The path to a debt-free education? Save early and often

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TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Jonathan Sagaser is one of millions of American parents working to send his kids to college. "We had the inspiration to do it early on," he says. Jon and his wife own Sebastiano's Italian restaurant in South Toledo. Their three children, age six, four and two spend a lot of time there as the couple sometimes works 60 to 80 hours a week as small business owners. They plan to pay for half of each of their children's education. "I guess we just want to give them a little bit of a helping hand but we also don't want to just do it for them which is also why we're not going to fund 100 percent of their education." Jason Harsh is an Ameriprise financial adviser who works with parents like Jon to pay the huge cost of tuition. Harsh recommends a 529 plan, which is specifically for education. "With the new tax laws that changed, in the state of Ohio, if you're an Ohio resident and you use an Ohio plan, you can deduct up to $4,000 per year off your state income tax per child. If you have three children, you funded $4,000 each kid, you get $12,000 state tax deduction," he says. There are a lot of tax benefits to the 529 plan. Harsh says if you use the state plan in Ohio, you can take a state tax deduction. You're not paying taxes as it accumulates. It pays dividends, capital gains and if it's used for higher education, it's 100 percent tax free. It can be used for room and board, books, a computer, even a car in some cases.

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Harsh says kids can also save wherever they can. "Birthday money, Christmas money, First Communion money, all that kind of stuff." Here's how you can save thousands more. "Students who are in seventh grade through 12th grade are eligible to take classes," says Betsy Johnson, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships at Bowling Green State University. Johnson advises to look for information on post-secondary courses from your district and attend meetings. "We're seeing students coming in easily with a year or two of college credit without even graduating high school," says Johnson. That's FREE education. Also, schools like BGSU offer meal plans to choose from which are less expensive. If your student chooses an older dorm or takes on a roommate or two, you can save big money. And, your child can apply for huge scholarships even as a sophomore or junior. "It's anywhere from $500 to $5,000 dollars, depending on your eligibility, your GPA ,things like that, so it can be a significant savings for the family," says Johnson. New this year, many universities across the state are establishing a tuition guarantee, so you'll pay the same amount for room and board and fees for the entire four years. "That gives families the time to prepare, time to plan as opposed to have to waiting until the July of next year to know if tuition's going to change."

• The Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC) released a report on Tuesday about the economic impact study of the value of Ohio's 14 public universities.

• The study confirms that Ohio's public universities are substantial drivers of economic activity, creators of economic opportunity, and a great long-term investment for students and the state.

• The findings indicate that the Ohio's public universities, their students and their statewide alumni added $42 billion in income to the Ohio economy in 2016-17. That's 6.7 percent of the Gross State Product.

• The universities' total economic impact of $42 billion supported 558,841 jobs, which represents 1 out of every 12 jobs in the state.

• Students at Ohio's public universities realize a 13.7 percent annual return on their investment – or $4.60 in future earnings for every $1 they spend on tuition, supplies and opportunity costs.

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