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Kids’ College Trumps Parents’ Retirement

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Parents have spoken: paying for college is affecting their retirement planning.

Two new surveys indicate that the surge in college costs is impinging on Americans’ retirement finances.  One survey, by the research firm Hearts & Wallets, found that boomer parents who support their adult children are more likely to delay retirement than parents of financially independent offspring.  The second survey, by the mutual fund manager T. Rowe Price, found that half of parents are willing to delay retirement or dip into their retirement savings to fund college.

The surveys included young, idealistic parents as well as parents staring down the barrel of the retirement gun, and parents whose children achieved financial independence years ago. Nevertheless, these responses consistently show a willingness to trade retirement security to pay for their children’s college education.

The findings aren’t shocking, since parenthood is defined by sacrifice. But financial planners offer some tough advice about parental financial obligations, especially for clients zeroing in on retirement. Parents – as opposed to their offspring – have relatively few years left in the labor force to save for retirement.

“There’s going to be a day when you can’t work anymore,” said Kelley Long, a financial planner with Financial Finesse, which provides independent financial education programs and a financial helpline for U.S. workplaces.

She senses in conversations with parents that they put college ahead of retirement partly out of a natural instinct to protect children from hardship and also out of guilt about not saving upfront specifically for college.

But Long puts this unpleasant thought in front of parents who haven’t properly prepared for their retirement: “Do you want to move in with your kids when you run out of money?”

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