Twenty-five dollars may not seem like a lot of money, but those small investments over the years have helped the North Carolina’s National College Savings Program’s NC 529 Plans grow to more than $1 billion.
The program recently marked the milestone by giving kudos to those who recognize the importance and advantages of higher education, in terms of steady employment, increased earnings, improved health and family and community benefits over a lifetime, officials said.
Launched in December 2001 with $9.5 million in assets and 2,185 active accounts rolled over from the state’s original single-option 529 college savings plan, North Carolina’s college saving program includes the NC 529 Plan, which offers multiple investment options, has grown steadily.
At $1 billion, there are 106,452 active accounts in the savings program, 94% of which are owned by North Carolina residents, according to program officials.
As authorized by the General Assembly, the NC 529 Plan was established and is maintained by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority. The College Foundation Inc. administers the NC 529 Plan on behalf of the authority.
The steady growth of the program can be credited to the benefits that come along with it, said Steve Brooks, the authority’s executive director. Annual contributions to the NC 529 Plan of up to $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for joint filers are deductible from state tax income. The tax benefit is available to the account owner who pays N.C. taxes, as well as any of the state’s other taxpayers, such as grandparents or others who choose to make a NC 529 contribution as a holiday or birthday gift for a future college student.
The account earnings are also free from federal and state taxes as long as college savings are used for qualified higher education expenses, such as tuition, room and board, books, fees and required equipment. Money in an NC 529 account can be used at almost any four-year or two-year college, in-state or out-of-state.
One of the contributors to the college savings program is the $25 billion State Employees’ Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C. The others are Vanguard and North Carolina’s State Treasurer.
At the end of June, State Employees’ had $40.7 million, 4% invested of the total, in the NC 529 plans, Brooks said. While the credit union is not the largest contributor, he noted its consistent ability to fill a certain niche.
“When the recession hit, people wanted an insured account,” Brooks said. “State Employees’ has done a good job keeping rates for the conservative investor.”
Bobby Hall, senior executive vice president for State Employees’, agreed on who the credit union’s option appeals to.
“It’s another option for the ultra-conservative,” Hall said. “Our involvement is for our members who want to save for the education of their children in a regular, disciplined way over a long period of time instead of waiting until a child is 18 years old.”
Starting an NC 529 account requires as little as a $25 investment, and contributions can be regularly made or periodic, based on financial situations and preferences, according to Shera Hube, vice president for marketing and savings for the College Foundation.
Brooks is looking forward to the NC 529 plans moving well beyond the $1 billion mark.
“We’re certainly glad to have it go that high but we want to see it go higher. It’s a moving target.”