529 College Savings Plans Pave Promising Future for American Families Across Incomes

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75% of 529 College Savings Plan Owners are in Middle-Class Families

529s are a valuable savings tool for all American families, from two-income households of teachers and firefighters, to families putting aside $25 a month for a first-generation college student - Richard Polimeni, Chair of the College Savings Foundation

529 college savings plans stand out as popular and effective planning and saving tools that both encourage and enable American families across income levels to prepare for the costs of higher education. New research released by Strategic Insight, an independent financial research and data analysis organization, shows that a large majority of 529 users – 75% -- have household incomes of $150,000 or less. Most participants represent solidly middle-income families – and lower-income households also recognize the benefits and need for targeted college saving, with a full 17% of 529 families having household income of $50,000 or less.

“529s are a valuable savings tool for all American families, from two-income households of teachers and firefighters, to families putting aside $25 a month for a first-generation college student,” said Richard Polimeni, Chair of the College Savings Foundation.

“These new numbers show strength in 529 ownership in every income bracket from $25,000 to $150,000,” said Paul Curley, Director of College Savings Research at Strategic Insight. A recent national survey by SI indicated that 32% of 529 users have household incomes of less than $75,000, 49% have incomes below $100,000, and as stated before, 75% have incomes below $150,000.

Not only are 529 plans embraced by families as affordable options, but they also are an efficient tax-advantaged vehicle for families. According to a recent report from The Pew Charitable Trusts, federal tax benefits for current expenses are much more costly than those which incentivize planning and saving, with 529 plans and other savings incentives coming in at less than one-tenth the cost of the largest tax incentive, the American Opportunity Tax Credit. http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/assets/2017/02/how-governments-support-higher-education-through-tax-code.pdf

Only 529 plans involve a long-term commitment by families to plan for the future cost of higher education through saving and investing and future planning, vital factors in tackling the nation’s current $1.3-trillion in student loan debt. All college savings plans are sponsored by nonprofit state agencies which work with families on goal setting and financial education in addition to providing college savings investment options.    

“College and career planning are life decisions as well as financial ones,” Polimeni said. “Plan sponsors and advisors work with individuals and families over the course of many years as they aspire to higher education, learn about college funding strategies, and reduce dependence on crippling debt.”

Demonstrating the current interest in college savings in Congress, U.S. Representatives Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Ron Kind (D-WI) recently introduced H.R. 529, known as the 529 and ABLE Account Improvement Act of 2017. It encourages more college savings by eliminating perceived barriers, encouraging more participation by employers and further enhancing program flexibility.

On March 14-16, CSF will address innovations in college savings at its conference in Charleston, SC, “College Planning Challenges and the Role of 529 Plans.” President of Washington College Sheila Bair will present new initiatives she is advancing to encourage savings, reduce college debt, and free up students for brighter futures. Speakers will present tools to help families assess their child’s preferred higher education path - including affordable community college and vocational training programs through graduate school - and how to start early to build the strategies to fund their goals.

The Strategic Insight data is based on a nationally representative survey of over 1,000 parents or legal guardians with children under the age of 18 earning over $25,000 fielded in February 2017.

The data corroborates CSF’s findings from its annual State of College Savings survey of 800 parents across the country and income levels, which in 2016 found that 67% of all parents were saving for college and 32% of all parents owned a 529 plan.

To learn more about CSF, see http://www.collegesavingsfoundation.org
To learn more about Strategic Insight, see http://www.strategic-i.com

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Lynthia Romney
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