For most new parents, focusing on the big picture isn't easy. You're sleep-deprived, juggling naps and feeding schedules, and excited about the new little person in your life. But milestones are on the horizon, and you'll want to prepare for them while keeping your own finances on track.
Here are six tips for new parents:
1. Consider insurance—both life and disability
Adequate health insurance is crucial, but you'll also want to consider life and disability insurance as well.
Life insurance can help protect your growing family by making sure that financial resources are available to them if you're no longer there, while also providing peace of mind for your partner and loved ones while you're alive. The payout from a policy could potentially cover things you'd like your survivors to have, such as a paid-off mortgage, school tuition, or a future wedding for your child.
Disability insurance, on the other hand, can be a major help if one or both parents become unable to work due to a severe illness or injury. While you may have employer-provided disability insurance, make sure that it will be enough to cover essential expenses like your mortgage, debt, childcare, and household expenses for a reasonable length of time. You may want to consider supplementing your existing coverage with an individual policy or using an individual policy instead to provide more customized coverage for your needs. While you shop around, keep in mind that some policies may pay benefits only if you can't perform any work at all, rather than being unable to do the specific type of work you currently do.
2. Increase your emergency fund
Having a child raises the stakes for "rainy day" planning. You'll want to be sure you can keep your household running smoothly in the event of job loss, illness, or a large unexpected expense. As a rule of thumb, most financial experts recommend keeping three to six months' worth of essential living expenses readily available for emergencies. This money doesn't have to be in a single account, but can be spread between interest-bearing checking or money market accounts, certificates of deposit, short-term U.S. Treasuries, or other relatively conservative, liquid investments.
3. Take advantage of tax breaks
For many working parents, childcare can be as expensive as a second car payment or mortgage. Tax breaks can help—at least a little bit. In 2023, if you meet certain criteria, the Child and Dependent Care Credit can cover up to 35% of eligible expenses, depending on your income. However, the maximum credit is $1,050 for one child and $2,100 for two.1
A flexible spending account (FSA) is another option. This is an employer-sponsored program that allows you to set aside up to $5,000 per year tax-free for qualified childcare expenses for couples filing jointly with one or more dependents. You typically enroll in or renew your election in your Dependent Care FSA through your employer during your Open Enrollment period each year, but certain changes in status for "qualifying events" during the year—like having a baby—allow you to make changes. Your human resources department or benefits administrator can tell you when employees in your organization can enroll in a Dependent Care FSA and help you get started.
You can use the dependent care FSA to pay for eligible pre-K childcare expenses tax-free, including nursery school, preschool, or similar programs below the level of kindergarten. Expenses to attend kindergarten or a higher grade aren't eligible FSA expenses, but expenses for before- or after-school care of a child in kindergarten or a higher grade up to age 13 are eligible. The care provider just can't be your spouse or another dependent child.
Generally speaking, high-income families will benefit more from an FSA than from the Child and Dependent Care Credit (you can't use both). A potential drawback is that the IRS requires money contributed to a FSA to be spent during the plan year (or a grace period extension). If the money isn't used, it's forfeited. Check with a tax advisor to see what can work for your situation or review IRS Publication 503 – Child and Dependent Health Care Expenses for more information.
4. Start saving for college now
By the time a child born today packs their bags for college, four years of tuition and fees (including room and board) are projected to be roughly $242,000 at a public university (in-state resident).2 The earlier you begin saving, the better off you'll be. For example, if you begin contributing $500 per month for college savings at birth, assuming a 5.8% rate of return, your savings fund would total about $213,600 by the time your child reaches age 17. If you postpone saving until your child is 10 years old, your savings fund will cover roughly $78,400 of the child's costs.
5. Prioritize retirement savings
If you must choose between saving for college and saving for retirement, choose retirement. Your child will likely have more than one way to pay for college—including scholarships, loans, and grants—but you can't make up lost retirement savings.
6. Update your estate planning documents
One of the things that a will does is allow you to indicate who you would like to serve as guardian for your child if something happens and you're not there. Have a conversation with an attorney to make sure other parts of your estate plan are in order, including powers of attorney for financial and health care decisions and up-to-date beneficiary designations. Your attorney can help you determine if setting up a trust makes sense for your situation and goals.
1 For 2023, U.S. households must have a combined income of less than $15,000 to receive the maximum $1,050 for one child or $2,100 for two or more children. At the maximum reimbursement rate of 35%, taxpayers with one child can claim up to $3,000 in expenses, and those with two children can claim up to $6,000.
2 Using Schwab's College Savings Calculator. Tuition and fee estimates (including room and board) are for in-state public schools, based on 5% education cost inflation rate.
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