Karate Chopping Student Debt

With a third-degree black belt in taekwondo around her waist, Sandy Gordon’s ninja-like reflexes are swift and effective.

So, the moment she became a grandparent, Sandy sprang into action and opened a savings account to be used for her grandson Jameson’s college education.

“I decided right then and there, on his birthday, first holiday, when he lost his first tooth, I was going to put money into an account for him,” she said.

“When I found out about the 529 college savings plan, I created the 529 account because it had such a perfect growth potential, and I liked that it was for education. First and foremost, the 529 is about securing that money for their education, and they can’t touch it unless it is for their education (for qualified expenses at a qualified school).

“Plus, it was easy to set up – cut and dry, no questions, just steak, potatoes, easy-peasy. Why complicate things? It’s something I can do for them. It’s set. Easy.”

New to the 529 plan

Sandy and her husband have four children of their own, including a set of twins. For their college education, the Gordons had modest savings accounts and would put away money the kids received as gifts into those accounts.

“But it wasn’t huge,” she said. “We were a young, struggling family. It’s whatever they got, and I don’t think 529s were around back then. Our kids had some scholarships, too, but we still had to pay back their student loans for a long time.”

Sandy said she learned about the 529 plans through a friend at work and she immediately saw the benefits of the plan.

“I don’t like things that are complicated. It was just the smart choice, and an easy choice to make. So, when our next grandchild came along, it was easy – as soon as I got that social security number, I opened up a 529 savings plan. I opened one for everybody.”

Sandy uses milestones in her grandchildren’s’ lives to contribute to their 529 plans. “When their birthdays come around, I make a deposit into their account. For the holidays, I make a gift into their account. When they lose a tooth – for me, those are reminders,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but it’s kind of like milestones telling me, ‘Oh, it’s time to make a deposit into their 529 account.’

“And I’m not saying I’m dropping thousands of dollars into their accounts, but whatever it is, when they need it, it’s there. It’s a little bit. A little bit’s better than nothing.”

Spreading the word about 529

Sandy says she has been telling her friends about the benefits of setting up a 529 plan – from the tax incentives and investment growth opportunities, to the simplicity of setting up an account and the fact that nearly every state and a consortium of private colleges and universities offer a 529 plan.

“I’ve been having the conversation with a lot of people in my peer group … I hang out with other grandparents, and I talk to them about it,” she said. “I tell them, ‘This is something I do for the grandkids, I have these 529 plans,’ and they’re like, ‘That’s a really good idea. I should do that.’

“Because they’re all empty nesting now, and they’re all maybe still working part-time or doing little things, so I think I’ve motivated them to set up college savings accounts for their grandkids. Aside from babysitting for our grandkids, it’s something we can do.”

‘Whatever they are passionate about’

Sandy says she will be happy for her grandchildren, no matter what they decide to study in college. Even if they want to study taekwondo, which has been Sandy’s passion for several years.

“I’ve competed at world tournaments,” she says, proudly. “I got third place World’s Sparring Champ in my age division. Now, you have to keep in mind, my age division is 60-to-dead, so … but yeah, it’s kind of fun.

“I just want them to do something they are passionate about. Our daughter has a master’s degree in public health. But she teaches dance because she’s passionate about it. This is what she does – she does something she’s passionate about, and that’s what I want for my grandkids. I want them to wake up in the morning and do something they love to do,” Sandy said.

“And if I can have any part of getting them there by providing any part of their education, then why can’t I do that? I should be able to do that. If it’s a semester, if it’s a quarter, if it’s their books, if it’s their dormitory, hopefully, I can do something for them.”

So far, Sandy’s grandchildren are interested in things like unicorns, art and robots. So … perhaps a zoologist, painter and engineer?

Ephraim, 6, might be leaning toward sculpture.

“When I was in kindergarten, I went outside and made my first snowman,” he recalled. “I got sticks for the hair and rocks for the mouth and the eyes, and then, I don’t think I added a nose … I got another stick, broke it into little pieces, and added that to for the hair.”

As for that unicorn fan, Delilah, 9, seems to be working on her thesis already.

“Unicorns are sea creatures,” she states, matter-of-factly. “Because … first, unicorns were born in the sea, but from a different planet, so technically, they’re also aliens.”

“Whatever they have a passion for,” Sandy says, readily.

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