Mass affluent care more about college costs than retirement

Americans with between $50,000 and $250,000 in investable assets are most concerned with paying for their children’s college educations, and some are questioning the value of a college education, according to a new study by Bank of America’s Merrill Edge Report.

Many of these individuals continue to push back their retirement because they are concerned about the rising costs of health care and funding their retirement. They are, however, taking more control over their finances by communicating with their spouses and seeking expert counsel.

The semi-annual study, conducted by Bank of America through research partners Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and Braun Research, involved a telephone survey of more than 1,000 Americans considered mass affluent because of their investable assets.

Forty percent of those surveyed were concerned over the rising cost of college, but 19 percent of those don’t believe college is worth the investment because there is no guarantee they will get a job that warrants the investment.

Half of mass affluent parents with children who did or will attend college wish they had started saving for their first child’s education earlier, up from 38 percent last year. Only one-third of this group are actually saving differently for their second child’s education than they did for their first.

Fifty-eight percent of this demographic said they are dipping into their own personal savings to pay for their children’s college, followed by 36 percent who are using scholarships or grants, 34 percent student loans, 26 percent asking their children to contribute to tuition and 20 percent who used a 529, Uniform Gift to Minors Act account or other education savings plan.

Fifty-six percent of working respondents said they plan to retire later than expected, an increase of 19 percent from November 2011.

Of those who said they would work longer, 34 percent have not changed the way they save for retirement. Those who are saving differently for retirement are looking both short-term, by reevaluating their day-to-day expenses to trim costs (28 percent) and paying more attention to the markets and financial news (17 percent), as well as long-term by working with a financial advisor to help them plan (16 percent).

More than half of the mass affluent have saved less than $250,000 for retirement, according to the study. Sixty percent are planning to fund their retirement through their personal savings and public sector programs like Social Security and Medicare.

The rising cost of health care is the top concern of 84 percent of the mass affluent surveyed for the study, followed by concern that their retirement assets will not last throughout their lifetime (73 percent) and that they won’t be able to afford the lifestyle they desire during retirement (67 percent).

The study also found that three-quarters of mass affluent Americans are seeking some type of guidance to help them manage important financial tasks. About one-quarter are seeking out guidance to help them properly allocate their portfolio, create an overall financial plan and save for their retirement, while one in 10 are consulting an expert for less complex tasks, such as setting up an emergency fund or saving for their children’s college education.

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