Emily Smith

Bright Futures and Prepaid work together — and it’s amazing

Emily Smith is by any metric a top-performing student. She was valedictorian of her high school class in Apopka and is now a pre-med junior at University of Florida. Her father calls her a “rarity.”

“She’s very sharp,” said Jerry Smith. “She budgets her money well and she’s always one step ahead of what’s coming.”

It was not a surprise to anyone when Emily (pictured in white with her sister Kelly) earned the highest level of Florida’s esteemed Bright Futures scholarship, awarded based on grades and standardized test scores. But Jerry had recently finished paying for Emily’s Florida Prepaid plan.

Did he regret his investment? Not in the least. In fact, quite the opposite.

Even a child with less than $500 in college savings is three times more likely to enroll in college than a child with none. — Institute of Higher Education Policy 2017 report

“I’m completely happy with Prepaid,” he said. 

Here’s how it’s works each semester for Emily. She opted to have Prepaid applied to her balance first, then Bright Futures. So Prepaid takes care of her tuition, and Bright Futures fills in any gaps in fees and books. Whatever remains of her Bright Futures funding is directly deposited into her checking account and is earmarked toward rent. (She diligently moves that chunk of money into a savings account to keep it separate and safe.) Emily works as a lifeguard on campus and uses that money to pay for incidentals.

Many of her friends are Bright Futures recipients who will graduate with student debt.

“My roommate does not have Prepaid, but she does have Bright Futures, and she has to take out loans to pay for rent,” Emily said. “It’s really nice for me. Since I’ll be going to med school, I’ll probably have to take out loans there. If I don’t have to do it for my undergrad career it’s nice that that’s one less thing I have to worry about.”

Jerry made the decision to buy a 4-Year University Plan for Emily and her twin sisters when the girls were young toddlers. He had a 15-year-old son at the time and planned to use a trust fund to pay for his college, but he thought Prepaid was a smarter choice for his girls.

As a deli meats distributor with variable paychecks, Jerry worked “difficult, long hours.” He got ahead on his Prepaid payments at times, which was good because there were also occasions he couldn’t swing them. He recalls he paid about $120 per month per daughter and, in the end, he wrapped up his payments early.

“Just like anything else it’s a commitment, and it’s a part of your budget,” said Jerry, who is now debt-free. “It was an important part of my budget.”

Jerry said the plan had benefits beyond numbers in any bank account. His faithful monthly commitment also helped set expectations for his girls and get them excited about their future.

“I would say, ‘I just made a payment,’ and when I made the last payment we had a big celebration,” he said. “I like to say that it gave them a little more of a responsibility to do well so they would get into school.”

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