Each state’s 529 plan offers unique features. Listed below are several features which are commonly used to compare plans. You can use our Search & Comparison Tool to select the plan features you wish to consider. CSPN suggests that you should consider your home state 529 plan as it may offer state income tax benefits or other attractive features that you will only receive if you participate in your state’s plan(s). If you are not sure which features are most important to you, visit our Common 529 Questions section.
Where do you live? – Select your home state (or the state of the beneficiary) to view plans for that state.
Why is this important? Always consider the plan in the state where you live (or the home state of the beneficiary) as it may offer tax incentives or other benefits and features specifically for state residents.
Plan type (Savings or Prepaid) – 529 plans can be “savings” plans or “prepaid tuition” plans. Savings plans are an investment account that you contribute to, and your account grows based on market returns. Prepaid tuition plans allow you to directly purchase tuition based on today’s cost for future use.
Why is this important? You should consider the flexibility of a savings plan account versus the tuition guarantee of a prepaid tuition account. Note that a prepaid account is designed for use at colleges in your state of residence (or the beneficiary’s state of residence).
State tax benefits – Each state determines how its 529 plans are structured, and many states offer state income tax advantages such as a tax deduction/credit for contributions to a plan, the deferral of taxes on earnings, and tax-free withdrawals for eligible expenses.
Why is this important? When taxes are deferred on earnings in your 529 plan account, you may experience significant additional growth compared to a taxable investment. A tax deduction/credit for contributions and tax-free withdrawals from your account make the plans even more attractive.
Other state benefits – Some plans offer additional state-based benefits for investors who invest in 529 plans offered by their state of residence.
Why is this important? Although these benefits vary by state, they may make a plan even more attractive to state residents.
Fees – 529 plans charge fees in various ways. These can include asset-based fees (a percentage of your annual account balance), sales commissions (a percentage of your contributions paid to your advisor or broker), and administrative fees.
Why is this important? Fees offset a portion of the earnings in your account. “Direct sold” plans are typically offered with lower fees and without sales commissions. “Advisor sold” plans offer professional investment advice and service, with fees that include standard sales commissions.
Investment Options – Most 529 plans offer multiple investment options. Typically, you can invest in one or more of the options offered by a plan.
Why is this important? The investment options can include managed age-based or year-to-enrollment options, 100% stock fund (equity) options, stable value funds, guaranteed options, and even certificates of deposit.
Minimum Initial Contribution – 529 plans, as with most investments, have a minimum dollar amount for an initial contribution to open an account.
Why is this important? You should consider the amount you will be required to invest in selecting the program that is right for your individual circumstances.
Minimum Subsequent Contribution – 529 plans, also like most investments, have a minimum dollar amount for further contributions after the account has been opened.
Why is this important? You should consider the amount you will be required to invest for subsequent contributions in selecting the program that is right for your individual circumstances.
Maximum Total Contributions – By federal law, 529 plans must have a cap on total contributions.
Why is this important? When you reach the maximum for total contributions your account can continue to earn returns, but you cannot make additional contributions.
Investment Manager – States typically contract with a financial services firm to provide investment management and other program services.
Why is this important? If you are comfortable with a particular financial services firm, you may wish to consider a plan that uses that firm as its investment manager.
You can use the features above to explore the variety of options that are available in 529 plans across the country. CSPN has developed two tools to help you consider which plan best fits your savings needs. We encourage you to use the tools below as you begin or continue your search for a 529 plan.