Waiting Room Reward

What does flipping through a magazine in a doctor’s office have to do with saving for college? For Brenna DeLaine, a physician herself, it resulted in saving thousands of dollars for her children’s higher education tuition costs.

It was about 15 years ago when Brenna came across an article on saving for college. She already had opened state prepaid 529 accounts for her two children, Jai and Matthew, who were 10 and 7 at the time, so she was saving for them. “College costs were exploding, so the idea of starting early with a pre-payment plan was appealing to me,” Brenna said.

She always knew they would attend college

Brenna said there was no question: Her children were going to attend college, and she instilled that into them at an early age. They were aware that their mom was saving for their college.

“I set up the initial 529 plans because I wanted them to have the privilege of going to a four-year college and to stay on campus. I think the experience of college matters,” Brenna said.

“When I was growing up, my brothers and I understood we were going to college. Both of my parents were college grads. My grandparents on one side were college grads. So, it was firmly established that we were going to college. My brothers and I had to work during college. My children were also required to work during college. I am responsible for necessities and my children have to work for spending money.

“But when I found out how much college costs were rising and began reading articles about people that were in heavy debt, I became concerned and panicked a little bit – more like a lot!”

That’s why the magazine article piqued her interest.

“I was sitting in the doctor’s office reading an article by Suze Orman about saving for college with 529 plans,” Brenna said. “But the article also mentioned [a plan], which lets you prepay private college tuition at today’s rates. That opened up more choices.”

There is one 529 plan not run by a state, but by participating colleges and universities, and they guarantee the tuition you prepay. That intrigued Brenna, who had recently changed jobs. She had a very small retirement plan from her previous job, so she decided in addition to her state’s prepaid 529 plan she would also invest in the 529 for private college as well.

“I took those retirement savings and opened the 529 private plan for my daughter, because she once mentioned that she wanted to go to Spelman,” she said. Brenna herself graduated from Spelman before earning her M.D. at Meharry Medical College in Nashville.

Matthew had showed an interest in state colleges, so Brenna opened a state 529 college savings account for him to go along with his prepaid plan.

“I was using all the 529 options I could because of my worry about rising costs,” Brenna said.

Future doctor and lawyer

Jai, now 24, did follow in her mom’s footsteps by attending Spelman College. She graduated and is now going in her third year of medical school at USC School of Medicine Greenville.

Matthew, now 22, is attending Wofford College, a private institution in Spartanburg, S.C. He plans to attend law school and/or graduate school, Brenna said.

“Thanks to their 529s, they’re both coming out of undergrad debt-free, so for graduate school I just pay the rent from the state 529 plan,” Brenna said. The state funded 529 plans are used for graduate school expenses also.

For Brenna, the 529 college savings plans were most certainly success stories for her family. Throughout the process, Brenna said one of the best parts about the plans – in addition to the appealing tax incentives – was their flexibility. She also liked the ability to be able to transfer any funds left over from Jai’s account to Matthew’s if necessary.

“I really liked being able to call the 529 people whenever I have a question,” Brenna said. “It was easy to talk to people and to get answers.”

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