Education planning should be a relatively straightforward process, but anyone who has been through it knows that it is anything but simple and straightforward. General purpose financial planning software usually limits its scope to a family's personal resources, that is, to its current assets and projected cash flows.
Some of the better programs even allow you to model the various tax deductions or credits available to clients who qualify. Beyond the general purpose financial planning programs, there are niche products or services that cover everything from evaluating 529 plans to securing financial aid packages. The one thing that's been lacking, however, is a comprehensive application that examines the four pillars of education planning (college selection, financial aid, tax aid and a family's personal resources) in order to determine an optimal strategy. This void is about to be filled with the launch of YBS (Your Best Strategy) from Stratagee (www.Stratagee.com).
Troy Onink is the chairman and CEO of Stratagee. Onink and his colleagues are leading authorities in the area of college funding, college admissions, financial planning and software development. Onink is a contributor to Forbes, where he writes a blog called College Crossroads. He has also contributed articles to Private Wealth magazine, Financial Advisor magazine and myStockOptions.com.
In addition, Onink recently co-authored a white paper for the financial services industry, Roth IRA Conversions and College Planning, which was published in July 2010 by Financial Advisor. Prior to co-founding Stratagee, he specialized in education planning as a financial advisor, consultant, author and mutual fund company executive.
YBS is a Web-based software application that employs a proprietary algorithm to help advisors determine their client's best strategy to pay for college while saving for retirement. It can also be used to plan for K-12 private school expenses.
The primary value proposition of YBS is its ability to integrate the wealth management, financial aid and college admissions aspects of education planning in one sophisticated yet easy-to-use package. YBS has the ability to rapidly generate and examine a large number of scenarios that encompass college admissions, taxes, financial aid and other projections in order to arrive at one or more scenarios that meet a client's objectives.
YBS Test Drive
I recently took a brief test drive of YBS. Although my tour of the site was limited, I was generally impressed with what I saw. When I logged in to the site, I landed at the "Your Account" page. Here, you provide your name, company and contact information as you want it to appear on client-facing reports.
There is also ample space to insert custom disclaimer language to be displayed on each client report. In addition, this screen allows you to change your password. After you save your information, you hit the "Launch YBS" button to begin your first case. When you click on the new family icon, you are prompted to enter the first and last names of the parents. This becomes the case (file) name.
Next, you enter the parent's ages, their state of residence, and whether they own a business. This last piece of information is necessary to determine whether the parents should consider hiring a child to shift income to a lower tax bracket.
The financial information that the application requires is minimal when compared to college financial aid forms. YBS requires adjusted gross income, farm and business assets, home equity, tax form filed, tax filing status and the monthly amount (if any) pledged to funding education. In addition, YBS asks if Parent PLUS loans are to be considered, and if so what the maximum parent loan amount is.
Next, you enter any parent assets. It will also ask if the assets entered can be used to fund education if you select a 529 plan, and it will ask who the student beneficiary is. Finally, you enter any gifts or expected gifts from family members, such as appreciated stock.