I’ve been waffling and waffling about opening 529s for my children. I have their college savings in two separate ING subaccounts at the moment (one for each of them), and my intention, I thought, has always been to open 529s for them once we got our own finances a little more under control and I could research different options for 529s. Well, how we handled the car repair saga showed me that although we aren’t at a perfect place financially by any means, we have progressed far enough that we can come up with solutions for whatever life throws us. And a few months ago, my home state changed the tax implications of our “home” 529 accounts so that it clearly makes sense to open 529s through our own state – we now receive a tax credit for up to $1000 for contributions, matched dollar to dollar, that comes right off what we owe in state taxes.
This past Christmas, I realized why I am still dragging my feet. Even though I don’t acknowledge it, this is how my fear for my children’s safety and continued health manifests itself. By avoiding opening 529 accounts. Bear with me, by the end, it will hopefully make sense.
Two weeks before Christmas in 2006, I got a phone call from my mother. My 5 year old nephew, her sister’s son, had inexplicably collapsed at home that morning, stopped breathing, and although he was resuscitated, he had not regained consciousness and was in a deep coma. For the next few days, he showed signs of recovery, but never came out of the coma, and subsequently, a few days before Christmas, passed away. After the fact, the physicians discovered that he suffered from something called Addison’s Disease, that was previously undiagnosed. He had had several illnesses in the past year that doctors had chalked up to flu bugs and things of that nature, and although in hindsight, there were signs, for all intents and purposes this really happened completely out of the blue.
I have a very small family, and we are all pretty close. The fact that my 5 year old cousin just… died feels unreal to me to this day, over a year later. In the past, I have been as close to my aunt as I am to my own mother, and I have scrapbooks in my upstairs craft room filled with pictures of vacations that my family took with hers and her children (she has another son who is now 12). Her children were both in my wedding, the youngest who passed away was only 10 months old at the time. I have the suit he wore to the wedding hanging in my son’s closet, and my son wore it to a wedding when he was that size.
I’m afraid. I’m afraid that one of my children will suddenly pass away too. I think every parent has this fear somewhere, regardless of their own history, but mine is manifesting itself as a refusal to solidly commit to their futures, I guess. And yes, I have shared this fear with their pediatrician, as well as with my own doctor, and if there was a genetic test for Addison’s disease you can believe I would pay for it out of my own pocket to know if my children have this risk too. But there isn’t, and all we can do is do blood tests once a year and keep an eye on them.
So I am at a crossroads. I know now why I haven’t moved forward, and by knowing I can acknowledge it and start moving forward. Except now that I’ve identified my fear, instead of feeling like I can set it aside and move on part of my brain almost validates this as a good reason to not open the 529s. If you don’t use them for education, you pay a stiff penalty on them when you withdraw the money, and beyond the idea that neither kid goes to college out of choice, what if? So at this crossroads I sit, and I’m not sure which way to proceed. All I know right now is that fear is not what I want to control my actions, yet I’m not sure how to escape it.
But escape it I will. This will be the year of the 529s. By the end of this year, I will open two 529 accounts, one for each child, and transfer the college savings accounts there. And I’m sure that you’ll all hear about it again along the way. Future, here I come.