Find yourself among these three families.
Family #1: two incomes, around $70,000 $90,000 per year. Mid-40's and a child or two in high school. Owe some on the mortgage, making a car payment or two, and a few thousand dollars in other debt. Retirement still a distant thought, but they are beginning to listen to the TV ads about that. Figuring they'll do ok; just keep the payroll-deduct to the 401k. College and financial aid? They know they'll have to come up with some, but plan to borrow the majority of it. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Family #2: family income in excess of $150,000. Late 40's, maybe one already 50. They have a mortgage and are chopping away at the principle with monthly swings of extra cash. "Debt-free" is the promised land for them. A child or two in high school; maybe another in middle school. Large sums in both tax-qualified and non-qualified investment accounts. Net worth above $1 million. Don't give a lot of thought yet to retirement, but when they do they feel confident about the years ahead. They realize they are fortunate and do not expect any college financial aid, unless there is some scholarship money for their high-achieving children. Pay-as-you-go is their strategy for college.
Family #3: take-home pay around $35,000 $50,000 per year. Early 40's and substantial balances remain on the mortgage, on car loans and credit cards. Very little set aside towards retirement and, when the subject comes up, they say, "I'm never gonna retire. I'll work 'til I drop." Eldest children are teens, and another close behind. Not sure about college for the kids. They went some; never finished. If the kids go, they figure they'll be financial aid to cover the costs. If they have to borrow some money to help a child finish college, they will.
Which family most needs the help of a college planning professional?
Family #1 needs a crash course in the cost of college and the new rules of the aid game.
Family #2's retirement plans are going to be hit harder than they think.
Family #3 is digging the rut just deep enough that the children may never get out of it.
A college financial planning professional knows facts and can offer strategies that will help each family. What small costs are involved will be more than recovered in savings on college expenses.