Saving for a better future with education

&8220;If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.&8221;

-Anonymous

Morningstar Inc., a leading provider of independent investment research, annually looks at college savings plans, determing which plans are the best choices for those saving for college.

529 college savings plans are typically popular choices, as they offer tax-free growth, so long as the money is used for college expenses like books and tuition.

Morningstar&8217;s report, released last Thursday, ranked the best and worst college savings plans from across the nation. As costs of higher education continue to rise, more parents, grandparents and students are saving for college in 529 plans, so the Morningstar report helps to shed light on which plans will potentially be best in the long run.

Unfortunately Shelby County residents and others, Alabama&8217;s plan ranks at the bottom, for the second year in a row. So what makes Alabama&8217;s plan rank at the bottom? Morningstar suggests the best plans offer low fees and well-run investment options; both of which help money invested in the plan grow more quickly.

So just how does Alabama&8217;s plan stack up: participants in Alabama&8217;s age-based 529 savings plan may pay annual fees of 1.35% to 1.63% a year, compared to Utah&8217;s Educational Savings Plan. Those saving through Utah&8217;s plan pay from 0.25% to 0.38% on their investment options. That&8217;s a huge disparity in my mind.

What led Alabama to have one of the worst plans and how hard would it be to find a better solution, is difficult to know.

What we do know is that college savings options offered to residents by this state are less than what they could be. Lawmakers should follow the lead of legislators in Maine, Kansas and Pennsylvania who passed laws offering state tax deductions on contributions for residents who invest in out of state or in state 529 plans.

Our state should set about offering a college savings plan that is the envy of the rest of the nation.

A well-worn analogy works in this case:

Alabamians would never accept being the worst college football team, so why would we accept that ranking for anything else with our name on it?

Is Alabama&8217;s 529 college savings plan better than no plan at all?

Certainly.

Do the children of Alabama deserve better options?

You bet they do