Higher Education: A Small Percentage of Families Save in 529 Plans (GAO-13-64)

Overview

A small percentage of U.S. families saved in 529 plans in 2010, and those who did tended to be wealthier than others. According to the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), less than 3 percent of families saved in a 529 plan or Coverdell Education Savings Account (Coverdell)--a similar but less often used college savings vehicle also included in the SCF. While the economic downturn may have reduced income available for education savings, even among those families who considered saving for education a priority, fewer...
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Overview

A small percentage of U.S. families saved in 529 plans in 2010, and those who did tended to be wealthier than others. According to the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), less than 3 percent of families saved in a 529 plan or Coverdell Education Savings Account (Coverdell)--a similar but less often used college savings vehicle also included in the SCF. While the economic downturn may have reduced income available for education savings, even among those families who considered saving for education a priority, fewer than 1 in 10 had a 529 plan (or Coverdell). Families with these accounts had about 25 times the median financial assets of those without. They also had about 3 times the median income and the percentage who had college degrees was about twice as high as for families without 529 plans (or Coverdells). States offer consumers a variety of 529 plan features that, along with several other factors, can affect participation. Some of the most important features families consider when choosing a 529 plan are tax benefits, fees, and investment options, according to experts and state officials GAO interviewed. These features can vary across the state plans. For example, in July 2012, total annual asset-based fees ranged from 0 to 2.78 percent depending on the type of plan. 529 plan officials and experts GAO interviewed said participation is also affected by families' ability to save, their awareness of 529 plans as a savings option, and the difficulty in choosing a plan given the amount of variation between plans. Selected states, however, have taken steps to address these barriers. For example, to address families' ability to save, particularly for low-income families, some states have adopted plans that include less risky investments, have low minimum contributions, and match families' contributions. Savings in 529 plans affect financial aid similarly to a family's other assets. For federal aid, a family's assets affect how much it is expected to contribute to the cost of college. If the amount of those assets exceeds a certain threshold, then a percentage is expected to be used for college costs. For example, for students who are dependent on their parents, the percentage of parental assets, including savings in 529 plans, that the family may be expected to contribute ranges from 2.64 to 5.64 percent. Many states and selected institutions also treat 529 plan savings the same as other family assets. However, a few states provide them with special treatment, such as exempting those funds from their financial aid calculation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781482780611
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Publication date: 3/15/2013
  • Pages: 70
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.15 (d)

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