Under this strategy, if you have a 5-year-old, you would need to have $10,000, or $2,000 times 5 years, to be "reasonably confident" that you can afford roughly half of the cost of four-year, in-state public university, said Keith Bernhardt, Fidelity's vice president of retirement and college products.
At age 18, the typical time kids head off to college, your $36,000 fund could reduce the cost of school by 50 percent with the rest coming from financial aid, student loans and family earnings, Bernhardt said. "Different people have different financial goals, but the 2K rule provides a starting point."
Fidelity financial advisors developed the straightforward technique after a company survey found that 69 percent of parents wished there were more specific guidelines on how much to save for college.
The 2K rule for college savings comes with a catch: It assumes you use a 529 plan.
A tax-advantaged, state-sponsored 529 plan can boost your college savings. Investment earnings in the plan are not subject to federal capital gains tax and generally not taxed by state governments when used for the qualified education expenses, such as tuition, fees, books, as well as room and board, of the designated beneficiary.
Many states offer tax breaks with their 529 plans. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia give residents a state tax credit or deduction if they invest in their state's 529 plan. Five states — Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Montana and Pennsylvania — offer a state income tax deduction to residents for any 529 plan contributions.