Ask the grumpies: Could you revisit 529 plans?

Minnesotan asks:

Can you please discuss 529 plans again? Do you still have your kids in Utah’s plan? My state now has “parity” and will give some income tax deduction for donations to any state plan (still need to read more on this). Should I go with Utah, or is another state the best option now?

Disclaimer:  We are not financial professionals.  Please consult an actual financial professional and/or do your own research before making important financial decisions.

Ooh, great question, and great benefit.  Let’s take a look at this parity thing…


Minnesota taxpayers now have the option of claiming either a tax credit or deduction for contributions to any state’s 529 plan…

Deduction:  Up to $3,000 for a married couple filing jointly or $1,500 for all other filers for contributions made to a qualified 529 account…

Credit:  Credit can be claimed on half of contributions up to $500, subject to phase-out starting at a federal adjusted gross income of $75,000…

Calculator for which is better In 99 percent of cases, however, they’re going to be better off using the credit if they’re under the $100,000 income threshold…it’s safe to assume above and below the $75,000 and $100,000 income levels that they should take the credit or deduction, respectively.

So that’s cool.  The question then becomes, what state’s 529 plan should you use.  It seems like the answer should be the same as for people who don’t get any state income tax deduction from being in a 529 plan.  And for that, you want places with (1) low fees, (2) reasonable investment options, (3) reasonable customer service… and probably in that order.

Let’s see what the big financial sites are saying now.

Forbes:  Rates Maine, Nevada, and Utah as best options.  (They also like Alaska, but note it has higher fees.)

Investopedia:  Ohio, Utah, Illinois, Virginia, New York

Morningstar:  Illinois, Virginia, Utah, California, though they intend to put out new numbers using a new methodology sometime in October that emphasize fees more.  You will probably want to check this out before making any major changes/investments.

Kiplinger:  Utah

So… to answer your question, yes our kids are still in the Utah plan.  Although some years another plan may match or even beat Utah’s fees, those plans don’t tend to consistently have the lowest fees.  Although Utah doesn’t always have the lowest fees every single year anymore, it has always been competitive for non-resident plans every time I’ve looked.  That consistency over time is why I don’t regret picking Utah and sticking with it given that we don’t get a tax break only from using our own state’s plan.  Past performance doesn’t predict future performance, but there is something to be said for having a steady track record with fees over time.  You’ll probably also want to take a look at Illinois and Virginia and maybe some of the other states listed above and see what you think.

Grumpy Nation, if applicable, what state is your 529 plan from?

9 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Could you revisit 529 plans?”

  1. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    We have a WI plan and and VA plan. The WI plan has much better returns; the choices on the VA investments are not stellar and the fees are slightly higher in VA, so it’s better than nothing. The WI plan has had truly excellent performance over the last 10 years, but since we don’t live there anymore, the tax benefit on the VA plan makes it slightly advantageous for us now.

  2. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    We don’t get any tax break for contributions so I picked the Nevada plan in order to stick with Vanguard. I prioritized lower fees and ease of use (since I’m already with Vanguard for my retirement money). Taking a quick look, the total is 80% contributions and 20% growth so I think we’re doing ok.

  3. Angela Says:

    Our 529 is in our state because of the benefit we get on our state income taxes.

  4. Sasha Says:

    Another 529 investor who chose to do it in-state for the state income tax benefit (Illinois, up to $1000). The Illinois plan also offers Vanguard investments so while they aren’t as cheap as they are at Vanguard direct, they aren’t too bad.

  5. omdg Says:

    Utah for us as well!

  6. Leah Says:

    We did Utah. We’ve been happy with them so far!

  7. Ewan McNay Says:

    NY, but (i) they’re now at a point where we’ve started taking out rather than paying in, and (ii) for all the same state tax reasons (which are pretty minimal for NY but better than nothing) as others.

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