Won't someone think of the children?
By Russel Kinnel | 07-12-04 | 06:00 AM | Email Article
Which state has the worst 529 plan?

Not too long ago, the state of Illinois made room for brokers under its 529 umbrella by providing options that carry a commission. I like the idea of having both no-load and load options in 529 plans.

Russel Kinnel is director of manager research for Morningstar.

So, let’s see: Illinois has made room for high-powered banks (Citigroup ), elected officials (the state collects fees on 529s), and brokers. I guess that covers everyone. Oh wait, Illinois forgot about the children (and their parents) who hope to pay for college one day with their 529 savings.

In searching for a firm to run its 529 plan, Illinois passed up firms with low costs and great performance, such as Vanguard, American, and T. Rowe Price, in favor of Citigroup and its lineup of bland funds. Maybe Illinois’ elected officials felt that C students in the state would be intimidated by all that accomplishment, so it opted for a mediocre underachiever.

At this point, what Illinois did would be disappointing but no worse than a bunch of states. But Illinois must have known that its 529 plan couldn’t compete with the likes of Utah and Virginia, which had lower costs and better shops (Vanguard and American, respectively). So, Illinois walled off access to all other states’ 529 plans by denying tax breaks to anyone choosing another state’s plan. It even went so far as to tax Illinois residents on withdrawals from 529 plans offered by other states.

This kind of reminds me of the way banana republics behave when they decide their local industries can’t compete with the rest of the world--they erect big trade barriers to protect them. Of course, it may hurt consumers and other businesses in those countries, but it does protect the local champions' turf.

When senior analyst Dan McNeela named the five worst 529 plans in the February issue of Morningstar FundInvestor, he didn’t put Illinois on the list. The reason is that Dan was looking at just the plans rather than the legislation that enacted them. However, if you step back and look at the overall deal being offered to state residents, Illinoisans are probably worse off than anyone else. On the one hand Illinois created a tax break, but with the other it made sure that most of the benefits would be shared by the state and the finance industry.

After Dan’s list came out, the state of Ohio improved its offering by adding some good funds to its lineup. That leaves an opening in our five worst list. Illinois, your table is waiting….

You can find info on 529 plans here.

Poll Results
In my last poll, I asked which shop’s inflows were getting out of hand. American got the most votes, but opinion was divided.

25.6% - American Funds
11.1% - Dodge & Cox
14.6% - Fidelity
1.7% - T. Rowe Price
14.9% - Vanguard

Securities mentioned in this article



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Russel Kinnel does not own shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar's editorial policies.
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