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Insurance-Based College Savings or 529s?

Question: How do insurance-based college-savings programs compare with 529 plans? And do they count in the federal financial aid calculation?

– Thomas Kaye, New York City

Answer: With university costs up 5.6 percent this year, it pays to explore your options. Insurance-based college plans—such as variable life insurance policies that include a tax-deferred investment account—have some advantages over 529s: You can spend the money on things other than education, and life insurance plans generally have no impact on your eligibility for federal financial aid. (The exception: Individual private schools might take those policies into account, says Deborah Fox, a San Diego–based financial adviser specializing in college planning.) But between fees and other expenses, insurance policies are generally costlier than 529s and have far less flexibility when it comes to investment choices.

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