— Higher education is a priority for this tight-knit
Maple Valley family.
Lowe and his wife, Annerose Lowe, are determined to help
their five children earn college degrees and start their
careers without taking on mounds of student debt.
the Lowes are also older parents in their 50s and 60s.
They have a six-figure mortgage, limited savings and a
break-even cash flow that makes additional savings
could they help their children pay for college without
wrecking their retirements?
examining the family’s values and finances, a
volunteer financial planner steered the Lowes toward
alternatives for paying for college and urged them to
leave their retirement savings alone.
have to protect our retirement funds," Walter Lowe
families grappling with the rising cost of college often
find solutions in borrowing. The result has been an
explosion in student debt. In Washington state, 58
percent of students who graduated from four-year schools
in 2013 carried an average debt of $24,418, according to
The Institute for College Access & Success.
not an outcome the Lowes want for their children.
Lowe, 67, is the family breadwinner, earning about
$60,000 a year as a full-time faculty member for the
English department at Green River College. He
supplements his income by working as an adjunct
instructor at Green River. By teaching an average of six
additional courses a year — three during the summer
— he is able to increase his income by $15,000 to
$20,000 a year.
Security also pays the Lowes $12,648 a year for their
16-year-old son. Walter Lowe signed up for a dependent,
minor-children benefit by filing for Social Security at
full retirement age, and then suspending his own
benefit. The payments, however, will end when their son
to Zillow, the current market value of the family’s
home is about $279,600. But the Lowes are about five
years into a 30-year mortgage on the property, with an
outstanding balance of $177,000.
youngest son is in high school and has college plans,
while their youngest daughter is working part time at
Starbucks and studying nursing at Green River. Their
older son this summer landed a full-time job on a
technology help desk. Another daughter is five months
into a new job with a property-management company; she
is currently using her income to pay down credit-card
debt. Their oldest daughter is living out of state.
family is also paying off an $8,500 car loan and $5,000
that the Lowes put on a credit card for their daughter
Francine’s studies last year at a university in
Lowes do not get a tuition break at Green River because
of Walter Lowe’s job, but their children have lowered
their expenses by studying at the college while living
at home. Three of the Lowes’ children have Green River
savings, Walter Lowe has accumulated about $573,000 in a
work-related retirement account. But the Lowes have had
to repeatedly tap their household savings account,
mostly for home repairs. More than a year ago the
account balance exceeded $20,000; today, the balance is
is tight. "There was no give or take
anywhere," said Diane Jochimsen of Arlington, a
certified financial planner with Seattle-based KMS
urged the Lowes to abandon any notion of either tapping
or borrowing against Walter Lowe’s retirement account
to pay for their children’s college educations.
can finance college," Jochimsen said. "I don’t
know any way to finance retirement. Would anybody give
you a loan for retirement?"
better path to a secure retirement is for Walter Lowe to
keep putting money into his retirement savings plan,
Jochimsen said. She also encouraged Annerose Lowe to
find work when her children become independent, which
would increase her Social Security benefit when she
did not want them to be destitute when they’re
older," Jochimsen said.
Walter Lowe loves his job and wants to keep working
until he turns 74. Meanwhile, Annerose Lowe, 56, wants
to become a certified home-care assistant after her
children become independent.
next urged the family to pursue other ways of paying for
college for their children. She suggested federal
student aid as well as various scholarships, grants and
of the Lowes’ close family ties, Jochimsen advised
them to make college funding a group project, in which
everyone participates in finding solutions.
are going to do that," Annerose Lowe said. They are
planning an initial family meeting that could become a
Lowes still need to look into alternatives for paying
for college and keep building their retirement savings.
But they also say that Jochimsen gave them a path to
have a lot more confidence that we can navigate
this," Walter Lowe said.