Sunday, February 25, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Picards | Saving for college

Special to The Seattle Times

Top priorities


Develop a second income


Set up college accounts


Start estate planning — now

Gregg Picard and Cathie Lynch-Picard, both 44, own their Maple Valley home. Gregg is a Microsoft marketing manager, and Cathie stays home to care for their daughter Natalie, 4, and their son, Coltin, 8, who is autistic and has seizures. Their daughter Melyssa, 17, also lives at home and will likely attend community college.

The Picards haven't started saving for Natalie's college education or the care Coltin will need throughout adulthood.

What they have

The Picards' largest asset is their home, bought in 2005 for a little more than $300,000 and now worth about $450,000. They have two cars — one leased for $189 a month, the other with payments of $617 a month (until 2010). They also have an RV that costs $418 a month; they can't stay in hotels on their yearly vacations because Coltin's "a screamer." Gregg's 2006 income was just over $100,000 plus a bonus.

Coltin's health-care costs are $10,600 a year; Natalie's preschool is $8,400. Gregg and Cathie also pay $99 monthly on a home-equity line of credit. Gregg contributes $418 a month to his 401(k) and $334 to Microsoft's employee stock-purchase program. Between their expenses and debt, the couple comes up short about $1,000 a month.

What they want

Start a college fund for Natalie, who's gifted, and a trust to provide for Coltin, who's very low-functioning, throughout his adulthood. Certified financial planner Ellen Webber of Harvest Capital Advisors in Bellevue also advises racing to an attorney to draw up their estate plans.

What they need

Second income: Since the Picards can't tighten their belts much more, Webber recommends that Cathie, who has an education sales background, return to work part time when Natalie enters kindergarten this fall. A 20-hour-a-week administrative job could bring in $10,000 gross a year, a real-estate sales position even more.

Raise 401(k) contribution: Webber wants Gregg to contribute $80 a month less to his employee stock-purchase plan and put that money into his 401(k).

"That boosts his contribution enough so that he gets the maximum match from Microsoft — getting the free money," Webber says.

College-savings plan: As Gregg's stock purchases reach the end of their restricted period, Webber suggests selling the shares and putting the money into a 529 plan — a college-savings plan for Natalie.

"The money grows tax-deferred, and as long as it's used for college, you can pull it out tax-free," Webber says.

The Picards also plan to ask their parents to open Education IRAs (college-savings accounts) for Natalie.

Estate planning: Webber wants the Picards to draw up their wills and powers of attorney right away.

"Right now, if something were to happen to them, Coltin would be an immediate ward of the state," she says.

Gregg pays $18 a month toward the Microsoft legal plan, so the couple can hire an attorney at a discount.

More life insurance: The Picards should buy a $1 million second-to-die life-insurance policy in case they both die.

"This policy should be owned by a trust for Coltin's benefit," Webber says.

Because the Picards can't afford a permanent life-insurance policy now, they need to start with a more affordable 20-year term policy.

What they think

To pay for four years at a state university for Natalie, the Picards must save about $428 a month and increase that amount every year by 3 percent. Webber says the 529 plan and Education IRA should cover college, especially if Natalie applies for financial aid.

"She will likely be eligible due to the family's unusual circumstances," Webber says.

Although sobered by how much catch-up they must play, the Picards are thrilled to have a financial road map and plan to tackle the legal to-dos first. Besides discussing Cathie returning to work, they're considering moving to less-pricey Austin, Texas, in a few years.

"When you look at the goal — to provide for our kids and ourselves — at least now we have a plan to do it," Gregg says. "And if we hit 95 percent of it, I'll be ecstatic."

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