Best 529 Plans in the U.S.: Where to Invest for College Savings

Best 529 Plans in the U.S.: Where to Invest for College Savings

July 10, 2024
Twitter Logo Facebook Logo Pinterest Logo
Best 529 Plans in the U.S.: Where to Invest for College Savings

Some of the links on this page may be from our sponsors. We provide you with helpful information and access to resources. Learn more about our mission and advertising.

Planning for a child's college education can be daunting, especially with rising tuition costs. However, a 529 plan can significantly ease the financial burden. Named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, these savings plans offer tax advantages and other benefits. Not all 529 plans are created equal, and the quality of these plans can vary significantly by state. This article explores some of the U.S. states known for having the best 529 plans and what makes them stand out.

Tax Benefits and Contribution Limits

One of the primary considerations when choosing a 529 plan is the tax benefit offered by the state. Some states provide significant tax deductions or credits for contributions to their 529 plans. For instance, New York allows a state income tax deduction of up to $10,000 for married couples filing jointly and $5,000 for single filers. Similarly, Illinois offers a state tax deduction of up to $20,000 for joint filers and $10,000 for single filers.

Another important factor is the contribution limit. While the federal limit on 529 plan contributions is high (over $300,000 in most states), each state sets its own maximum. States like New York, California, and Michigan offer some of the highest contribution limits, allowing for substantial savings over time.

Investment Options and Performance

Investment performance is another crucial aspect to consider. Some states offer a wide range of investment options, including age-based portfolios that adjust as the beneficiary gets closer to college age. Utah's my529 plan, for example, is renowned for its flexibility and strong performance. It offers custom investment options, including choices from Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisors, which have consistently shown solid returns.

Similarly, Virginia's Invest529 plan provides a variety of investment portfolios managed by industry leaders such as Vanguard, DFA, and PIMCO. The plan's performance has been strong over the years, making it a top choice for many families.

Fees and Expenses

The fees and expenses associated with 529 plans can eat into your savings if not carefully managed. Low fees are a hallmark of a good 529 plan, as they ensure that more of your money goes towards education rather than administrative costs. Nevada's 529 plan, managed by Vanguard, is known for its low fees. With expense ratios well below the national average, it offers a cost-effective way to save for college.

Similarly, the California ScholarShare 529 plan is another excellent low-cost option. It features no annual maintenance fee and offers a range of investment portfolios with competitive expense ratios.

State-Specific Benefits

Some states offer unique benefits that make their 529 plans particularly attractive. For instance, Maine provides a $500 Alfond Grant to every baby born a resident of Maine after 2013, which is automatically deposited into a 529 account. This initiative helps kickstart college savings for Maine residents.

Maryland's 529 plan offers a state matching grant program for lower- and middle-income families. Depending on income, the state may match contributions up to $500 per beneficiary per year. This can significantly boost savings, especially for families who might struggle to save otherwise.

Ease of Use and Management

User experience is an often-overlooked aspect of 529 plans. A plan that's easy to manage can save time and reduce stress. New Hampshire's UNIQUE College Investing Plan, managed by Fidelity, is praised for its user-friendly platform. It allows for easy online management, automatic contributions, and clear, concise statements.

Similarly, Ohio's CollegeAdvantage 529 plan offers a seamless online experience. Its platform is intuitive, making it simple for account holders to manage their investments, set up automatic contributions, and track their savings progress.

Residency Requirements

While many states allow non-residents to invest in their 529 plans, some benefits are exclusive to residents. For example, the New York 529 College Savings Program Direct Plan offers significant tax deductions for residents but not for non-residents. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider residency requirements and benefits when selecting a 529 plan.

Comparing Top 529 Plans

When comparing the best 529 plans, it's important to consider a variety of factors, including tax benefits, investment options, fees, and ease of use. Utah's my529, Virginia's Invest529, and Nevada's Vanguard 529 College Savings Plan are frequently cited as some of the best due to their strong investment performance, low fees, and flexibility.

However, it's also essential to consider your specific needs and circumstances. For instance, if you're a resident of a state with a significant tax deduction for 529 contributions, that plan might be the best choice for you. Conversely, if low fees and high investment performance are your primary concerns, a plan like Utah's my529 or Nevada's Vanguard plan might be more suitable.

By evaluating these aspects and considering your specific circumstances, you can choose a plan that offers the best opportunity to grow your college savings effectively. The states mentioned in this article—New York, Illinois, Utah, Virginia, Nevada, California, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Ohio—are known for their outstanding 529 plans, making them excellent choices for parents and students planning for the future.