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It's never too early to start saving for college, are words of advice many parents hear almost as soon as their child is born. Due to human nature, however, parents rarely heed this warning. Instead, most have to take out loans or hope that their child is a basketball star to pay the bills required for a college education.

With the warnings in mind, American Demographics and Harris Interactive polled 2,320 adults to find out about their plans to pay for their children's educations. In the respondent sample, some 736, or just less than one-third, have at least one child. People under the age of 44 are more likely to have children living in their household than those over 44. The sample, in terms of the number of households with children under 18 correlates to the March 2002 Current Population Survey's estimate of the U.S. population.

Of our parent respondents, only 17 percent say they had sought advice from financial planners to find the best ways to invest, in preparation for college tuition and fees. The proportion was higher among respondents with higher levels of educational attainment and larger income. Intriguingly, people who live in the West are more likely than average to say they'd use a financial planner; just under 1 in 4 respondents from that region of the country say they were seeking help to get their finances in order.

After querying parents' use or intention to employ the help of financial planners, we asked what financial tools, such as IRAs, savings accounts or mutual funds, they were using to accumulate the necessary funds. With 35 percent of respondents who were parents, the most common reply was a simple savings account that typically would return 4 percent to 5 percent on the cash in the account. In times like these, amid a fairly volatile stock market, conservative bank savings is possibly a prudent choice. Savings bonds and grants or loans were the next most likely with about 1 in 7 respondents using one or the other.

Data sorted by age proved to be a great indicator of which groups choose which investment instruments for their college funds. Younger families, at 23 percent, were more likely than the average to use savings bonds, which perform as a more long-term investment that provides a significant amount of security from market fluctuations. On the other hand, the majority of parents between the ages of 35 and 44 who are paying for college now or in the nearer future (66 percent), tend to need greater liquidity to actually draw the money for tuition, so they're using savings accounts. Also of note, respondents who are college graduates themselves are much more likely to use more intricate forms of financial planning. Some 13 percent of college grad parents say they were using an IRA or a Roth IRA to prepare for tuition payments, and 10 percent say they are using tax-free gifts to their children. Another 10 percent say that they had moved cash to a lump-sum investment early in their child's life in hopes that the returns would provide funds enough when it was time to pony up for college.

Overall, it seems that parents may not be heeding the warnings of those who have found themselves with empty pockets when their children left for college. But the few who plan ahead, and their children, are likely to reap the of rewards a well-planned for college education.

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