When it comes to investing for college, you don't have to be a master stock picker to build the education savings account you need. A well-designed portfolio of exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, could help you achieve your objectives without too much effort on your part.
With that in mind, here are three excellent ETFs that could help you get started, as well as how each one might fit into your college saving strategy.
Stick with the basics
As Warren Buffett advised, when it comes to long-term investing, you don't need to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results. So, if you're starting to save for college while your kids are very young (meaning that you have a decade or more to ride out the market's ups and downs), a basic S&P 500 index fund could be a smart way to go. While the S&P 500 -- which is considered the best benchmark index of large U.S. companies -- fluctuates from year-to-year, over long periods it has generated total returns of 9% to 10% annually, which could certainly help you send your kids to college.
My personal favorite (and Buffett's) is the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (NYSEMKT:VOO), which aims to track the long-term performance of the S&P 500 index at a bare minimum of expense. The ETF's 0.03% expense ratio means that your total investment fees will be just $3 for every $10,000 you have invested, so you or your kids will get to keep the bulk of your investment profits.
Invest in new tech
If you're the adventurous type, and you've already built a nice base to your college savings with broad-based index funds like the S&P 500 example discussed earlier, the SoFi Gig Economy ETF (NASDAQ:GIGE) could add some flair to your kids' college accounts.
In a nutshell, the SoFi Gig Economy ETF is an actively managed ETF (as opposed to an index fund) that invests in "companies that have transformed the way people access goods, services, and work." The ETF currently owns 61 different stocks, with top holdings that include companies like Fiverr, Upwork, Square, and PayPal.
The idea is that this ETF allows you to invest in some of the most exciting growth opportunities in the market, but without having to put all of your money into just one or two stocks. With an expense ratio of 0.59%, this isn't exactly a cheap ETF to invest in, but if the fund achieves its objective of market-beating returns with its portfolio, it could turn out to be well worth it.
If you're worried about taking too much risk
It's generally not a great idea to have money that you'll need within the next few years invested in stocks. So, as your future college student gets closer to their high school graduation date, it can be a smart idea to shift some money into an ETF that focuses on fixed-income (bond) investments.
The Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (NASDAQ:BND) is a broad-based example that could be just what you need to take some risk off the table while still allowing for some reasonable returns. As the name "total bond market" implies, this ETF invests in a wide variety of bonds -- government, corporate, taxable, tax-exempt, short-term, long-term, etc. In fact, there are more than 9,700 different types of bonds in the portfolio.
Right now, bond yields are rather low, just like pretty much every other type of interest rate. But the current 1.16% yield of the fund is higher than you're likely to find from a savings account without taking on too much additional risk. Plus, if rates rise, so should the yield of this ETF.
Just a starting point
These are just three good examples of ETFs that could help you invest for your kids' college education, but there are many others that could be a good fit for your risk tolerance and growth objectives. The bottom line is that when investing for college, low-cost ETFs are generally the way to go, with a small portion of more exciting investments sprinkled in and a gradual reduction in stock market exposure as your kids approach college age.