PLANNING FOR COLLEGE COSTS

With fees approaching six digits, it's never too early to look at investment strategies that can lighten the tuition burden

by placing the remaining 40% or 20% of your portfolio in bonds or bond funds. Funds you should gravitate toward include aggressive growth, growth and international mutual funds. The steady income payments bonds add to your portfolio mix help cushion your returns from the vagaries of the stock market. Financial planners like Irvin E. Smith, account executive at The Ohio Co., a brokerage firm in Dayton, Ohio, say if you purchase individual stocks, look at telecommunications, health care and computer technology companies, where growth rates are high.

As your son or daughter reaches ages six through 10, you can begin locking in some of the gains you’ve made in the stock market by switching a larger percentage of your portfolio into bonds and money market mutual funds. An aggressive investment mix–composed entirely of stocks–will now take a 20% stake in Treasury bonds or safe bond mutual funds with a short maturity. More conservative investors might push their stake in bonds up to 30%, and add a 10% weighting in money market mutual funds. You might also consider placing money into equity income funds or balanced funds which hold less volatile blue-chip companies with long histories of issuing dividends.

Soon, your child hits 11 years of age, begins asserting a distinct personality, ties up the phone line interminably and begins talking about dates. Take that as a reminder that it’s time to further cushion your portfolio from market fluctuations. If you’re still feeling aggressive at heart, T. Rowe Price suggests a 60% stock or stock mutual fund weighting, a 30% slice in Treasury bonds or low-risk bond mutual funds and 10% in cash, namely money market mutual funds. A more conservative sort might limit stock exposure to 40%, place 40% in bonds and up the cash portion to 20%.

Of course, depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear arguments for expanding or contracting this basic investment outline. From infancy until age 10, Dan Gaugler, a certified financial planner and a senior manager in financial counseling services at Deloitte & Touche in Cleveland, recommends parents put up to 100% of their investment into equity or aggressive growth mutual funds. However, from ages 11-17, Gaugler suggests that parents siphon 10% per year of their original equity investment and place it into a bond fund. When the child turns 17, he says 70%-80% of your investment should be in bond funds.

Smith of The Ohio Co., is more aggressive. He advises that from the birth of their child until age 10, parents hold 25% of their portfolio in international stocks or mutual funds; 50% in aggressive growth vehicles, such as funds or stocks that invest in technology, health care and cutting-edge products; and 25% in conservative growth funds or stocks that hold more dependable dividend-paying companies, such as AT&T, Motorola and utilities. When your child is 10-15, he suggests a 15% weighting in international, 25% in aggressive growth, 50% in conservative and 10% in bonds, his preference being a convertible bond or income-oriented mutual fund. Finally,

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