"Thanks for raiding your retirement plan, Mom!"

The parents of college students are paying for skyrocketing tuitions with money that would otherwise go to their own retirements.

That’s according to T. Rowe Price’s “Family Financial Trade-offs Survey,” which polled 2,000 parents nationwide with a retirement account and children ages 15 or younger.

Fifty-two percent of the parents polled said that it was more important to save for their children’s college than it was for their own personal retirements.

Fifty-three percent of parents agreed that they would rather take money from their own retirements than have their children take on student loans. Awareness of the impact student debt can have on the ability to live comfortably may contribute to this, as 44% of parents who themselves took out loans to pay for college said that those loans negatively impacted their ability to save for retirement.

In fact, many would rather take on the debt themselves than have their children do so. Fifty-two percent said that they would be willing to take on $25,000 or more in debt to pay for their kids’ education, 23% said they would take on over $75,000, and 9% said they would borrow whatever it takes.

Sixty-three percent said they felt guilty about not being able to cover more of their children’s college costs, and 58% agreed with the dismal statement, “I sometimes feel like a failure because I am not providing enough for my family and our future.”

Despite the potentially negative consequences of using retirement accounts as savings accounts, 30% of respondents admitted to using their 401(k)s to save for their kids’ college expenses. Twenty-nine percent were not familiar with 529 accounts, with 15% mistakenly believing that the accounts would be a bar to receiving financial aid, while 20% were not familiar with Roth IRAs.

Concerns over college debt and its impact disproportionately affected millennials and their parents in comparison to previous generations. The study further reported that:

  • Sixty-eight percent of millennials report being overwhelmed by financial pressures as opposed to 58% of Generation Xers.

  • Seventy percent of millennials who took out loans for school think they took out too much, as opposed to 55% of Generation Xers.

  • Eighteen percent of millennials whose parents helped to pay for college said that their parents had taken money out of a retirement account to cover the costs, whereas only 9% of Generation Xers in the same situation said their parents did the same. 

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