Many families wait a few years, FRC's Curley notes. According to the firm's research, about 34 percent of 529 plans are started by parents whose children are between 5 and 10 years old. Starting early gives your account time to grow, and allows investors to experiment with aggressive funds before gradually shifting toward conservative options as their children near college age.
Parents still unsure of their options have a variety of online research tools available, FRC's Curley notes, and may want to turn to professional help as well. That's the first of three steps Dosmann of Edward Jones recommends to effectively opening a 529 plan: "Get help; start early; act now"—regardless of how much you may be currently able to save.
"Do something with whatever you can," Dosmann recommends. "I don't care if it's $25 a month or $50 a month—get started now."
Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.