Kids — they dream big, they dream loud, and they dream daringly. They grow up to be astronauts and nurses. Teachers and firefighters. Policemen and journalists. And though we can only hold their hands for a while, we can make a decision now that will affect their future forever.

Think Montana State University and University of Montana. Harvard and Yale. Whether Ivy League, state, or community, higher education can become a reality with the help of a 529 college savings account — one of the easiest and most affordable ways to save for your child’s future education. As with everything today, there are multiple college savings options out there, but not all are equal. Achieve Montana is a 529 plan administered by the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education and offers several special advantages, including: tax-deferred growth, generous contribution limits, and professional investment management. Sound confusing? It’s not. It means you give to the plan and the plan gives back.

It works like this. For just $25, you can open an Achieve Montana account online today and begin investing. Anyone with a social security number can be a beneficiary of the account and any number of people can act as contributors. Friends, family, co-workers — they all have the opportunity to make a difference in your child’s life. Contribution amounts can be as low as $15 with payroll deduction. Once your child graduates from high school and moves the tassel from right to left, the money in your Achieve Montana account can be used toward his or her qualifying higher education expenses, including tuition, computers, and in some cases, room and board.

Higher education institutions that accept savings from an Achieve Montana 529 plan extend far and wide. Nearly any public, private, 2-year, or 4-year college nationwide, including many trade schools, will accept the assets in your account. As a rule of thumb, if the school offers financial aid through the U.S. Department of Education, your 529 funds used to pay for qualified expenses can be withdrawn tax free. This also extends to graduate schools and some U.S. colleges and universities that have locations outside of the country.

What if your child decides to delay higher education, receives a scholarship or grant, or decides not to go at all? Don’t worry! You have several options: you can leave the money in the account in case your child starts college later or plans to seek a second degree; you can change the beneficiary of the account to another eligible family member; or you can withdraw the money from the account for other uses (balance subject to state and federal taxes, and in many cases, federal tax penalties).

Investing in a college savings plan can seem like an insurmountable commitment, but it is one that your kids will grow to depend on. Every dollar saved today is a dollar you won’t have to borrow when your child is ready for school. Even a little can go a long way.

We’ve taught our children to dream big, loud, and daringly. And now it is our turn to help make those dreams come true. May 29 is National 529 Day, an annual day that raises awareness about the importance of planning ahead and saving for college with a 529 plan. In celebration of the day, Achieve Montana is giving away $1,529 to be put into an Achieve Montana college savings account. For more information, visit achievemontana.com and start saving today for your children’s tomorrow.

Amy Berry of Helena is the Pensions and Education Savings Administrator for the Montana University System. Achieve Montana is sponsored by the State of Montana and administered by the Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education, as sole trustee of the Montana Family Education Savings Trust.

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