Rachel Biar
Assistant State Treasurer, Nebraska
February 22, 2016

While February may have fewer days than other months, it is filled with healthy hearts, hearts of St. Valentine, presidents, snow for many of us, a yearning for spring, and a well-known groundhog. This time of year, with family holidays behind us, it’s easy to become sluggish and perhaps less focused on our goals. Let’s be honest. For some of us, winter can be long. When winter starts to drag, I remember poet Anne Bradstreet’s sweet words, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”

CSPN blog_20160222_photoIt’s easy to assume that during winter months there wouldn’t be much to do to boost your college savings plans. You may be recovering financially from the holidays. You may be considering a new home or renovations. You may be preparing your taxes. You could be planning for high school graduations. Or you may be anticipating a summer vacation – anything to surround yourself with warm thoughts, right? But, while the ground rests until spring’s revival and daylight hours are short, we don’t necessarily get a break, do we?  Oh no, there’s much to do to keep our financial lives in order, to plan for college expenses and to get ready for spring!

We’re here to help. Really, we are. State-sponsored 529 college savings plans are full of opportunities to save. And now is a good time to take advantage of scholarships and contests offered by 529 plans. Many 529 plans present money in scholarships to children and teens from across the United States. Various plans provide opportunities to recognize young people’s writing, art, and creativity.

Your children may be able to participate in essay contests describing their future plans and why they want to go to college. Or they may choose to enter drawing contests that display their imaginations and their sense of unlimited possibilities. Some 529 plans even offer video contests to highlight creativity. And don’t forget about Mom and Dad or Grandpa and Grandma. Many 529 plans offer opportunities for adults to jump start a 529 plan or add bonuses to existing accounts by increasing their automatic investment plans (AIP) or writing poignant letters to their grandchildren.

Each month—whether short or long— 529 plan administrators look for innovative ways to help families across the United States learn about 529 college savings plans and the benefits of starting early to save for college. I encourage you to review your 529 plan and check out the scholarships and contests being offered. If you don’t have a 529 plan, entering a scholarship contest is a great way to start. Some plans offer as much as $100,000 in scholarships each year!

As the snow continues to fall this Nebraska February, I am reminded that each snowflake is unique, and all of the snowflakes together create a beautiful landscape of white. Similarly, each 529 plan is different with various opportunities for scholarships, contests, and bonuses. But each shares the same purpose to encourage saving for college. All of us who work with 529 plans are here to help you get started, to assist you with 529 scholarship contests and bonuses, or to make your increased contribution or AIP easy and convenient.

So, enjoy the few remaining days of February, and more importantly, make your spring and the days and years ahead more pleasant by preparing for those college expenses now. It really is easy. And just as the short month of February will be gone, and the ground will awaken, your student will be bursting through those college doors. Let us help you address your college savings needs to make big dreams possible for you and your children. Take a break from daydreaming about spring and all you want to accomplish, and spend a few minutes researching the scholarship opportunities in your 529 college savings plan. Seriously, do it now. Warm weather will be here soon enough. Really, it will. The groundhog said so.

About the Author

Rachel Biar is the Assistant State Treasurer for the Nebraska 529 College Savings Program. The Nebraska Educational Savings Trust (NEST) is a tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan and provides four plans to help make saving for college simple and affordable: NEST Direct College Savings Plan, the NEST Advisor College Savings Plan, the TD Ameritrade 529 College Savings Plan, and The State Farm College Savings Plan. The Nebraska State Treasurer serves as the Program Trustee. First National Bank serves as the Program Manager, and all investments are approved by the Nebraska Investment Council. Families nationwide are saving for college using the NEST 529 plans, which have $3.8 billion in assets and more than 243,000 accounts, including 70,000 in Nebraska. Visit NEST529.com and treasurer.nebraska.gov for more information. Rachel serves as an Executive Board Member of the College Savings Plans Network. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with family, reading and gardening.