MIDDLE SCHOOL: START SPENDING YOUR KID'S MONEY
A big balance in your child's custodial (UTMA) account will hurt college aid prospects. Use UTMA funds for camps, music lessons, etc.; stash an equivalent amount in an account in your own name.
HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMAN: DO AN AID ESTIMATE
Use cost data from the College Board (www.collegeboard.org) and an online calculator (www.finaid.org) to predict your chances of getting aid. If you qualify, you'll need to adapt your strategies to aid formulas.
HIGH SCHOOL SOPHOMORE: BUILD A LADDER
Move savings to pay first-year college bills into money-market funds, high-grade bonds, or CDs that mature when the tuition check is due. Repeat annually.
HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR: CLAIM CAPITAL GAINS
Any income or capital gains taken after Jan. 1 of the junior year will reduce college aid. So take big gains on any accounts you expect to use for college prior to that date.
HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: GIVE STOCKS
If you're not eligible for aid, give your student gifts of appreciated stock to cover college costs. He or she can sell the securities and pay 8% to 10% capital-gains tax, vs. your 20% rate.
COLLEGE YEARS: THINK LEVERAGE
PLUS loans, capped at 9% interest, or home-equity loans offer a cheap way to pay for college and let you keep your funds in the stock market.