By Dave Dominick, Marketing Manager, PA 529 College and Career Savings Program, Pennsylvania Treasury Department

March 8, 2022

For college basketball fans, there’s no time like March Madness. We cheer on 64 teams until that One Shining Moment when the champs cut down the nets.

If we had to pit 64 questions about 529 plans against one another, what would make the Sweet Sixteen? The Elite Eight? The Final Four? A bracket of 529 questions? Please, please contain your excitement!

But really, what would be the winner? What is the most common question?

In my experience, when parents first learn about the features and benefits of 529 plans, many of them often have the exact same different question.

That’s right, the exact same different question – “What if…?” 

This question is undoubtedly the tournament winner, coming up time and time again. A brief list of some of the common ‘What if?’ questions include:

  • “What if my kid doesn’t go to college?”
  • “What if we move?”
  • “What if they get a scholarship? “
  • “What if I need the money?”
  • “What if they want to go to school in another state?”
  • “What if…?

Many parents still think 529 plans are only for colleges — like those with impressive basketball teams — and more narrowly only for in-state colleges. Even more believe that the money is locked up and unavailable if needed.

Expansion of 529 plan qualified expenses to now include K-12 tuition, apprenticeships, and student loan repayments have amplified the need to provide information for parents and families so they’re aware of all 529s have to offer.

Let’s continue to highlight the flexibility of 529 plans while shining a light on the various answers to this exact same different question.

It’s vitally important to understand what you can do with a 529 plan, including the easiest thing in the world to do. Nothing. There are no mandatory withdrawals and no time restrictions on when an account must be used and/or closed.

Families can use the money for various postsecondary expenses, from a local career school or two-year community college to a state school or an Ivy League university. You can use a 529 plan to not only pay for tuition, but also fees, books, room and board, computers, and more.

Students can pursue schools in their home state and benefit from reduced tuition, or study in a different state or even another country. Parents can change a beneficiary or transfer a portion of a 529 account balance between children.

If and when a final decision is made to take a non-qualified distribution from a 529 plan, we hope the family has explored all available options before doing so.

So, as the main messengers of 529 plans, the cheerleaders and screaming fans, we should continue to refine and focus our messaging to include the whole scope of 529s to address these myths. With great, clear messaging, parents may ask some different questions when they think about a 529 plan, like: What if saving now means less student debt for my child? What if opening a 529 account lets my child know they can dream big? And what if saving with a 529 can help them achieve their goals?

Now we cut the nets.


About the author

Dave Dominick is the marketing manager of the PA 529 College and Career Savings Program for the Pennsylvania Treasury Department. He is responsible for all aspects of outreach and marketing and has helped grow PA 529 to over 272,000 accounts with total assets of $7.08 billion. He is also responsible for marketing and outreach of Keystone Scholars, Pennsylvania’s child development account, which provides a $100 investment for postsecondary education, as well as the PA ABLE Savings Program. He volunteers on the board of directors for his community’s youth baseball organization where he also coaches.