Each year, the College Board releases its annual Trends in College Pricing report that highlights current college costs and trends. While costs can vary significantly depending on the region and college, the College Board publishes average cost figures, which are based on a survey of nearly 4,000 colleges across the country.
Following are cost highlights for the 2019-2020 academic year.1 Note that “total cost of attendance” figures include direct billed costs for tuition, fees, room, and board, plus a sum for indirect costs that includes books, transportation, and personal expenses, which will vary by student.
Families were able to begin filing the 2020-2021 FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) on October 1, 2019. The earlier timeline was instituted a few years ago to better align the financial aid process with the college admissions process and to give parents information about their child’s aid eligibility earlier in the process.
The 2020-2021 FAFSA relies on income information from your 2018 federal income tax return and current asset information. Your income is the biggest factor in determining financial aid eligibility. A detailed analysis of the federal aid formula is beyond the scope of this article, but generally here’s how it works:2
The result is a figure known as your expected family contribution, or EFC. Your EFC remains constant, no matter which college your child attends. Your EFC is not the same as your child’s financial need. To calculate financial need, subtract your EFC from the cost at a specific college. Because costs vary at each college, your child’s financial need will vary depending on the cost of a particular college.
One thing to keep in mind: Just because your child has financial need doesn’t automatically mean that colleges will meet 100% of that need. In fact, it’s not uncommon for colleges to meet only a portion of it. In this case, you’ll have to make up the gap, in addition to paying your EFC.
To get an estimate ahead of time of what your out-of-pocket costs might be at various colleges, run the net price calculator on each college’s website. A net price calculator asks for income, asset, and general family information and provides an estimate of grant aid at that particular college. The cost of the school minus this grant aid equals your estimated net price, hence the name “net price calculator.”
Behind the scenes, a stealth change in the FAFSA has been quietly and negatively impacting families. The asset protection allowance, which lets parents shield a certain amount of their assets from consideration (in addition to the assets listed above that are already shielded), has been steadily declining for years, resulting in higher EFCs. Fifteen years ago, the asset protection allowance for a 48-year-old married parent with a child about to enter college was $40,500. For 2020-2021, that same allowance is $6,000, resulting in a $1,946 decrease in a student’s aid eligibility ($40,500 – $6,000 x 5.64%).3
Student loan debt continues to grow and student debt is now the second-highest consumer debt category, ahead of both credit cards and auto loans and behind only mortgage debt.4 About 65% of U.S. college seniors who graduated in 2018 had student debt, owing an average of $29,200.5 And it’s not just students who are borrowing. Parents are borrowing, too. There are approximately 15 million student loan borrowers age 40 and older, and this demographic accounts for almost 40% of all student loan debt.6
The maximum amount you can contribute to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA in 2020 is $6,000 (or 100% of your earned income, if less), unchanged from 2019. The maximum catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older remains at $1,000. You can contribute to both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA in 2020, but your total contributions can’t exceed these annual limits.
If you are not covered by an employer retirement plan, your contributions to a traditional IRA are generally fully tax deductible. For those who are covered by an employer plan, the income limits for determining the deductibility of traditional IRA contributions in 2020 have increased. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can fully deduct your IRA contribution up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) in 2020 if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $65,000 or less (up from $64,000 in 2019). If you’re married and filing a joint return, you can fully deduct up to $6,000 ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) in 2020 if your MAGI is $104,000 or less (up from $103,000 in 2019).
If you’re not covered by an employer plan but your spouse is, and you file a joint return, your deduction is limited if your MAGI is $196,000 to $206,000 (up from $193,000 to $203,000 in 2019), and eliminated if your MAGI exceeds $206,000 (up from $203,000 in 2019).
The income limits for determining how much you can contribute to a Roth IRA have also increased for 2020. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can contribute the full $6,000 ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older) to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is $124,000 or less (up from $122,000 in 2019). And if you’re married and filing a joint return, you can make a full contribution if your MAGI is $196,000 or less (up from $193,000 in 2019). (Again, contributions can’t exceed 100% of your earned income.)
Most of the significant employer retirement plan limits for 2020 have also increased. The maximum amount you can contribute (your “elective deferrals”) to a 401(k) plan is $19,500 in 2020 (up from $19,000 in 2019). This limit also applies to 403(b) and 457(b) plans, as well as the Federal Thrift Plan. If you’re age 50 or older, you can also make catch-up contributions of up to $6,500 to these plans in 2020 (up from $6,000 in 2019). (Special catch-up limits apply to certain participants in 403(b) and 457(b) plans.)
If you participate in more than one retirement plan, your total elective deferrals can’t exceed the annual limit ($19,500 in 2020 plus any applicable catch-up contributions). Deferrals to 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and SIMPLE plans are included in this aggregate limit, but deferrals to Section 457(b) plans are not. For example, if you participate in both a 403(b) plan and a 457(b) plan, you can defer the full dollar limit to each plan — a total of $39,000 in 2020 (plus any catch-up contributions).
The amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE IRA or SIMPLE 401(k) is $13,500 in 2020 (up from $13,000 in 2019), and the catch-up limit for those age 50 or older remains at $3,000.
Note: Contributions can’t exceed 100% of your income.
The maximum amount that can be allocated to your account in a defined contribution plan (for example, a 401(k) plan or profit-sharing plan) in 2020 is $57,000 (up from $56,000 in 2019) plus age 50 catch-up contributions. (This includes both your contributions and your employer’s contributions. Special rules apply if your employer sponsors more than one retirement plan.)
Finally, the maximum amount of compensation that can be taken into account in determining benefits for most plans in 2020 is $285,000 (up from $280,000 in 2019), and the dollar threshold for determining highly compensated employees (when 2020 is the look-back year) is $130,000 (up from $125,000 when 2019 is the look-back year).
In September 2019, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which measures a wide variety of manufacturing data, fell to 47.8%, the lowest level since June 2009.1
A reading below 50% generally means that manufacturing activity is contracting. The August reading of 49.1% had signaled the beginning of a contraction, and the drop in September suggested that the contraction was not only continuing but accelerating. The index rose slightly to 48.3% in October, but this indicated the third consecutive month of contraction.2 Nearly two-thirds of economists in a Wall Street Journal poll conducted in early October said the manufacturing sector was already in recession, defined as two or more quarters of negative growth.3
The PMI — which tracks changes in production, new orders, employment, supplier deliveries, and inventories — is considered a leading economic indicator that may predict the future direction of the broader economy. Manufacturing contractions have often preceded economic recessions, but the structure of the U.S. economy has changed in recent decades, with services carrying much greater weight than manufacturing. The last time the manufacturing sector contracted, during the “industrial recession” in 2015 and 2016, the services sector helped to maintain continued growth in the broader economy.4
That may occur this time as well, but there are mixed signals from the services sector. In September, the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index (NMI) dropped suddenly to its lowest point in three years: 52.6%. The index bounced back in October to 54.7%, marking the 117th consecutive month of service sector expansion. Even so, these recent readings were well below the 12-month high of 60.4% in November 2018.5
The slump in U.S. manufacturing is being driven by a variety of factors, including a weakening global economy, the strong dollar, and escalating tariffs on U.S. and imported goods.
In October 2019, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded its forecast for 2019 global growth to 3.0%, the lowest level since 2008-09. The IMF pointed to trade tensions and a slowdown in global manufacturing as two of the primary reasons for the weakening outlook.6 Put simply, a weaker world economy shrinks the global market for U.S. manufacturers.
The strong dollar, which makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas, reflects the strength of the U.S. financial system in relation to the rest of the world and is unlikely to change in the near future.7 Tariffs, however, are a more volatile and immediate issue.
Originally intended to protect U.S. manufacturers, tariffs have been effective for some industries. But the overall impact so far has been negative due to rising costs for raw materials and retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports. For example, tariffs on foreign steel, which were first levied in March 2018, enabled U.S. steel manufacturers to set higher prices. But higher prices increased costs for other U.S. manufacturers that use steel in their products.8 Retaliatory tariffs by Canada and Mexico contributed to a $650 million drop in U.S. steel exports in 2018 and a $1 billion increase in the steel trade deficit.9 (In May 2019, the United States removed steel tariffs on Canada and Mexico, which dropped retaliatory tariffs in return.)10
U.S. manufacturers in every industry may pay higher prices for imported materials used to produce their products. An average of 22% of “intermediate inputs” (raw materials, semi-finished products, etc., used in the manufacturing process) come from abroad.11 Tariffs paid by U.S. manufacturers on these inputs must be absorbed — cutting into profits — and/or passed on to the consumer, which may reduce consumer demand.
Along with specific effects of the tariffs, manufacturers and other global businesses have been hamstrung by trade policy uncertainty, which makes it difficult to adapt to changing conditions and commit to investment. A recent Federal Reserve study estimated that trade policy uncertainty will lead to a cumulative 1% reduction in global economic output through 2020.12
On October 11, 2019, President Trump announced that he would delay further tariff hikes on China — including an increased tariff on intermediate goods scheduled for October 15 — while the two sides attempt to negotiate a limited deal. Although a deal would be welcomed by most interested parties, past potential deals have collapsed, and it’s uncertain how any agreement might affect the $400 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods already in place, or the tariffs on goods from other countries.13
Manufacturing accounts for only 11% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and 8.5% of non-farm employment, a big change from 50 years ago when it accounted for about 25% of both categories.14-15 However, the manufacturing sector’s economic influence extends beyond the production of goods to the transportation, warehousing, and retail networks that move products from the factory to U.S. consumers. The final output of U.S.-made goods accounts for about 30% of GDP.16
Even so, a continued slowdown in manufacturing is unlikely to throw the U.S. economy into recession as long as unemployment remains low and consumer spending remains high. The key to both of these may depend on the continued strength of the services sector, which employs the vast majority of U.S. workers. It remains to be seen whether the service economy will stay strong in the face of the global headwinds that are holding back manufacturing.