about to find out how the U.Plan worked. How much extra would we owe? The answer: not a dime. We had saved 100% of tuition and fees years earlier, and 100% of his tuition and fees were taken care of, no matter how much they had increased! As an added bonus, our son earned an Adams Scholarship Award for his advanced MCAS scores. This entitled him to free tuition at any Massachusetts state college, which meant that our U.Plan savings covered the fees, and that MEFA actually returned the tuition portion of our savings to us with interest!
As a sophomore, our son decided to participate in a 6-month co-op at iRobot (he is a Computer Science major). Although it was great news, I knew it would delay his graduation. I was nervous that this delay would cause problems with his U.Plan, as the money matures at very specific times (specific years that we had chosen).
After a quick call to MEFA, I breathed a sigh of relief. I learned that the money we saved could actually be used anytime within the 6 years after it matured (so, as long as our son completes his 4 years of courses within a 6-year timeframe, the U.Plan will take care of everything – just as we had planned). I consistently feel like the U.Plan is almost too good to be true.
As my second son prepares to enter college, I am appreciating even more what the U.Plan has helped us to accomplish. SO many parents around me are struggling with how they are going to pay for college. Unfortunately, many of them never really thought about saving…they are trying to figure it out now, as their kids are graduating from high school. With three teenagers in the house, I have plenty of things to worry about. I am grateful that paying for college isn't one of them.