(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Just how much would you give up for your children to go to their dream schools?
For Seattle's Al Sanders, the answer was his precious stash of 5,000 comics starring everyone from the Avengers to Iron Man to the Fantastic Four. He had been collecting them ever since the eighth grade.
It was a tough decision for the lifelong comic fan, but the four-figure proceeds helped with his daughter's first year at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.
It may not be someone's first choice to say goodbye to prized personal possessions, but sometimes it may be a parent's only choice.
Average tuition and fees at private four-year colleges are now $32,405 a year, according to the College Board, the standardized testing giant. Even charges for in-state students at public colleges are not exactly cheap at $9,410 annually.
Most families have not put enough money into accounts like 529 savings plans, which allow dedicated college funds to grow tax-free. In fact, 72 percent of Americans have not even heard of them, according to a survey by financial services firm Edward Jones.
That leads students and parents to search for other ways to fund Junior's education. That might mean securing scholarships or grants, which cover an average of 34 percent of the tab, according to student-loan lender Sallie Mae's "How America Pays For College 2016" report. It might also mean borrowing, which covers another 20 percent of the bill.
And it might mean tapping your existing assets, even non-financial ones.
"We have seen clients sell everything from Persian rugs to gun collections to classic cars, in an effort to fund their children's or grandchildren's college," said James Gambaccini, managing partner at Acorn Financial Services in Reston, Virginia.
One client liquidated a gun collection worth about $120,000.
Deploying non-traditional assets can be a wiser choice than some of the other things cash-strapped parents do, like raiding their own retirement savings or racking up high-interest debt.
"Regardless of income or wealth, parents will often make big sacrifices just to give their kids a shot at attending a dream school," said Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, author of the book "College Secrets: How to Save Money, Cut College Costs and Graduate Debt Free."
Consider this option with care, though. Money itself is a highly emotional subject, and when you throw cherished collections into the mix, there are combustible possibilities at every turn.
Some pointers to help navigate through this minefield:
* Take emotions into account
A personal collection usually means quite a bit to one marital partner and very little to the other, Gambaccini said. So avoid thinking of it coldly as an "asset" to be cashed out and recognize it as something built with love over decades.
If the collector is not ready to part with the goods, do not force the issue, lest you create resentment that could linger for years.
* Evaluate the enjoyment factor
Over the years, people's lives and interests change, so a collection that used to be meaningful might not be so anymore.
When one of Gambaccini's clients realized his old '67 Mustang Shelby convertible was just collecting dust in a garage, he sold it and put the $90,000 toward college costs.
* Consider the tax implications
You may not think of personal collectibles as taxable, but from the perspective of Uncle Sam, they most certainly are. If there is appreciation while in your possession, there could be a capital gains tax of 28 percent when sold, Khalfani-Cox said.
To learn more, check with the IRS (here).
* Let it go
There is no upside to rueful reminiscence. So do not keep checking what your collection would be worth if you had held onto it.
"Every now and then, a client will make a comment like that," Gambaccini said. "Usually about a motorcycle or car." (Editing by Beth Pinsker and Lisa Von Ahn)