The Best 529 Plans of 2017

Introduction

Research tells us that college is getting more expensive every year. In fact, tuition rates are rising by an average of 3.5% above inflation every year. Experts suggest that some students will have to choose between massive debt and no college education. According to an article in Time, about half of the students graduating with a bachelor degree in 1994 had debt which averaged $10,000. 20 years later, the amount of debt has tripled. Two-thirds of all students that graduate with bachelor degrees are now faced with repaying student loans. The average debt? A staggering average of $35,000 in student loans will need to be repaid.

Saving early is the best way to ensure that your child will be able to get a quality college education without taking out enormous student loans. The good news is that every dollar you save upfront counts for more than two dollars needed to repay student loans.

529 plans are one of the best options for long-term saving as the growth isn’t taxed by the federal government and the funds aren’t taxed when they are withdrawn as long as they are used to pay for qualifying college expenses. Some states even allow for state income tax deductions as well.

Saving for your student’s college education is a huge investment that needs to be made carefully. After all, choosing a sub-par 529 plan could mean that up to several thousand dollars aren’t available for his or her college education. Since there are literally hundreds of 529 Plans to choose from, we created this guide to identify the best 529 plans – those that have performed well in the past and maximize earnings by minimizing costs.

Our Recommendations

To determine the best 529 plans, we spent over 40 hours investigating the leading 529 plan from 38 states that were open to everyone – regardless of which state you live in. We compared these plans using four core metrics: past performance, expenses, investing options, and data accessibility.

The best 529 plan for 2017 is Edvest Wisconsin. It ranked the highest out of all 38 plans overall, and in the top 6 across each core metric. While it didn’t rank as the overall #1 option in any core metric (except “data accessibility”), it was consistently solid across the board.

Overall, California’s ScholarShare Program and NY’s 529 Plan are both great runner up options since they have a rock-solid past performance and are among the cheapest plans to invest in.

The Basics of 529 Plans

What is a 529 Plan?

According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, a 529 plan is a “tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs.” While the funds you contribute to the plan are not deductible on your federal income tax return, the funds do grow tax-free and aren’t taxed when used for “qualified education expenses.

Savings Plans vs. Prepaid Plans

529 plans are sponsored by individual states, and there are two basic types: “savings” and “prepaid.” Savings plans invest the money you deposit, while pre-paid plans are basically an insurance policy. In pre-paid plans, you select a college in the same state as the plan and pay tuition ahead of time to avoid paying more for college when your student is ready to attend. We are only considering savings plans in this guide, as we want the plans we recommend to be useable by everyone for colleges in any state.

Direct-sold vs. Advisor-sold

There are two ways to purchase 529 plans – you can invest directly into the plan offered by the state (you control how that plan invests your money), or you can purchase a plan through an advisor who then handles the investing for you. We aren’t considering advisor-sold plans as they tend to be more expensive since advisors and brokers charge additional fees. Their expert help usually doesn’t make up for the extra cost.

How 529 Plans Work

Step #1: Choose your plan

First, you choose a 529 plan and enroll. This is usually an easy process that can be completed on the plan’s website.

Step #2: Choose your portfolio

Once you’ve enrolled, you choose how you want your money to be invested. As you build your portfolio, each plan has multiple options to choose from – including higher-risk, stock-heavy options, and lower-risk options mostly made up of bonds. Each plan also has an age-based investment option where your investments automatically shift from higher to lower risk as your student gets closer to college. For more information on choosing the right investment options for your family read our guide to choosing the right investment optionbelow.

Step #3: Start investing

You can contribute to your plan in multiple ways. Available options include automatic payroll deductions (if your employer allows it) and recurring drafts from your bank account. You can also make single payments monthly or quarterly online.

Step #4: Manage your investments

As the funds in your account grow, you have the option to shift your investment strategy. However, most plans limit the number of times you can change your strategy per year. West Virginia’s 529 Plan, for example, only allows you to shift strategy twice in one year.

If unforeseen events take place, such as your student deciding to skip college and jump right into the workforce, you can also change the beneficiary (the person who receives the money). If you don’t have other children, the money can be used for other relatives like a nephew/niece or grandchild.

Step #5: Withdraw your funds

When the time comes to pay for your student’s education, make sure you know what’s considered a “qualified education expense” and what isn’t. Items such as a laptop (as long as it’s primarily used for school) and textbooks qualify, while any payments for room and board expenses that exceed the school’s allowance in its cost of attendance don’t.

There’s a lot of rules and factors to take into consideration, so for a more detailed look at how to avoid paying taxes on distributions from a 529 plan, read Fidelity’s helpful guide. It’s important to remember that the earnings portion of money withdrawn for non-qualified expenses are subject to federal income taxes, as well as a 10% penalty.

What Parents Should Know Before Investing in a 529 Plan

There are a lot of options to choose from

For all of the plans that we ranked, you don’t have to invest in a 529 plan that’s offered by your state, and it doesn’t matter where your student’s eventual college is located. For instance, you can live in Nevada, invest in NY’s 529 Plan, and your student can go to college in Georgia.

Note: Some states have lower expenses and/or state income tax deductions available for residents that invest in their state’s 529 plan. However, those considerations have to be weighed alongside the plan’s past performance and expenses. Read this guide below to find out which states we recommend residents invest in.

Every state has at least one 529 plan, and a lot have two or more. That means that you have over 100 plans to consider. While competition is always good for the consumer, all those choices can be somewhat overwhelming. When researching your choice, make sure to key in on the features listed below.

How We Ranked the Best 529 Plans

List of Contenders

We started this process by determining the master list of plans that we would research and compare. We used two main criteria to limit the plans we compared:

After eliminating those plans we were left with 38 plans to research and compare. We gathered all our data directly from each plan’s website and brochure.

Table Listing All the Plans We Considered

State

Plan Name

Alabama

Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund

Alaska

Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan

Arizona

Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan

Arkansas

Arkansas GIFT College Investing Plan

California

ScholarShare College Savings Plan

Colorado

CollegeInvest

Connecticut

Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET)

Delaware

Delaware College Investment Plan

Florida

Florida 529 Savings Plan

Georgia

Path3College 529 Plan

Hawaii

Hawaii’s College Savings Program

Idaho

Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal)

Illinois

The Bright Start College Savings Program

Indiana

CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan

Iowa

College Savings Iowa 529 Plan

Kansas

Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Program

Kentucky

Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust

Maine

NextGen

Maryland

Maryland 529

Massachusetts

U.Fund College Investing Plan

Michigan

Michigan Education Savings Program

Minnesota

Minnesota College Savings Plan

Mississippi

Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program

Missouri

Missouri’s 529 College Savings Plan (MOST)

Nebraska

NEST 529 College Savings

Nevada

Nevada SSGA Upromise 529 Plan

New Hampshire

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan

New Mexico

The Education Plan

New York

NY’s 529 College Savings Program

North Dakota

College SAVE

Ohio

CollegeAdvantage Ohio’s 529 Savings Program

Oklahoma

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

Oregon

Oregon College Savings Plan

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program

Texas

Texas College Savings Plan

Utah

Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

West Virginia

SMART529

Wisconsin

Edvest Wisconsin

Core Metrics

Once we had our list of plans to compare, we determined the most important qualities of great 529 plans. We used these as our “core metrics” when scoring the plans. For a more in-depth look at how we scored the plans, read our full explanation below.

  1. Past Performance: How well have these plans performed in the past?
  2. Management Expenses: Are there annual account fees? How much would it cost to invest $10,000 over 10 years?
  3. Investment Options: How many investment options are there? Do they offer a decent selection of blended portfolios and age-based options? What’s the minimum you can contribute monthly? Is the maximum you can contribute enough to pay for a student’s college education in the future?
  4. Data Availability: Can you easily find access to the information you need to make an informed decision on the plan’s website?

Sub-metrics

We broke up each core metric into multiple sub-metrics that we graded and used to find the overall score for each core metric.

Past Performance Sub-metrics

In order to compare apples to apples, we decided on 4 key plan options to compare across the board:

  • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks and some bonds (70-80% stocks / 20-30% bonds)
  • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks and bonds (40-60% stocks / 40-60% bonds)
  • A blended portfolio with mostly bonds and some stocks (20-30% stocks / 70-80% bonds)
  • An age-based option – the plan shifts from aggressive (more stocks) to conservative (more bonds) as your student gets closer to college
Here are the four sub-metrics for Past Performance:
  1. The average annual returns for 1 year with:
    • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks
    • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks and bonds
    • A blended portfolio of mostly bonds
    • The age-based option
  2. The average annual returns for 3 years with:
    • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks
    • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks and bonds
    • A blended portfolio of mostly bonds
    • The age-based option
  3. The average annual returns for 5 years with:
    • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks
    • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks and bonds
    • A blended portfolio of mostly bonds
    • The age-based option
  4. The average annual returns for 10 years (or since inception) with:
    • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks
    • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks and bonds
    • A blended portfolio of mostly bonds
    • The age-based option

Management Expenses Sub-metrics

Each plan’s site has a breakdown of how much each investment option would cost if you invested $10,000 over 10 years. We averaged together the following sub-metrics to determine the ranking for this metric:

  • The plan’s most expensive investment option
  • The plan’s second most expensive investment option
  • The plan’s second cheapest investment option
  • The plan’s cheapest investment option

Investment Options Sub-metrics

The sub-metrics for this core metric are:

  • Total investment options: How many total options can you choose to invest in?
  • Minimum investment options: Does the plan offer each of the four investment options we were comparing?
  • Minimum contribution amount: What’s the minimum you can contribute a month?
  • Maximum contribution amount: Is the total you can contribute enough to reasonably pay for a student’s education 20 years from now? (The threshold we decided on is $300,000.)

Data Accessibility Sub-metrics

These sub-metrics graded whether the plans’ websites had the following data easily accessible (without having to pour through long, confusing plan disclosure statements):

  1. Past Performance Data: Does the site have a table showing the past performance of each of their investment options over the last 10 years?
  2. Expense Data: Does the site have a table showing how much it would cost to invest $10,000 over 10 years for each investment option?
  3. Investing Options Data: Does the website list all the available investment options? Does the site list the minimum and maximum contribution amounts?

Overall 529 Plan Scoring

To get the overall score for each plan, we took the total score for each core metric and weighted it according to its importance. Once we weighted each core metric, we added them together to find the overall score for the plan. For a closer look at our scoring process, reference our full methodology walkthrough below.

What We Didn’t Include in Our Metrics

Ease of Use

Other than our subjective experience using and researching the site, the only way to grade each plan on how easy it is use, would be to actually invest in the plan ourselves. Obviously that’s not an option. We could have graded things like “does the plan have the option to set up automatic payroll deductions?” However, we discovered that all of the plans had the same basic functionalities.

Each site also supports things like online enrollment and automatic debits from your bank account. While we couldn’t tell you exactly how easy these tools are to use, we can tell you that they are available across the board – one plan is as good as another for these types of tools.

A Comparison of Every Option from Each Plan

It would be impossible to compare each option across every 529 plan as there’s no consistency between different plans. Some plans have 8 or 9 investment options, while others have over 25. Instead, we chose four investment options that were offered by most plans.

Drawbacks to Our Reviewing Process

Some Investment Options Weren’t Available

Comparing the past performance of so many 529 plans is very difficult as there isn’t a set range of plan options across the board. As a result, not every plan had all four of our chosen options available to score. However, each plan had at least two, and most had three if not all four.

The Average Past Performance Metric isn’t Perfect

The average past performance isn’t a perfect metric – there might be a great option in one plan that didn’t do well overall, but it’s better than its corresponding option in another plan that did do well overall. Alternately, the cost of one option in a particular plan might be really low, while the average cost of all the options in the plan is comparatively high.

Note: Since there isn’t one option that’s right for everyone (some might prefer a lower risk option, while others want maximum growth potential), we recommend using this guide as a starting point for your own research – decide exactly what option is right for you, and then compare the cost and performance of that option between our top five picks.

The Best 529 Plans of 2017

Plan Name

State

Score

Edvest Wisconsin

Wisconsin

9.3

NY’s 529 College Savings Program

New York

8.5

ScholarShare College Savings Plan

California

8.4

College Savings Iowa 529 Plan

Iowa

8.3

Michigan Education Savings Program

Michigan

7.9

Minnesota College Savings Plan

Minnesota

7.6

Path3College 529 Plan

Georgia

6.7

Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

Utah

6.4

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan

New Hampshire

6.4

Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET)

Connecticut

6.2

Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund

Alabama

6.1

Missouri’s 529 College Savings Plan (MOST)

Missouri

6.0

SMART529 West Virginia’s 529 college savings plan

West Virginia

5.9

NEST 529 College Savings

Nebraska

5.8

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

Oklahoma

5.7

U.Fund College Investing Plan

Massachusetts

5.5

Florida 529 Savings Plan

Florida

5.5

Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust

Kentucky

5.4

CollegeAdvantage Ohio’s 529 Savings Program

Ohio

5.3

Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Program

Kansas

5.0

Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan

Arizona

4.8

Arkansas GIFT College Investing Plan

Arkansas

4.8

The Education Plan

New Mexico

4.5

Oregon College Savings Plan

Oregon

4.5

Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan

Alaska

4.2

Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal)

Idaho

4.2

NextGen

Maine

4.1

Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program

Mississippi

4.1

Texas College Savings Plan

Texas

4.0

Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program

Pennsylvania

3.9

Maryland 529

Maryland

3.5

CollegeInvest

Colorado

3.4

Nevada SSGA Upromise 529 Plan

Nevada

3.4

The Bright Start College Savings Program

Illinois

3.3

Delaware College Investment Plan

Delaware

3.3

Hawaii’s College Savings Program

Hawaii

2.7

College SAVE

North Dakota

2.6

CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan

Indiana

0.8

Our Top Picks

First Place:

    What really set Edvest apart was its overall success in all of our metrics. Specifically, it’s past performance was very competitive, earning second place to California’s ScholarShare Plan. It’s age-based investment option had the best average past performance of every plan we considered. Subjectively speaking, its website boasts a modern, sleek design, and you can easily find all the information you need to make an informed decision.

    While Edvest Wisconsin won first place, it didn’t score first in any of our core metrics (it did earn first place in data availability, but shared that award with 12 other plans). For instance, it’s average management expenses for $10,000 invested over 10 years was only $336, but there were five other plans with a cheaper average cost.

    Edvest Wisconsin is a great overall option, and might be right for your family if you choose one of its cheaper investment options. It does have plenty of investment options (17 to be exact), so chances are good you can find one that is right for you.

    Second Place:

    Not only does NY’s 529 Plan have the lowest expenses, it’s also unique in that all of its investment options have the same management expenses. A $10,000 investment would cost $205 over 10 years – no matter what your portfolio looks like. It’s possible that you’ll find a lower cost investment option somewhere else, but the benefit to NY’s plan is that if you need to shift your investment strategy in the future you know you won’t be stuck with higher management expenses.

    The only real downside to NY’s 529 Plan is its past performance score. It ranked #10 in that category with an average past performance of 7.09% (compared to California ScholarShare’s average past performance of 8.30%).

    While its past performance isn’t very strong, NY’s 529 Plan made up for its lack in that category with its stellar performance in our management expenses metric. Basically, the money you save in management expenses grows with compounding interest, which means that you have more money that isn’t growing quite as fast (when compared with a plan with higher expenses, but better past performance). Of course, past performance is also not a guarantee of future performance. For those reasons, we can easily recommend NY’s 529 plan as a great option to consider for your family.

    Third Place:

    California’s ScholarShare Plan ranked only slightly lower than NY’s 529 plan (.06 points lower to be exact). It’s main strength is its past performance – it’s averaged 8.3% and ranked first out of all 38 plans in that category. It also did well in the management expenses core metric – its average cost of $409 for $10,000 invested over 10 years was the seventh cheapest overall.

    While ScholarShare’s overall performance in the “Investment Options” core metric is poor, the most important sub-metric in that category (total investment options) is competitive. It’s 19 investment options gives you plenty of ways to customize your portfolio. Also, it’s minimum contribution amount is only $15.

    California’s ScholarShare Plan is a really solid option to consider due to its stellar past performance. Some of its investment options are more expensive than NY’s 529 Plan, but overall the plans are neck-and-neck. This plan is definitely worth your time to research and compare alongside our other top choices.

    Here’s ScholarShare’s core metric scores:

      • Past Performance: 10
    • Management Expenses: 8.37
    • Investment Options: 4.48
    • Data Availability: 10

How much should you invest in a 529 Plan?

The Oxygen Mask Rule

While saving for your children’s college is definitely important, many parents mistakenly identify it as the most important long-term financial goal. Forbes asserts that the “oxygen mask rule” applies to finances as well. If you actually listen to the safety briefing given by the stewardesses on a commercial flight, you will hear them instruct you to always secure your own oxygen mask before you assist your children in the event of an emergency. The idea is that if you don’t take of yourself, you won’t be able to help your children either.

A good example of how this principle applies to finances is with the building up of an emergency fund. Most financial experts recommend saving up at least $1,000 to use in case of emergency (think job loss, major medical crisis, etc.). If you’ve prioritized a 529 plan over an emergency fund and disaster strikes, you may be forced to withdraw your investments. The major downside, of course, is that any growth will be taxable and you will pay a 10% penalty.

Another factor to consider is that, while students can borrow to pay for college, you can’t borrow to pay for retirement.

Working in College

On top of the oxygen mask rule, studies show that students who have to work a modest amount in college are more likely to actually get their degree. The research suggests that If they are investing in their education themselves, they are more likely to take it more seriously.

Requiring your student to contribute to their college cost doesn’t only benefit them educationally – students who work in school get the added benefit of graduating with job experience and a decent resume. That could be the factor that helps them land that dream job after graduation.

Consider the Risks

While saving for college is undeniably a good idea due to the increasing cost of the average college education, how much should you save? To make that decision, you need to consider the risks. What if your toddler decides to join the marines when the time comes? You have to consider the potential tax and 10% penalty on earnings.

There are also a couple benefits that 529 plans offer – you can withdraw the amount of any scholarships your student receives tax-free, and you can use the plan to fund another child’s or relative’s education should the designated beneficiary decide to skip college.

What percentage is right for you?

At the end of the day, the goal is to give your children the opportunity to go to college. Obviously you don’t want them underachieve in the job market due to a lack of college education, but you also don’t want to see them saddled with tons of debt.

The only one who can determine how much you should save is you. It’s important to realize that you don’t necessarily have to pay for 100% of your student’s education. Financial aid is usually available, and there are quite a few scholarships out there if your student puts the work into finding and applying for them.

Once you determine your target percentage (whether it’s 25% or 75%), you can work out how much you need to save monthly to achieve that goal. Most plans’ websites have a calculator like this one, to help you determine that amount.

Summary

The bottom line is that you should definitely save for your children’s education, and a 529 plan is a great way to make sure your student has every opportunity to succeed. Before you save, however, make sure your own finances are in order. Prioritize things like:

  • A solid budget
  • Paying off high-interest debt
  • Building an emergency fund
  • Saving for retirement

You don’t necessarily need to pay for 100% of your student’s education. Determine what your target percentage is, and don’t overextend yourself because you are trying to save up $300,000 in 18 years. The goal is to offset some or most of the expense (even 10% can be a huge help!).

Keep in mind that it pays to start early – saving a smaller amount earlier can be more effective than saving a larger amount later. The table below illustrates the benefit of starting to save as early as possible.

[Notice how in the last example, you invested almost $2,000 more overall, but ended up with $600 less than the first example]

How to Choose the Right Investment Option for Your Family

Note: Each plan’s options can vary. The overview here is meant to be a guide to choosing the right portfolio option – it doesn’t consider every investment option from every plan. However, it does reflect how the majority of the 529 plans we reviewed are set up.

The Three Types of Funds

The first step in choosing the right portfolio option for your family is understanding your choices. Here are the three different types of funds that you will be choosing between:

The Two Types of Investment Options

There are two basic types of investment options to choose from – static and dynamic. Both have numerous options as well.

Static

The investment options that fall into this category do so because their risk profile doesn’t change. So, for instance, if you invest in a static option that’s 80% stocks and 20% bonds, those ratios shouldn’t ever change.

There’s basically two types of static investment options to choose from:

  • Blended Portfolios: These portfolios invest in underlying funds that have multiple risk profiles. For instance, an aggressive pre-made portfolio might invest in 75% stocks, 20% bonds, and 5% short-term reserves. Most plans have a variety of blended portfolios to choose from.
  • Single-Fund Portfolios: This type invests only in one underlying fund. For instance, Edvest Wisconsin offers a “U.S. Equity Active Portfolio” that “invests 100% of its assets in one mutual fund. The mutual fund in which this Investment Portfolio is invested is DFA U.S. Core Equity 1 Portfolio.”

Furthermore, there’s two basic ways that 529 plan managers manage the funds:

  • Passive Management: Portfolios that are passively managed track a specific market index. These are also referred to as “index funds.”
  • Active Management: The portfolio managers for this type seek to outperform market averages through research, personal expertise, etc…

To effectively utilize static funds, some management on your end is advisable. For instance, if you’ve heavily invested in stocks for the majority of your plan’s lifetime, you may want to shift to a more conservative portfolio as your student nears college-age.

Dynamic

Dynamic options are usually referred to as “age-based options.”These options automatically shift your investment strategy from aggressive (mostly stocks), to moderate (stocks/bonds), and finally to conservative (bonds/short-term reserves) as your student gets closer to college.

The aggressive portfolios come with more risk, but offer more opportunity for growth. Conservative portfolios offer consistent, steady growth, but that growth is potentially quite a bit slower than portfolios with more stocks. The idea is that when your student is young, market fluctuations won’t be a huge concern – maximum growth is the goal at that point. When your student gets close to college, you will want to maintain the funds in your plan so that a sudden market downturn doesn’t ruin his or her college plans.

Also keep in mind that some plans have more than one age-based option. Some plans have three: conservative, moderate, and aggressive age-based options. The conservative plan is going to shift to bonds sooner, while the aggressive option is going to keep a higher percentage of stocks longer.

The beauty of dynamic investment options is that they don’t require a whole lot of active management on your part. You do your research at the beginning, select your plan and age-based option, then consistently invest your funds. After that, you can mostly just trust the process and check up on your plan every so often.

Two Questions to Ask Yourself

In order to determine which of the many available investment options are right for your family, you need to answer two questions.

How much control do I want?

  • Maximum Control: If you are a self-described “control-freak” or you like doing a ton of research, than you may want to choose a plan that has a lot of single-fund portfolios for you to choose from.
  • Moderate Control: If you are a mix of the two extremes, investing in a blended portfolio option and changing it every couple of years might be a good option for you.
  • Little Control: If you are stressed-out by the very thought of having to choose stock profiles, you may want to go with an age-based option. Choose a plan that has a really well-performing and low-cost age-based option.

How much risk do I want to take?

Remember, a plan’s past performance is not a guarantee of how it will perform in the future. There’s always a certain amount of risk when investing, but how much risk you are willing to take will help determine which investment option is right for you.

First, a lot depends on how old your child is. If they are 10 or more years away from college, you may be more willing to risk market fluctuations for the chance of higher growth. An option with more stocks could be right for you. However, if your student is just a few years from college, you might just want a tax-advantaged way to save some money – without worrying about poor performing stocks or a market crash. An option with mostly bonds may be right for you.

Overall, there are basically three types of investors:

  1. Conservative: If you are this type of investor you might say something like “big market fluctuations are always bad – even for long-term investments.”You want something you can count on. You’ve worked hard for your money and you don’t want to lose it.
  2. Moderate: If you’re a moderate investor you might say “some market fluctuations are to be expected – as long as it’s within reason.” You’re okay with taking a little risk to achieve a potentially bigger reward, but you also want to make sure that you aren’t risking everything on one roll of the dice.
  3. Aggressive: If this is you, you might find yourself thinking “big market fluctuations are too be expected – the huge reward is worth the risk!” You are looking for maximum return on your investment, and are willing to take a risk to achieve it. You think long-term and aren’t too concerned with the monthly outlook of your portfolio.

Summary

Whether you are investing a lot or a little, you should walk into this knowing how much risk you want to take and how much control of your portfolio you are comfortable having. Once you know the answers to those two questions, you can better decide which plan is right for you.

Conservative Investors

If you are a conservative investor you might want to choose a portfolio that has mostly bonds. You should also consider choosing a 529 plan that minimizes expenses so you can maximize your returns with minimal risk. NY’s 529 Plan could be right for you.

Moderate Investors

If you don’t quite fit into either extreme and don’t want a ton of control, than choosing a great age-based option might be your best bet. Edvest Wisconsin’s age-based options have the best past performance of any plan we considered.

Aggressive Investors

If you are an aggressive investor, the past performance and expenses of a plan’s stock-heavy options will be an important factor for you to consider. College Savings Iowa had the second highest average past performance for the portfolio option we considered that was mostly stocks. This plan also is similar to NY’s 529 plan in that all of its investment options have the same cost – $10,000 invested over 10 years would only cost $255. That’s only $50 more than NY’s 529 plan.

When it Pays to Invest in Your Home State’s 529 Plan

You Don’t Have to “Buy Local”

Most potential investors simply google their home state’s 529 plan and go from there. Whether they think it’s because they should or have to stay in-state, this approach is not optimal if you want the very best 529 plan for your family. While the idea of choosing between a 100 different 529 plans can be quite daunting, we are here to help you make an informed decision.

Hear us when we say this: Don’t invest in your state’s plan just because your state offers an income tax credit. While state income tax credits can go a long way in making your state’s 529 plan more attractive, there’s several other, very important factors to consider. Specifically, the plan’s management expenses and past performance need to be weighed against the value of any in-state benefits.

The Benefits to Investing In-state

State Income Tax Credits

The primary benefit to investing in-state is the option to deduct the amount you invested in the state’s 529 plan from your taxable income on your state’s tax return. This benefit varies in worth based on how high your state’s income taxes are. Of course, there are some states that don’t offer this benefit, or don’t have state income tax at all. Other states offer this benefit to residents that invest in a 529 plan from any state.

Lower Management Expenses

Some 529 plans offer lower expenses to in-state investors. For instance, waiving the annual account fee is a common benefit offered to residents. This is more of a side-benefit, and not something we spent a lot of time considering as a $20/year fee isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference overall when compared to the plan’s past-performance and overall management expenses.

Methodology for the Best In-State Plans

To determine which plans were worth recommending, we started with the same list of 38 plans that we considered for the overall ranking. From there we started eliminating plans.

State Income Tax Deduction for any 529 Plan Investment

We eliminated plans from the following states because they offer a state income tax deduction for residents that invest in a 529 plan from any state:

  • Arizona
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Pennsylvania
  • Montana

No State Income Tax

We eliminated plans from the following states because they have no state income tax:

  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Alaska

No State Income Tax Deductions

We eliminated plans from the following states because they don’t offer deductions on state income tax:

  • California
  • Kentucky
  • New Hampshire

Poor Past Performance

We eliminated the following plans that didn’t rank in the top 25 in our “past performance” metric:

  • Delaware College Investment Plan
  • Hawaii’s College Savings Program
  • Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal)
  • Illinois’ The Bright Start College Savings Program
  • Indiana’s CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Program
  • Maine’s NextGen 529 Plan
  • Nevada SSGA Upromise 529 Plan
  • New Mexico’s The Education Plan
  • North Dakota’s College SAVE
  • CollegeAdvantage Ohio’s 529 Savings Program
  • Oregon College Savings Plan

High Management Expenses

We eliminated the following plans that didn’t rank in the top 25 in our “management expenses” metric:

  • Colorado’s CollegeInvest
  • Arkansas GIFT College Investing Plan
  • Massachusetts’ U.Fund College Investing Plan
  • Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program
  • Nebraska’s NEST 529 College Savings

The Best 529 Plans for In-State Residents

The states that were left after all the cuts are the only twelve 529 plans we can recommend choosing simply due the investor’s geographical location. If you live in one of the following states, we recommend you invest in the corresponding plans.

Best 529 Plans for In-State Residents

Alabama

Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund

Connecticut

Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET)

Georgia

Path3College 529 Plan

Iowa

College Savings Iowa 529 Plan

Maryland

Maryland 529

Michigan

Michigan Education Savings Program

Minnesota

Minnesota College Savings Plan

New York

NY’s 529 College Savings Program

Oklahoma

Oklahoma College Savings Plan

Utah

Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

West Virginia

SMART529

Wisconsin

Edvest Wisconsin

Full Methodology and Metric Walkthrough

Summary of Our Filtering Process

  • We started with over one-hundred 529 Plans
  • From there we eliminated:
    • Prepaid plans
    • Plans with geographical limitations
    • Plans sold by a broker or advisor
  • That process left us with 38 plans to review

Summary of Our Scoring Process

  • We determined our four core metrics
  • We established 15 sub-metrics to score our core metrics
  • We graded each sub-metric from 0-10
  • We averaged all the sub-metrics for each core metric together
  • We assigned each core metric a score between 0-10 (based on the average score of the sub-metrics)
  • Finally, we took each plan’s core metric score and applied its weight to determine the plan’s overall score

Examples

How We Scored Our Core Metrics

The scoring for “past performance” illustrates how we assigned the scores for our core metrics:

  1. Each plan had a different total average past performance
  2. We divided the scores up into 37 equal parts between 0-10 with a “.27” difference between each.
  3. The lowest scoring state was “0”, the second lowest was “.27”, the third lowest was “.54”, etc…

Another example is our core metric “data availability”

  1. There were only four different total scores for this metric (since each sub-metric was a yes or no question)
  2. The top tier got a “10”
  3. The next two tiers scored “6.67” and “3.33” respectively
  4. The bottom plan (there was only one) got a zero

Applying Weights to Our Core Metrics

Note: We applied “weights” to our core metrics to indicate each core metric’s overall importance in determining the overall quality of the plan. For instance, “data availability” was only given a 10% weight, while “management expenses” was given a 30% weight. Obviously how expensive a plan is a whole lot more important than how easy the plan is to research.

Here’s how that process works:

  1. If a plan scores a “6” in “past performance” then we would multiply 6 by .4 (past performance is weighted at 40%)
  2. In this example, the plan would score 2.4 in past performance
  3. We then add each core metric’s weighted score together to get the plan’s overall score (theoretically, if a plan got a “10” in every core metric then its overall score would be 10 as well)

Management Expenses Scoring for Edvest Wisconsin

To better illustrate this process, take a look at how we scored the core metric, “management expenses,” for Edvest Wisconsin.

  1. We started by gathering data
    1. We found the table listing the average expenses for $10,000 over 10 years on Edvest Wisconsin’s website for each of the plan’s investment options
    2. From there we recorded the cost of the most expensive investment option, the second most expensive option, the second cheapest option, and the cheapest option
  2. We averaged those four numbers together to come up with the average cost of investing in that plan
  3. Wisconsin’s overall average was $339
  4. Since it was the 6th cheapest plan (compared to the other 37 plans), it received a score of 8.64
  5. The weight we assigned to management expenses was 30%, so Wisconsin’s weighted score for expenses was “2.59”

Reference Table for Each 529 Plan’s Scores

The Highest Scoring 529 Plans

Rank

Plan

State

Total

Past Performance (40%)

Expenses (30%)

Investing Options (20%)

Data Availability (10%)

#1

Edvest Wisconsin

Wisconsin

9.3

9.72

8.64

8.93

10.00

#2

NY’s 529 College Savings Program

New York

8.5

7.56

10.00

7.24

10.00

#3

ScholarShare College Savings Plan

California

8.4

10.00

8.37

4.48

10.00

#4

College Savings Iowa 529 Plan

Iowa

8.3

8.91

9.18

6.55

6.67

#5

Michigan Education Savings Program

Michigan

7.9

8.37

9.72

3.10

10.00

#6

Minnesota College Savings Plan

Minnesota

7.6

6.75

8.91

6.21

10.00

#7

Path3College 529 Plan

Georgia

6.7

8.10

8.10

0.00

10.00

#8

Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

Utah

6.4

3.78

9.45

8.66

3.33

#9

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan

New Hampshire

6.4

9.45

3.78

4.14

6.67

#10

Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET)

Connecticut

6.2

7.29

5.13

3.79

10.00

#11

Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund

Alabama

6.1

5.94

4.59

10.00

3.33

#12

Missouri’s 529 College Savings Plan (MOST)

Missouri

6.0

3.51

6.75

9.46

6.67

#13

SMART529

West Virginia

5.9

5.67

7.83

4.83

3.33

#14

NEST 529 College Savings

Nebraska

5.8

6.48

3.24

9.73

3.33

#15

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

Oklahoma

5.7

7.02

4.32

2.76

10.00

#16

U.Fund College Investing Plan

Massachusetts

5.5

9.18

1.08

4.14

6.67

#17

Florida 529 Savings Plan

Florida

5.5

7.83

6.21

2.41

0.00

#18

Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust

Kentucky

5.4

8.64

2.43

1.03

10.00

#19

CollegeAdvantage Ohio’s 529 Savings Program

Ohio

5.3

1.35

7.56

9.20

6.67

#20

Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Program

Kansas

5.0

2.97

5.40

7.59

6.67

#21

Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan

Arizona

4.8

6.21

1.35

8.12

3.33

#22

Arkansas GIFT College Investing Plan

Arkansas

4.8

4.05

1.62

8.39

10.00

#23

The Education Plan

New Mexico

4.5

0.81

5.67

9.20

6.67

#24

Oregon College Savings Plan

Oregon

4.5

0.27

5.94

7.85

10.00

#25

Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan

Alaska

4.2

5.40

1.89

5.86

3.33

#26

Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal)

Idaho

4.2

3.24

2.97

6.55

6.67

#27

NextGen

Maine

4.1

2.16

7.02

2.41

6.67

#28

Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program

Mississippi

4.1

4.86

2.70

1.72

10.00

#29

Texas College Savings Plan

Texas

4.0

4.59

4.05

1.38

6.67

#30

Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program

Pennsylvania

3.9

0.00

7.29

6.90

3.33

#31

Maryland 529

Maryland

3.5

5.13

2.16

0.69

6.67

#32

CollegeInvest

Colorado

3.4

4.32

0.27

6.21

3.33

#33

Nevada SSGA Upromise 529 Plan

Nevada

3.4

0.54

4.86

5.17

6.67

#34

The Bright Start College Savings Program

Illinois

3.3

1.62

6.48

2.07

3.33

#35

Delaware College Investment Plan

Delaware

3.3

2.70

3.51

4.14

3.33

#36

Hawaii’s College Savings Program

Hawaii

2.7

2.43

0.81

5.52

3.33

#37

College SAVE

North Dakota

2.6

1.89

0.54

3.45

10.00

#38

CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan

Indiana

0.8

1.08

0.00

0.34

3.33

Individual Summaries for Each Core Metric and Sub-metric

Core Metric 1: Past Performance (40%)

Although past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, it’s still the best way to estimate how well your investment will perform. Since no one option is right for everyone, we gathered past performance data directly from each plan’s website to come up with one total average we could compare between plans. This average was made up of four different options across four different time frames.

While there are other important factors to consider, if you want to get the most bang for your buck, you should choose a plan that has a stellar performance history.

Sub-metrics we used:

The average annual returns for 1 year from:

  • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks (70-80%) and some bonds (20-30%)
  • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks (40-60%) and bonds (40-60%)
  • A blended portfolio with mostly bonds (70-80%) and some stocks (20-30%)
  • An age-based investment option

The average annual returns for 3 years from:

  • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks (70-80%) and some bonds (20-30%)
  • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks (40-60%) and bonds (40-60%)
  • A blended portfolio with mostly bonds (70-80%) and some stocks (20-30%)
  • An age-based investment option

The average annual returns for 5 years from:

  • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks (70-80%) and some bonds (20-30%)
  • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks (40-60%) and bonds (40-60%)
  • A blended portfolio with mostly bonds (70-80%) and some stocks (20-30%)
  • An age-based investment option

The average annual returns for 10 years (or since inception) from:

  • A blended portfolio of mostly stocks (70-80%) and some bonds (20-30%)
  • A blended portfolio with a balance of stocks (40-60%) and bonds (40-60%)
  • A blended portfolio with mostly bonds (70-80%) and some stocks (20-30%)
  • An age-based investment option

Notes:

To arrive at our average past performance for each sub-metric, we first averaged together the past performance of each option listed. When that was done, we averaged all the sub-metrics together to get the total average past performance for that plan.

When there were multiple age-based options or multiple blended portfolios that equally satisfied the criteria (for instance, an option that was 40/60 stocks/bonds, and one that was 60/40 stocks/bonds) then we averaged them together to find each data point.

Highest scoring 529 plans in Past Performance

Rank

Plan Name

State

Total Average

One Year

Three Years

Five Years

Ten Years

#1

ScholarShare College Savings Plan

California

8.30%

12.09%

5.23%

7.73%

8.15%

#2

Edvest Wisconsin

Wisconsin

8.22%

12.63%

5.09%

N/A*

6.93%

#3

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan

New Hampshire

8.14%

13.21%

5.12%

7.74%

6.52%

#4

U.Fund College Investing Plan

Massachusetts

8.10%

13.21%

5.11%

7.74%

6.34%

#5

College Savings Iowa 529 Plan

Iowa

7.90%

12.67%

5.65%

7.82%

5.45%

#6

Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust

Kentucky

7.74%

11.28%

5.03%

6.88%

7.75%

#7

Michigan Education Savings Program

Michigan

7.32%

10.92%

5.30%

7.51%

5.57%

#8

Path3College 529 Plan

Georgia

7.25%

11.06%

5.15%

6.51%

6.27%

#9

Florida 529 Savings Plan

Florida

7.15%

10.71%

4.99%

6.89%

6.02%

#10

NY’s 529 College Savings Program

New York

7.09%

9.90%

5.65%

7.20%

5.60%

#11

Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET)

Connecticut

6.95%

12.23%

4.62%

6.82%

4.14%

#12

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

Oklahoma

6.90%

11.09%

4.66%

6.72%

5.15%

#13

Minnesota College Savings Plan

Minnesota

6.90%

11.07%

5.46%

7.06%

4.00%

#14

NEST 529 College Savings

Nebraska

6.86%

10.43%

4.85%

6.20%

5.98%

#15

Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan

Arizona

6.72%

8.69%

5.14%

8.57%

4.47%

#16

Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund

Alabama

6.71%

9.86%

4.48%

5.94%

6.55%

#17

SMART529

West Virginia

6.59%

10.91%

4.80%

6.51%

4.16%

#18

Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan

Alaska

6.54%

8.00%

4.19%

8.84%

5.14%

#19

Maryland 529

Maryland

6.54%

7.46%

4.09%

8.83%

5.77%

#20

Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program

Mississippi

6.47%

11.04%

4.65%

N/A*

3.71%

#21

Texas College Savings Plan

Texas

6.46%

13.56%

4.44%

6.12%

1.72%

#22

CollegeInvest

Colorado

6.44%

9.56%

4.97%

6.38%

4.85%

#23

Arkansas GIFT College Investing Plan

Arkansas

6.37%

8.74%

4.91%

6.92%

4.91%

#24

Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

Utah

6.36%

8.32%

4.58%

6.27%

6.27%

#25

Missouri’s 529 College Savings Plan (MOST)

Missouri

6.36%

9.73%

4.87%

6.22%

4.61%

#26

Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal)

Idaho

6.29%

9.80%

5.03%

6.02%

4.32%

#27

Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Program

Kansas

6.29%

10.27%

4.77%

5.94%

4.18%

#28

Delaware College Investment Plan

Delaware

6.28%

6.61%

3.78%

8.33%

6.39%

#29

Hawaii’s College Savings Program

Hawaii

6.21%

9.27%

4.70%

6.21%

4.67%

#30

NextGen

Maine

6.06%

6.28%

4.14%

5.97%

7.84%

#31

College SAVE

North Dakota

5.99%

9.16%

4.39%

5.72%

4.71%

#32

The Bright Start College Savings Program

Illinois

5.94%

9.99%

4.95%

6.72%

2.09%

#33

CollegeAdvantage Ohio’s 529 Savings Program

Ohio

5.89%

6.26%

4.37%

7.30%

5.66%

#34

CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan

Indiana

5.88%

5.29%

4.52%

7.85%

5.86%

#35

The Education Plan

New Mexico

5.83%

9.41%

5.32%

5.58%

3.03%

#36

Nevada SSGA Upromise 529 Plan

Nevada

5.67%

7.52%

4.13%

N/A*

5.36%

#37

Oregon College Savings Plan

Oregon

5.65%

9.60%

3.50%

4.80%

4.69%

#38

Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program

Pennsylvania

5.31%

2.53%

6.20%

6.26%

6.26%

*No Data Available

Core Metric 2: Management Expenses (30%)

While past performance is the most metric important we gauged, the cost it takes to maintain your investment plays a big role in determining the best 529 plan as well. Thanks to compound interest, one percentage point can add up to a huge chunk of change. Rather than compare confusing “asset ratios” we compared the cost of investing $10,000 over 10 years. With the cheapest plan ranging from an average $205 (NY’s 529) to the most expensive at $2,059 (Indiana’s CollegeChoice), you can see what a big difference this can make.

Sub-metrics we used:
  1. The plan’s most expensive investment option
  2. The plan’s second most expensive investment option
  3. The plan’s second cheapest investment option
  4. The plan’s cheapest investment option

The Highest Scoring Plans in Management Expenses

Rank

Plan

State

Average Cost

Highest Cost

Second Highest Cost

Second Lowest Cost

Lowest Cost

#1

NY’s 529 College Savings Program

New York

$205

$205

$205

$205

$205

#2

Michigan Education Savings Program

Michigan

$224

$306

$268

$167

$154

#3

Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

Utah

$240

$275

$272

$210

$204

#4

College Savings Iowa 529 Plan

Iowa

$255

$255

$255

$255

$255

#5

Minnesota College Savings Plan

Minnesota

$326

$414

$377

$276

$238

#6

Edvest Wisconsin

Wisconsin

$339

$543

$518

$192

$103

#7

ScholarShare College Savings Plan

California

$409

$715

$703

$116

$103

#8

Path3College 529 Plan

Georgia

$409

$481

$456

$381

$318

#9

SMART529

West Virginia

$427

$505

$430

$406

$368

#10

CollegeAdvantage Ohio’s 529 Savings Program

Ohio

$453

$786

$542

$255

$229

#11

Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program

Pennsylvania

$482

$579

$505

$425

$418

#12

NextGen

Maine

$488

$746

$745

$236

$223

#13

Missouri’s 529 College Savings Plan (MOST)

Missouri

$522

$726

$714

$356

$293

#14

The Bright Start College Savings Program

Illinois

$565

$813

$801

$330

$317

#15

Florida 529 Savings Plan

Florida

$581

$928

$905

$492

$0

#16

Oregon College Savings Plan

Oregon

$584

$873

$764

$356

$344

#17

The Education Plan

New Mexico

$618

$886

$874

$394

$319

#18

Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Program

Kansas

$704

$1,131

$1,085

$306

$293

#19

Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET)

Connecticut

$722

$1,311

$1,029

$268

$281

#20

Nevada SSGA Upromise 529 Plan

Nevada

$724

$1,096

$1,025

$406

$368

#21

Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund

Alabama

$732

$1,100

$1,052

$394

$381

#22

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

Oklahoma

$774

$1,064

$909

$592

$531

#23

Texas College Savings Plan

Texas

$788

$1,211

$1,150

$738

$51

#24

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan

New Hampshire

$801

$1,459

$1,452

$159

$135

#25

Delaware College Investment Plan

Delaware

$802

$1,459

$1,452

$160

$135

#26

NEST 529 College Savings

Nebraska

$819

$1,556

$1,061

$403

$255

#27

Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal)

Idaho

$835

$835

$835

$835

$835

#28

Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program

Mississippi

$855

$909

$897

$812

$800

#29

Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust

Kentucky

$866

$1,123

$909

$678

$752

#30

Maryland 529

Maryland

$868

$1,121

$1,097

$677

$578

#31

Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan

Alaska

$871

$1,121

$1,109

$640

$615

#32

Arkansas GIFT College Investing Plan

Arkansas

$908

$908

$908

$908

$908

#33

Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan

Arizona

$986

$1,267

$1,258

$706

$714

#34

U.Fund College Investing Plan

Massachusetts

$986

$1,267

$1,258

$714

$706

#35

Hawaii’s College Savings Program

Hawaii

$1,123

$1,123

$1,123

$1,123

$1,123

#36

College SAVE

North Dakota

$1,240

$1,240

$1,240

$1,240

$1,240

#37

CollegeInvest

Colorado

$1,659

$2,040

$2,009

$1,329

$1,259

#38

CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan

Indiana

$2,059

$2,803

$2,610

$1,474

$1,350

Core Metric 3: Investment Options (20%)

When it comes to investing, it’s helpful to have options. We looked at this in two ways: how many funds were available to invest in and the minimum and maximum allowable investment amounts. We were really keying in on versatility with this metric.

Sub-metrics we used:
  1. Total investment options: How many total investment options do you have to choose from? (Scored from 0-10)
  2. Minimum investment options: Does the plan offer each of the four investment options we were comparing in our past performance metric? (Yes/No)
  3. Minimum contribution amount: What’s the minimum you can contribute a month? (Scored from 0-10)
  4. Maximum contribution amount: Is the total amount you can contribute enough to reasonably pay for a student’s education 20 years from now? ($300,000 was the threshold we chose) (Yes/No)

The Highest Scoring Plans in Investment Options

Rank

Plan Name

State

Total Score

Total Investment Options

Minimum Investment Options

Minimum Contribution Amount

Maximum Contribution Amount

#1

Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund

Alabama

10.00

9.36

10

10

10

#2

NEST 529 College Savings

Nebraska

9.73

8.73

10

10

10

#3

Missouri’s 529 College Savings Plan (MOST)

Missouri

9.46

7.47

10

8.3

10

#4

The Education Plan

New Mexico

9.20

8.73

10

1.66

10

#5

CollegeAdvantage Ohio’s 529 Savings Program

Ohio

9.20

8.73

10

1.66

10

#6

Edvest Wisconsin

Wisconsin

8.93

6.84

10

3.32

10

#7

Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

Utah

8.66

10

0

10

10

#8

Arkansas GIFT College Investing Plan

Arkansas

8.39

2.48

10

6.64

10

#9

Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan

Arizona

8.12

5.59

10

3.32

10

#10

Oregon College Savings Plan

Oregon

7.85

5.59

10

3.32

10

#11

Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Program

Kansas

7.59

6.84

10

1.66

10

#12

NY’s 529 College Savings Program

New York

7.24

6.21

10

1.66

10

#13

Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program

Pennsylvania

6.90

5.59

10

1.66

10

#14

Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal)

Idaho

6.55

4.96

10

1.66

10

#15

College Savings Iowa 529 Plan

Iowa

6.55

4.96

10

1.66

10

#16

CollegeInvest

Colorado

6.21

3.1

10

3.32

10

#17

Minnesota College Savings Plan

Minnesota

6.21

3.1

10

3.32

10

#18

Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan

Alaska

5.86

4.34

10

0

10

#19

Hawaii’s College Savings Program

Hawaii

5.52

0.62

10

3.32

10

#20

Nevada SSGA Upromise 529 Plan

Nevada

5.17

8.1

0

3.32

10

#21

SMART529

West Virginia

4.83

1.24

10

10

0

#22

ScholarShare College Savings Plan

California

4.48

7.47

0

3.32

10

#23

Delaware College Investment Plan

Delaware

4.14

5.59

0

3.32

10

#24

U.Fund College Investing Plan

Massachusetts

4.14

5.59

0

3.32

10

#25

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan

New Hampshire

4.14

5.59

0

3.32

10

#26

Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET)

Connecticut

3.79

4.96

0

3.32

10

#27

College SAVE

North Dakota

3.45

3.72

10

1.66

0

#28

Michigan Education Savings Program

Michigan

3.10

1.86

0

3.32

10

#29

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

Oklahoma

2.76

1.86

0

3.32

10

#30

Florida 529 Savings Plan

Florida

2.41

3.1

0

1.66

10

#31

NextGen

Maine

2.41

3.1

0

1.66

10

#32

The Bright Start College Savings Program

Illinois

2.07

2.48

0

1.66

10

#33

Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program

Mississippi

1.72

0.62

10

3.32

0

#34

Texas College Savings Plan

Texas

1.38

1.86

0

1.66

10

#35

Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust

Kentucky

1.03

0

0

3.32

10

#36

Maryland 529

Maryland

0.69

0.62

0

1.66

10

#37

CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan

Indiana

0.34

1.24

0

4.98

0

#38

Path3College 529 Plan

Georgia

0.00

0.62

0

3.32

0

Metric 4: Data Availability (10%)

We couldn’t grade how easy it was to use a particular site since that would be purely subjective. Instead, we decided to grade how easy it was to find the data we needed to compare plans. The reasoning behind this is two-fold. First, if you have to dig through a 70 page PDF file to find the information you need, it’s easy to give up and just blindly choose a plan – the plans that provide all the info you need on their websites get a slight boost in our review. Secondly, the plans that make all their data available in easy to find tabs on the site are more likely to be user-friendly in other aspects as well.

Sub-metrics we used:
  1. Past Performance Data: Does the site have a table showing the past performance of each of their investment options over the last 10 years?
  2. Expense Data: Does the site have a table showing how much it would cost to invest $10,000 over 10 years for each investment option?
  3. Investing Options Data: Does the site list all the available investment options? Does the site list the minimum and maximum contribution amounts?

The Highest Scoring Plans in Data Availability

Rank

Plan Name

State

Total Score

Past Performance Data

Money Management Data

Expenses Data

#1

Arkansas GIFT College Investing Plan

Arkansas

10.00

10

10

10

#1

ScholarShare College Savings Plan

California

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET)

Connecticut

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Path3College 529 Plan

Georgia

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Kentucky Education Savings Plan Trust

Kentucky

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Michigan Education Savings Program

Michigan

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Minnesota College Savings Plan

Minnesota

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Mississippi Affordable College Savings (MACS) Program

Mississippi

10.00

10

10

10

#1

NY’s 529 College Savings Program

New York

10.00

10

10

10

#1

College SAVE

North Dakota

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan

Oklahoma

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Oregon College Savings Plan

Oregon

10.00

10

10

10

#1

Edvest Wisconsin

Wisconsin

10.00

10

10

10

#2

Idaho College Savings Program (IDeal)

Idaho

6.67

10

0

10

#2

College Savings Iowa 529 Plan

Iowa

6.67

10

10

0

#2

Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Program

Kansas

6.67

10

10

0

#2

NextGen

Maine

6.67

10

10

0

#2

Maryland 529

Maryland

6.67

10

0

10

#2

U.Fund College Investing Plan

Massachusetts

6.67

10

10

0

#2

Missouri’s 529 College Savings Plan (MOST)

Missouri

6.67

10

10

0

#2

Nevada SSGA Upromise 529 Plan

Nevada

6.67

10

10

0

#2

The UNIQUE College Investing Plan

New Hampshire

6.67

10

10

0

#2

The Education Plan

New Mexico

6.67

10

10

0

#2

CollegeAdvantage Ohio’s 529 Savings Program

Ohio

6.67

10

0

10

#2

Texas College Savings Plan

Texas

6.67

10

10

0

#3

Alabama CollegeCounts 529 Fund

Alabama

3.33

10

0

0

#3

Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan

Alaska

3.33

10

0

0

#3

Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan

Arizona

3.33

10

0

0

#3

CollegeInvest

Colorado

3.33

0

10

0

#3

Delaware College Investment Plan

Delaware

3.33

0

10

0

#3

Hawaii’s College Savings Program

Hawaii

3.33

10

0

0

#3

The Bright Start College Savings Program

Illinois

3.33

10

0

0

#3

CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan

Indiana

3.33

0

10

0

#3

NEST 529 College Savings

Nebraska

3.33

10

0

0

#3

Pennsylvania 529 College Savings Program

Pennsylvania

3.33

0

10

0

#3

Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

Utah

3.33

10

0

0

#3

SMART529

West Virginia

3.33

10

0

0

#4

Florida 529 Savings Plan

Florida

0.00

0

0

0

Resources & Help for Everyone

Financial Aid Questions

Federal Student Aid: Resources for Parents

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Paying For College

Tax Questions

IRS.gov: 529 Q&A

IRS Publication 970: Tax Benefits for Education

Treasury Direct: The Education Bond Program

Other Ways to Save for College

Financial Industry Regulatory Authority: Saving for College

Tips and Strategies for Saving with a 529 Plan

Merrill Edge: Five Strategies for Parents

The Security and Exchange Commission: 529 Plans Q&A