Earning $221,000 and paying two tuition bills

  @Money December 12, 2012: 11:24 AM ET
pov the challenge

James and Laura Kremko need to re-think their finances to pay for Laura's master's and daughter Heather's (center) undergraduate and medical degrees.

NEW YORK (Money Magazine)

Married just three years, James and Laura Kremko have already seen seismic shifts in their income.

After completing her nursing degree this spring, Laura secured a position at a Vacaville, Calif., hospital, boosting the couple's annual earnings from $145,500 (courtesy of James' Air Force pension, his job as a state employee, and rents on two properties) to $221,000.

Great news, but they can't get too used to the cash glut: Laura, 38, has started classes toward her master's, and her daughter, Heather, heads to college next fall. Heather also has plans for medical school, and the Kremkos want to cover the whole eight years.

"Now that I have a family to worry about, I want to know if I'm making good choices," says James, 44.

College grads, better start saving

Thanks to their super savings rates and his two generous pensions, the couple should be able to swing the tuition bills without derailing their retirement -- if they make a few adjustments, says Sonoma, Calif., financial planner Alice King.

Three fixes

Redeploy savings. The Kremkos have been able to cover the $1,100 a month for Laura's schooling out of their income. But there's still the issue of Heather's education. The University of California at Davis, her top choice, will cost $30,000 or so a year.

Related: Most expensive colleges

Based on their new income, the couple planned to sock away $61,000 a year for retirement and another $27,600 into taxable accounts.

Since they already have an ample emergency fund, King says they can redirect the taxable savings to tuition. This will nearly cover the tab, without compromising their retirement.

Refi to speed up debt payoff. The mortgage on the Kremkos' home is at 4.99%, but with their credit scores they can get a 15-year fixed loan at 3%.

King suggests a cash-out refinance exceeding their balance by $45,000, to allow them to pay off their one mortgaged rental (now at 5.12%) and effectively consolidate the two loans into one at a lower rate.

Related: Extreme pays to pay for college

Continuing to make the same total payment, they'll be debt-free by about the time Heather hits medical school, freeing up $3,000 more a month. (College cost finder: Get the latest tuition.)

Reallocate for retirement. Since marrying, James and Laura haven't reassessed their investment mix as a couple.

Related: Saving for college

With a combined 84% in stocks and 16% in bonds, they're too aggressive, King says. She says a 65% stock and 35% fixed-income portfolio will help them better weather a bear market. To top of page

Where They Stand
Total Assets $1.1 million
Retirement accounts $431,000
Rental properties $242,000
Primary residence $216,000
Taxable investment accounts $169,000
Checking and savings accounts $30,000
Total Liabilities $125,000
Mortgages $125,000
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.36%4.24%
15 yr fixed3.39%3.26%
5/1 ARM3.36%3.27%
30 yr refi4.34%4.22%
15 yr refi3.38%3.24%
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