3 Tips for Investing Wisely in a 529 Plan
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
May 19, 2023
Do you want to know more about how to invest in your child’s 529 Plan?
Many families understand that saving for college is essential, but that’s where their knowledge begins and ends. Investing to grow their total savings can be intimidating and frankly, there isn’t enough unbiased information out there to help parents and students get ahead.
We’re here to help change that! In this blog post, we want to review a few quick tips to start investing in your 529 Plan confidently.
If you are a DIY 529 investor, here are 3 quick tips for you:
1) Carefully review your investment choices.
529 plans can be set up in various ways, but they are typically invested in mutual funds. In most plans, you can invest in a combination of the plan’s investment options, in a ready-made risk-based portfolio or in a ready-made age-based portfolio.
One popular method is the age-based funding strategy. Here’s how it works: If your child is young, your funds will be invested in more aggressive choices. The assets are automatically transferred to more risk-averse investments as your child gets older.
Like any investment, you want to ensure your asset allocation is appropriate, given your risk tolerance and time horizon. Just because Family A and Family B both have 10 years until their kids go off to school does not necessarily mean they should be invested in the same way.
Some people may be willing to forgo the potential of higher returns to know their downside risk is limited–especially in times of uncertainty. Others may be the opposite being more comfortable with something a bit riskier in exchange for the potential of higher returns.
2) Review your goals and asset allocation strategy regularly.
The only thing constant in life is change. As your goals and time horizon change, so should your investment strategy. Your strategy is particularly important with a relatively short investment runway for college. One important tenet in investing is rebalancing your portfolio at least annually to align with your goals. So, what is rebalancing?
Rebalancing is the process of buying and selling portions of your portfolio to set the weight of each asset class back to its original target amount.
Additionally, if an investor’s investment strategy or tolerance for risk has changed, they can use rebalancing to readjust the weightings of each asset class in the portfolio to fit the new asset allocation. Frankly, most investors don’t do this unless they have an attentive advisor.
The whole idea behind age-based investing is to set it and forget it essentially. These plans are not perfect, but for the hands-off DIY investor they can serve them very well by systematically making the portfolio more conservative and less risky as college approaches.
If you are working with an advisor and/or pay close attention to your portfolio, you certainly may be able to create a more customized portfolio. However, many investors are just trying to sock away as much as they can and outsource the asset management for a reasonable fee. If this sounds like you, the ready-made age-based option is something you should strongly consider.
3) Fees matter!
You will incur lower expenses with direct-sold 529 plans. Broker-sold 529s generally have higher annual costs and may include sales charges of 1%-5.75% of your contributions. Also, many of the direct-sold 529s invest in index funds with low expense ratios.
The vast majority of our clients are Ohio residents. As such, we typically advocate families use the College Advantage direct 529 plan with the Ohio Tuition Trust Authority.
For starters, Ohio offers a state income tax deduction to Ohio residents on the first $4,000 you contribute to the plan for each beneficiary, per year. They also provide a variety of passive, low-cost index funds. The high fees of many broker-sold plans can eat up any potential of having a bigger pot of money at the end of the rainbow.
If you are going the do-it-yourself route, make sure to put in the time and effort to invest and research all of your alternatives and set the plan and other investment goals that are important to you.
We’re here to assist you in any way we can on your college journey. You can schedule a meeting with us by clicking here. We’d love to meet you and your family and learn more about your unique situation and concerns as you begin the college planning process.
Originally published 10/2015
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