Saving for private school fees – a parent’s guide

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With private school fees averaging over £12,000 a year and more than £24,000 a year for boarding school, you’ll probably need to save in order to afford them. What are the options?

Saving for private school fees

Experts always say that the earlier you can start planning for private school fees, the better. But you may find it hard enough to make ends meet while you’re on maternity leave. It can also be tough if you’re  working fewer hours and many families are struggling with the rising cost of living.

  • Be realistic about what you can afford and make sure that any plans you make are flexible enough if circumstances change.
  • Work out in advance how much you think you’ll need so you can draw up a savings and/or investment plan.

SAVVY TIP: If you’re worried about being able to save for private school fees regularly, put the money into a regular savings account (or a tax-free cash ISA) while you get used to saving that amount. You don’t have to make a decision immediately about what to do with it – just make sure you don’t ignore your money for months or years on end when there may be better options.

Use your tax allowances

Make full use of all of your tax allowances, such as your personal allowance, which is the amount you’re allowed to earn or receive in income in any one tax year before you have to pay tax.

  • You can earn up to £12,500 a year (tax year 2019-20) before you pay any tax, so if you’re not working or you’re only working a few hours a week, you won’t won’t have to pay tax on interest from savings as long as your income (including any interest you receive) is below this threshold.

SAVVY TIP: Money in ordinary savings accounts now pay interest without the tax taken off. You can receive up to £1,000 a year in interest from your savings tax free (or £500 if you’re a higher rate taxpayer).

  • Some married couples transfer assets (such as money in a savings account) to the person who doesn’t pay tax or who is on the lowest tax band to maximise the tax efficiency of their savings.
  • Use your individual savings accounts – or ISA – allowance. Currently you can save up to £20,000 (tax year 2019-20) a year into a cash ISA.
  • You don’t have to use complicated financial products to save for school costs, what’s important is that you earmark it early on.

Keep some money in cash

Make sure you can pay the first few years of private school fees without having to cash in longer term investments. It may be that you end up putting most of your money in savings accounts and only investing for the last few years worth of school fees.

SAVVY TIP: Don’t forget to spread your money around between different banks and building societies if you’re in danger of keeping more than £85,000 in any one bank or building society. Because a number of banks and building societies have merged or been taken over, the rules on how your savings are protected are complicated. Check that you’ll still be covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. This pays out if your bank or building society goes bust. There’s more about Keeping your bank saving safe in the section called ‘Saving and Investing’.

Invest for the longer term

Don’t take on more risk than you can afford (this is something you should discuss with an independent financial adviser – one who can explain the risks associated with various investments in language that makes sense to you). If you have to cash in your investments when the stock market is at a low, you could find you have a hole in your school fees savings.

  • If you can leave your money invested for at least ten years, think about putting some money into a share-based investment such as stocks and shares ISAs. You can pay up to £20,000 into a stocks and shares ISA this year (2019-20), minus anything you may have contributed to a cash ISA. It’s generally less risky if you drip feed money into these investments every month rather than pay in a lump sum.

SAVVY TIP: Take advice from an independent financial adviser unless you’re completely confident about picking your own investments. There’s a VIDEO: How to find a good independent financial adviser elsewhere on SavvyWoman.

Should you use your mortgage to pay school fees?

The increasing popularity of flexible mortgages, which let you overpay and underpay on your mortgage and take payment holidays, mean you can overpay loans whilst interest rates are low – when you may have money to spare – and borrow it back later.

SAVVY TIP: The theory behind this is good, but it only works if property prices are stable or rise. If they plummet, you may find your mortgage lender gets twitchy about letting you borrow money back if it will take you over a 90% loan to value level.

It’s a good idea to take out a life insurance policy to make sure that school fees would still be paid if you or your partner were to die. There are other issues to think about, such as what would happen if you or your partner couldn’t work because of illness.

Useful links:

There’s information about private schools and fees at the Independent Schools Council.

Related articles:

What’s the difference between active and passive investing?

Understanding the difference between saving and investing

Children’s savings accounts that pay the highest rate of interest

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