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Set your savings goals

Before you start saving for college, it will help to identify your savings goals. There are a few ways to figure it out: by taking a percentage-based approach, a budget-based approach, or a “do what you can” approach.

  • Percentage-based approach. Set a goal based on a percentage of the total cost of college (say, 15%, 20%, or 25%). If you don’t know how much college will cost, you can get an estimate with our free College Planning Calculator. Once you know the estimated total, you can set your percentage and figure out what that comes to annually and monthly.
  • Budget-based approach. Start with your household budget. (Don’t have one? Use this worksheet.) Then see if you can budget a percentage of your income to go toward college savings. You’re saving a little at a time, so figure out how much you can afford. The important point is to make regular contributions.
  • “Do what you can” approach. Maybe you can’t allocate a set amount of money regularly. When you do come across some extra money, put it into your separate college savings account. Birthday or holiday gifts, tax returns, or extra “found” money can add up.

Tips for reaching your college savings goals

  • Open a separate college savings account. It can be tempting to mix your household and college accounts. Open a separate account and make regular contributions to it.
  • Be specific and set a target date for your goal. You might decide, “I’ll meet my goal when my student graduates from high school in 12 years.” Or maybe, “By the time my student is ready for college, I’ll have saved $15,000 toward tuition.” Being specific helps you determine how you’ll reach your goal with monthly, quarterly, or annual contributions to a college savings plan.
  • Learn from others. How America Saves for College is an annual study of the savings habits and accomplishments of thousands of families across the country. For instance, the 2016 study found some tactics that families use to keep their college savings on track:
    • 46% use auto-deposit services
    • 34% set aside an amount from paychecks
    • 20% save a portion of their tax refund or salary bonus

Build your college savings plan with the College Planning CalculatorSM

According to How America Saves for College, 51% of families have a plan in place to save—and those planners save an average of 76% more than non-planners.

You can put your savings plan in place with the College Planning Calculator. This free planning tool can help you create a custom plan of action based on your budget and financial goals.

  • Estimate and compare the cost of attendance for thousands of colleges and graduate schools.
  • Understand and explore your funding options using savings, scholarships and grants, and student loans.
  • Share your plans with family and friends for feedback and discussion.
  • Update your plan as your child gets closer to college age.

Find out how saving more now may reduce borrowing in the future. Plus, when you register for the College Planning Calculator, you can enter for a chance to win $1,000.

Register for free

How America Saves for College 2016, Sallie Mae and Ipsos.

No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Odds of winning depend on number of entries received. See official rules at

Upromise GoalSaver Accounts are offered through Sallie Mae Bank, Member FDIC.