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3rd grade is too late to start thinking about saving for college...

I opened 529 college savings plans for my kids, Taylor & Adrian before they started preschool. I opened my son's account before he made his debut in this world. Financial literacy and higher education are two of my passions, so opening 529 college savings plans made sense.

Here are some additional reasons I started 529 plans. Let me disclose two critical facts: 1) I sold 529 state-sponsored college savings plans for six years, and 2) I am not providing tax or investing advice. Please reach out to your tax and investment professional for additional information.

Taylor and Adrian were featured in advertising for the Missouri MOST 529 College Savings Plan back in 2007. At this moment, I can't put my hands on any of the collateral but here are a few images from their photoshoot.

I am sharing my experiences as a mom of two future college graduates. As I completed the FAFSA and CSS Profile this weekend for my daughter, I realized I wanted to share this valuable information with you. Feel free to ask questions in the comment!

Let’s start with some basics: There are two types of 529 plans: Savings or Pre-Paid. My article focuses on savings plans. A saving plan can be direct or advisor-sold. Your contributions are made with after-tax money. And, your earnings grow free from federal and state taxes as long as you use the money for a qualified education expense (we’ll get into that a little later). And, your home state may provide additional tax benefits.

Throughout the post, I cite College Savings Plan Network which is comprised of state treasurers and others in the college savings place. It’s a good source of information on 529 plans.

Start with what you have. Increase when you can.

When I first started, it was a stretch to save $15 per pay period per child. Diapers, formula, and childcare as a recent college graduate were expensive. I sacrificed and started at $15. My great-aunt would hand me a crisp $5 bill every two weeks, so I increased my automatic contribution to $20.

Each year, I increased the amount by $5 per kid per pay period until I was able to jump to $150 per pay period per kid.

I'd like to tell you I was consistent during times of rain and shine; however, the reality is that as a single parent of two kids, I hit a rough patch or two and was unable to contribute. Once I had to cash out their accounts and start all over (gasp). Look, life happens.

The easiest thing to do is have your contribution come directly out of your paycheck automatically, and you will never miss the funds. Many 529 plans allow you to start with as little as $15 from your paycheck.

If it's too daunting to consider starting an account for multiple kids, just create an account for one child. The important thing is to get started.

If education is a family value, consider 529 plans

I've met people who say, "my kids might not go to college." And, I can't convince you of anything different. Nor do I want to because we're all individuals with our own unique experiences and value that make us unique. I can only tell you about my experiences.

I do know that college isn't for everyone. And, there are great careers for those who do not attend college. My dad and brother both retired after 20-year careers with the United States Navy and Army, respectively.

Since my kids were little, the word college has been a part of their vernacular. My kids have visited and toured college campuses since they could walk. They've attended sorority meetings and summer camps at colleges and universities in the states and abroad. "What college do you want to attend?" and "What is your favorite color?" were asked frequently. If my daughter said she wanted to be a firefighter, I'd tell her officers often have two years of college. If my son said he wanted to open a business, I'd say, "good for you, but mom needs you to take one accounting course, so you know how to count your money." The expectation has always been college in my home.

I can transfer the money to another child for their undergraduate or graduate expenses. Or transfer it to me or my grandkids. I'd have options if one of them didn't go to college, and I would not lose any of my funds.

In addition to college, trade school, tech schools, and study abroad programs, you can also use 529 college savings plans for K-12 expenses.

Read more on What to do if my child doesn't go to college?

Tax deductions and credits make 529 college savings plans a no brainer

I opened 529 accounts with Virginia, Missouri, and Indiana.

We lived in Missouri in 2006 and the state offered an $8,000 tax deduction for a single taxpayer ($16,000 for married filing jointly). So, if I contributed $7,000, I could deduct $7,000 from my adjusted gross income.

Temeka working 529 events in Nevada and Missouri!

When we moved to Indiana, the deal was even sweeter with a 20% tax credit on your contribution up to $1,000. If I contributed $5,000, I would receive a $1,000 credit on my taxes (lowering my tax liability). I tried to max it out each year that I lived in Indiana.

I still have an Indiana account because you have to pay back the credit if you move. We now live in Delaware, and I contribute to my Virginia 529 accounts for my kiddos. Virginia was the very first plan I opened because I am a fan of American Funds. Since my current state doesn't offer a state tax deduction or credit, I still chose the Virginia College America 529 College Savings Plan.

Typically, there are no residency requirements for the beneficiary (student) or the account owner when opening a 529 college savings plan. Always check with your home state first to see if there are state tax benefits. Many assume that your beneficiary has to go to school