UGMA and UTMA accounts
If the child doesn't plan to attend college and therefore isn't at risk of losing financial aid, UGMA and UTMA custodial accounts offer standard tax breaks for children under 18.
UGMA stands for the Uniform Gift to Minors Act. UTMA stands for Uniform Transfer to Minors Act.
In these accounts, the first $1,000 in gains is tax-free, the second $1,000 is taxed at the child's income tax rate and the remainder is taxed at the parent's income tax rate, according to the IRS. Plus, there are no restrictions on how the funds may be used as long as they directly benefit the child.
The downside of UGMA and UTMA accounts is that parents have less control over how the child eventually spends the money, says Michael Kay, a CFP professional and president of Financial Life Focus, a financial planning firm in Livingston, New Jersey.
"If money is in a UTMA or a UGMA account, it becomes (the beneficiary's) at the age of majority, which is 18 to 21, depending on the state," he says. "There's no legal way to prevent the child from using money that was intended for college or a house to go to Europe."
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Finally, parents can give their kids a financial head start by opening a Roth IRA in the child's name once the child begins earning income.
While offspring over the age of 18 retain control of the account, restrictions on Roth IRA withdrawals keep investors from taking earnings out penalty-free until the age of 59 1/2.
However, there are exceptions to this rule that allow early withdrawals due to certain circumstances (hardships such as a disability) or for specific types of spending (such as purchasing a first home or for qualified education expenses).
A trust in the child's name is another option for parents. However, these plans come with legal and administrative fees parents won't face with a Roth IRA.
Meanwhile, some parents may believe that it makes more sense not to save at all for their child's future. The idea is that having no college savings also means having no assets to assess.
However, that strategy may not work because even if parents don't save anything, they're still going to have an expected contribution once they fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form.
Another common error is for parents to save for their children's future before addressing their own long-term financial circumstances.
After all, most parents don't expect their children to finance their retirement.