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GET’s Response to the College Affordability Act (Updated September 2, 2015)

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Dear GET Customers,

Yesterday the GET Committee met for the third time since the Legislature enacted the College Affordability Act, which lowers the cost of tuition at Washington’s public colleges and universities. These new tuition provisions affect some of the assumptions that the GET pricing and payout models have historically been based upon. The GET Committee continued reviewing the legislation and developing a plan for responding to all of the components of the Act. At the meeting, Committee members heard from the State Actuary, received reports from staff and comments from customers, and considered options for the GET Program moving forward.

The GET Committee is confident the program will continue to be a great college savings resource for years to come, they understand that some customers may wish to seek other options. Accordingly, after a period of discussion, yesterday the GET Committee voted on three policy changes they believe will protect GET customers and provide them with increased account flexibility  The motions, which passed unanimously, are:

  1. Based on the recent passage of the College Affordability Act, effective September 2, 2015 the payout value for the GET program will remain $117.82 per unit until the time when one year of resident undergraduate tuition and state mandated fees at Washington State’s highest priced public university surpasses $11,782.
  2. Based on the recent passage of the College Affordability Act, effective September 2, 2015 and through December 15, 2016, the GET program will waive all state program refund fees and the two-year hold requirement for all account owners.
  3. Based on the recent passage of the College Affordability Act, effective September 2, 2015 and through December 15, 2016, the GET program permit account owners to receive a refund of their contributions or the payout value, whichever is greater.

With respect to the first motion, it is intended to give GET customers peace of mind in knowing that they will not receive less than the current payout value for their account.

One effect of the second motion is that customers who are concerned about the tuition policy will be able to move their GET fund balances into a different 529 plan, including a 529 savings plan.

With respect to the third motion, refunds of contributions include finance charges paid by customers with Custom Monthly plans, if these finance charges caused the effective unit price to be greater than $117.82 per unit. Motions two and three provide GET customers with a 16 month window of time to exercise these options, which will gives account owners the flexibility to evaluate the outcomes from the feasibility study that is being conducted, as well as any new programs or developments before having to make a decision regarding their GET account.

Please note:

  • The non-refundable enrollment fee and any previously incurred account fees, such as late payment fees and NSF charges, will be deducted from all final refund amounts.
  • The earnings portion of any refund may still be subject to IRS taxes and penalties. For example, any increased value may be taxed as income and an additional 10% penalty may apply.
  • If you take a refund, a 1099-Q tax form will be sent to you that shows the principle and earnings portions of your refund. You may be required to report this information to the IRS.
  • To avoid a taxable event, you may deposit your refund into another 529 plan within 60 days of the date your refund is processed. To compare various 529 plans, go to www.collegesavings.org.
  • We strongly advise you to consult IRS Publication 970 and a tax advisor about potential tax implications.
  • It may take 10-12 weeks to process your refund from the time that GET receives your request.

If you choose to request a full or partial refund of your GET account(s), you must first review the GET Refund/Cancellation Policy, and then complete a GET Refund/Cancellation Request form for each account being refunded. Links to these documents are below:

  • GET Refund/Cancellation Policy
  • GET Refund/Cancellation Request form

Prior to the passage of these three action items, State Actuary Matt Smith provided a preliminary actuarial valuation report regarding the GET fund. Mr. Smith reported that the funded status of the GET program as of June 30, 2015 is 141%, up from 106% one year earlier. The increase in funded status was based in large part on lower than expected tuition growth as a result of the College Affordability Act. The Actuary advised the GET Committee that his preliminary valuation needs to be carefully considered as it is simply a snapshot in time and is sensitive to a number of economic and legislative variables.

Moving forward, the next GET Committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 7th in the Cherberg Building on the Capitol Campus in Olympia, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. At that meeting the Committee will discuss in more detail the possibility of establishing a 529 Savings Plan and will continue moving forward with other action items that are a part of the legislatively ordered feasibility study that needs to be completed before December 1, 2016.

Please visit our website for more details on these policy updates at get.wa.gov. If you have account specific questions, we encourage you to call our Contact Center at 1.800.955.2318 or email getinfo@wsac.wa.gov. We are here 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (PST) Monday through Friday, excluding state holidays. Finally, below I have provided you with a review of the action items that the GET Committee approved in its previous meeting on August 18, 2015.
In closing, it is important to remember the GET team is confident the program will continue to be a great college savings resource for years to come, and that the option to refund is simply an opportunity for customers to have flexibility with their college savings. Please know that I, the GET staff and the GET Committee appreciate your continued support. As information and more details become available, we will be sure to share updates with you.

Sincerely,
Betty Lochner
GET Director

Additional Action Items Approved by the GET Committee on August 18, 2015

1.) The GET Committee authorized that effective August 19, 2015, the GET program refund the amortization fee paid by account owners who have unredeemed units at a purchase price of $163 or greater.

Since 2011, GET customers have paid an amortization fee as part of the unit purchase price. This fee was charged to ensure the program’s funded status recovered after the impacts of the Great Recession and years of double-digit tuition increases at state universities.

The program’s funded status has fully recovered, and this amortization amount is no longer needed.  As such, the overpayment will be refunded to every customer with unredeemed units purchased at $163/unit or greater. Customers entitled to an amortization refund do not need to take action in order to claim this refund at this time. It will be an automated refund sent to all accounts that qualify in the form of a check issued to the GET account owner. Customers should expect to receive their refunds by the end of December.

Customers with custom monthly plans at a purchase price of $163 per unit or greater will automatically receive a cash refund of the amortization fee for the number of units they have accrued to date. Ongoing future monthly payments will be adjusted to a new lower amount based on the reduced unit price without the amortization fee. Once the amortization refund is completed in December, customers will be notified of their new monthly payment amount so that adjustments to automatic withdrawals can be made with their financial institutions.

The refund amount per unit is listed below, which is directly correlated to the original amortization amount paid per unit:

Year Units Purchased Refund Amount Per Unit
5/1/11 – 6/30/12  $      18.70
7/1/12 – 06/30/13  $      19.73
7/1/13 – 06/30/14  $      20.82
7/1/14 – 6/30/15  $      20.82

2.) The GET Committee authorized the delay of new unit sales for a period not to exceed two years effective July 1, 2015. Continued payments on Custom Monthly Plans established prior to July 1, 2015 shall be allowed.

GET will not accept applications for new GET accounts and current customers will not be able to purchase any new units until the restriction has been lifted.  All accounts opened or contributions made after June 30, 2015 will be refunded to the account owner.  One exception is that customers with existing Custom Monthly Plans may continue to make monthly payments in order to keep accruing units they have under contract.

Any automatic payments (ACH) customers have set up with GET for the purchase of Lump Sum units have been inactivated. If you have bill pay set up through your bank or GET payroll deduction set up through your employer, you will need to inactivate these automatic payments.
This unit purchase delay has been designed and implemented to ensure GET customers are protected pending potential changes to the program. GET is currently conducting a legislatively mandated feasibility study to evaluate future options for the program.  More specifically, the feasibility study is intended to answer the following questions:

  • How does GET continue to protect customer account values after two-year payout value is unfrozen?
  • What is the impact of decreasing tuition rates on GET’s funded status and future unit price?
  • What are some alternatives and impacts for changing the program’s distribution policy from tuition and fees to a cost of attendance metric?
  • What is the feasibility and impact of establishing a 529 college savings plan?
  • What are some potential alternatives and impacts for whether the state penalty for withdrawal should be changed?

Answers to these questions must be researched and developed by December 1, 2016 and will be presented to the Legislative Fiscal and Higher Education Committees. It is important the program has answers to these questions before it considers selling new units.

We thank you for your support of the GET Program, apologize for any inconvenience, and hope that you will continue your college savings efforts. If you would like to ensure your refund amount continues to go towards saving for college, we encourage you to consider depositing your refund into another 529 plan. To compare various 529 plans, go to www.collegesavings.org. Also, please continue to visit the GET website for program developments.

Additional Information about the College Affordability Act and its Impact on GET

What does lower tuition mean for students today?

  • This historic event will make college more affordable and accessible for more Washington families and current students.
  • More specifically, tuition will be reduced at the state’s two research institutions (UW & WSU) by five percent in the 2015-16 academic year and by another ten percent in the 2016-17 academic year for a total two year reduction of 15 percent. This is important because these are the two institutions for which GET’s payout value is based upon.
  • In addition to the tuition reductions noted above, the College Affordability Act also reduces tuition by 20% over the next two years at the state’s regional institutions (CWU, EWU, WWU and The Evergreen State College) and 5% in 2015-16 academic year at the state’s community and technical colleges.
  • The legislation goes on to say that beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, tuition operating fees for resident undergraduates at community and technical colleges, may increase by no more than the state’s average annual growth rate in median hourly wage as determined by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How will this impact my student if they are needing to use their units in the next two years? 

In response to lower tuition, the legislation states that for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years, the GET Committee shall set the payout value for units redeemed at the 2014-15 rate of $117.82 per unit.

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GET’s Response to the College Affordability Act (Updated August 19, 2015)

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Dear GET Customers,

Yesterday the GET Committee met for a second time since the passing of the College Affordability Act at the close of the legislative session in early July, which lowers the cost of tuition at Washington’s public colleges and universities. Four key items were discussed at this meeting:

  1. Returning the Amortization Fee paid by customers who purchased units at $163 or greater since 2011 in anticipation tuition would increase.
  2. Waiving the program’s refund fees and two year holding period.
  3. Refunding customers’ contributions if greater than the current payout value.
  4. Delaying of new unit sales for a period up to two years.

After hearing from GET staff and customers, the Committee discussed these action items at length and took action on the following two items:

  1. The Committee authorized the refund of the amortization fee paid by customers who purchased units at $163 or greater.

    Since 2011, GET customers have paid an amortization fee as part of the unit purchase price. This fee was charged to ensure the program’s funded status recovered after the impacts of the Great Recession and years of double-digit tuition increases at state universities.

    The program’s funded status has fully recovered, and this amortization amount is no longer needed. As such, the overpayment will be refunded to every customer with unredeemed units purchased at $163/unit or greater. Customers entitled to an amortization refund do not need to take action in order to claim this refund at this time. It will be an automated refund sent to all accounts that qualify in the form of a check issued to the GET account owner. Customers should expect to receive their refunds by the end of December.

    Customers with Custom Monthly Plans at a purchase price of $163 per unit or greater will automatically receive a cash refund of the amortization fee for the number of units they have accrued to date. Ongoing future monthly payments will be adjusted to a new lower amount based on the reduced unit price without the amortization fee. Once the amortization refund is completed in December, customers will be notified of their new monthly payment amount so that adjustments to automatic withdrawals can be made with their financial institutions.

    The refund amount per unit is listed below, which is directly correlated to the original amortization amount paid per unit:

Year Units Purchased Refund Amount Per Unit
05/01/2011 – 06/30/2012 $18.70
07/01/2012 – 06/30/2013 $19.73
7/01/2013 – 06/30/2014 $20.82
07/01/2014 – 06/30/2015 $20.82
  1. The Committee authorized the delay of new unit sales for a period not to exceed two years effective July 1, 2015. Continued payments on Custom Monthly Plans established prior to July 1, 2015 shall be allowed.

    GET will not accept applications for new GET accounts and current customers will not be able to purchase any new units until the restriction has been lifted. All accounts opened or contributions made after June 30, 2015 will be refunded to the account owner. One exception is that customers with existing Custom Monthly Plans may continue to make monthly payments in order to keep accruing units they have under contract.

    This unit purchase delay has been designed and implemented to ensure GET customers are protected pending potential changes to the program. GET is currently conducting a legislatively mandated feasibility study to evaluate future options for the program. More specifically, the feasibility study is intended to answer the following questions:

    • How does GET continue to protect customer account values after two-year payout value is unfrozen?
    • What is the impact of decreasing tuition rates on GET’s funded status and future unit price?
    • What are some alternatives and impacts for changing the program’s distribution policy from tuition and fees to a cost of attendance metric?
    • What is the feasibility and impact of establishing a 529 college savings plan?
    • What are some potential alternatives and impacts for whether the state penalty for withdrawal should be changed?

Answers to these questions must be researched and developed by December 1, 2016 and will be presented to the Legislative Fiscal and Higher Education Committees. It is important the program has answers to these questions before it considers selling new units.

More Decisions to Come at the September 1st GET Committee Meeting

Moving forward the GET Committee chose to address the following two options at the September 1st meeting in order to gather more information over the course of the next two weeks:

  1. Waiving the GET program refund fees and two year holding period.
    The GET Committee is considering allowing customers to have the option to refund all or a portion of the funds in their accounts without program refund penalties or fees, through December 15, 2016. Additionally, the Committee is considering waiving the two-year waiting period that typically applies to all accounts before they can be refunded. This gives customers who are concerned about the tuition policy changes the opportunity to move their savings into another program, such as a 529 savings plan.
  2. Refunding customer’s their contributions if their contributions are greater than the current payout value.
    The GET Committee is also considering allowing customers with unredeemed units to refund their account(s) before December 15, 2016 and receive the current unit payout value of $117.82/unit or the amount of their contributions, whichever is greater. Refunds of contributions include finance charges paid by customers with Custom Monthly Plans, if these finance charges caused the effective unit price to be greater than $117.82 per unit.

With both of these items the GET Committee is considering providing a 16 month window to take advantage of these options, so that account owners are able to evaluate the outcomes from the feasibility study and any new programs or offerings that might be offered by the state before having to make a decision regarding their GET account.

As the program moves forward, the GET Committee will look at a number of longer-term solutions to the issues outlined in the feasibility study in an effort to benefit customers and the overall financial health of the program. Yesterday’s decisions are just the first of several actions the GET Committee will take to fulfill the program’s mission of helping families save for college.

We appreciate your patience and understanding. Please know that the Committee’s number one priority is the best interests of our customers. As information and more details become available, we will be sure to share updates with you.

Sincerely,

Betty Lochner
GET Director

P.S. Dates and times for the upcoming GET Committee meetings are as follows:

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Cherberg Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia
Senate Hearing Room 1

Wednesday, October 7, 2015
2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Cherberg Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia
Senate Hearing Room 3

Thursday, December 3, 2015
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Cherberg Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia
Senate Hearing Room 3

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Updates From the July 13 GET Committee Meeting

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July 14, 2015
Dear GET Customers,

Yesterday afternoon the GET Committee met for the first time since the close of the 2015 legislative session and the passing of the College Affordability Act, which lowers the cost of tuition at Washington’s public colleges and universities. The Committee took its first steps in reviewing the legislation and developing a plan for responding to all of the components of the Act. At the meeting Committee members spent time listening to comments from customers and evaluating the requirements of the program moving forward.

After a period of discussion, the Committee agreed that it was best to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the variety of options in response to lower tuition rather than moving ahead with any action at the July meeting. At two upcoming meetings this summer, the GET Committee will be reviewing and considering action on a number of issues, including: refunds, waiving penalties and fees, implementation of the legislatively mandated feasibility study, future pricing and actuarial studies, as well as plans for any upcoming enrollment periods.

Dates and times for the upcoming meetings are as follows:

Tuesday, August 18
1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Cherberg Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia
Senate Hearing Room 4

Tuesday, September 1
2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Cherberg Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia
Senate Hearing Room 1

In the meantime, if you have comments, concerns, or ideas you would like to share with the committee, we would encourage you to click on the link below and complete our short survey.  Your constructive input is important to us. The Committee will review and consider your feedback in the process.

http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2235368/GET-Customer-Feedback-Tuition-Reduction

We appreciate your patience and understanding as the GET Committee works through all of these significant decisions. Please know that the Committee’s number one priority is the best interests of our customers. This priority necessitates that thoughtful, professional, and well-grounded decisions are made on your behalf.

As information and more details become available, we will be sure to share updates with you.

Sincerely,

Betty Lochner
GET Director

 

Information from Our Previous Update on June 30, 2015:

What does lower tuition mean for students today?

  • This historic event will make college more affordable and accessible for more Washington families and current students.
  • More specifically, tuition will be reduced at the state’s two research institutions (UW & WSU) by five percent in the 2015-16 academic year and by another ten percent in the 2016-17 academic year for a total two year reduction of 15 percent. This is important because these are the two institutions for which GET’s payout value is based upon.
  • In addition to the tuition reductions noted above, the College Affordability Act also reduces tuition by 20% over the next two years at the state’s regional institutions (CWU, EWU, WWU and The Evergreen State College) and 5% in 2015-16 academic year at the state’s community and technical colleges.
  • The legislation goes on to say that beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, tuition operating fees for resident undergraduates at community and technical colleges, may increase by no more than the state’s average annual growth rate in median hourly wage as determined by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How will this impact my student if they are needing to use their units in the next two years?

  • In response to lower tuition, the legislation states that for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years, the GET Committee shall set the payout value for units redeemed at the 2014-15 rate of $117.82 per unit.


What happens to the value of my account if I am not going to use my units in the next two years? Will I lose money?

  • Beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, the GET Committee is required to make the necessary program adjustments to ensure GET customer accounts are not decreased or diluted as a result of lower tuition. This may include a cash refund, additional units, a minimum payout value, or another solution that is deemed appropriate. Part of a feasibility study the program will be conducting during the next 18 months is to develop a resolution to this issue.

What is the GET Committee going to do about the future of the program?

  • By December 1, 2016, the legislation calls for the GET Committee to review and report to the legislative fiscal and higher education committees on the following:
    • The impact of reducing tuition on the funded status of GET and future unit prices;
    • The feasibility of establishing a traditional 529 college savings program;
    • Alternatives of linking GET to tuition and fees and linking GET to a cost of attendance metric;
    • And the current state penalty for nonqualified withdrawals
  • Details regarding next steps for the GET program will be discussed at the GET Committee meeting on Monday, July 13 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Senate Hearing Room 3 on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. As information becomes available, updates will be shared on the GET website.


Does the two year freeze in payout also mean a two year freeze in unit cost? Does this mean the current unit cost is now calibrated to a tuition cost 15% less than today?

  • These are good questions and issues the GET Committee will be addressing. The Committee will be meeting on Monday, July 13 to begin conversations around future unit pricing; however, a great deal of analysis will need to be done by the State Actuary and other financial experts before any future pricing formulas will be considered.

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GET’s Response to Lowered Tuition

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Last night the Washington State Legislature passed a budget and accompanying legislation to lower tuition at the state’s colleges and universities. This legislation is expected to be signed into law by the Governor today. This historic event will make college more affordable and accessible for more Washington families and current students. Below you will find responses to questions arising from this legislation in order to provide you with more information about the impacts to the GET program.

In the meantime, customers with account-specific questions can call the GET Contact Center at 800-955-2318 or email getinfo@wsac.wa.gov. As information becomes available, updates will be shared on the GET website.

What does lower tuition mean for students today?

  • This historic event will make college more affordable and accessible for more Washington families and current students.
  • More specifically, tuition will be reduced at the state’s two research institutions (UW & WSU) by five percent in the 2015-16 academic year and by another ten percent in the 2016-17 academic year for a total two year reduction of 15 percent. This is important because these are the two institutions for which GET’s payout value is based upon.
  • The legislation goes on to say that beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, tuition operating fees for resident undergraduates at community and technical colleges, may increase by no more than the state’s average annual growth rate in median hourly wage as determined by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How will this impact my student if they are needing to use their units in the next two years?

  • In response to lower tuition, the legislation states that for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic years, the GET Committee shall set the payout value for units redeemed at the 2014-15 rate of $117.82 per unit.

What happens to the value of my account if I am not going to use my units in the next two years? Will I lose money?

  • Beginning in the 2017-18 academic year, the GET Committee is required to make the necessary program adjustments to ensure GET customer accounts are not decreased or diluted as a result of lower tuition. This may include a cash refund, additional units, a minimum payout value, or another solution that is deemed appropriate. Part of a feasibility study the program will be conducting during the next 18 months is to develop a resolution to this issue.

What is the GET Committee going to do about the future of the program?

  • By December 1, 2016, the legislation calls for the GET Committee to review and report to the legislative fiscal and higher education committees on the following:
    • The impact of reducing tuition on the funded status of GET and future unit prices;
    • The feasibility of establishing a traditional 529 college savings program;
    • Alternatives of linking GET to tuition and fees and linking GET to a cost of attendance metric;
    • And the current state penalty for nonqualified withdrawals
  • Details regarding next steps for the GET program will be discussed at the GET Committee meeting on Monday, July 13 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Senate Hearing Room 3 on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. As information becomes available, updates will be shared on the GET website.

Does the two year freeze in payout also mean a two year freeze in unit cost? Does this mean the current unit cost is now calibrated to a tuition cost 15% less than today?

  • These are good questions and issues the GET Committee will be addressing. The Committee will be meeting on Monday, July 13 to begin conversations around future unit pricing; however, a great deal of analysis will need to be done by the State Actuary and other financial experts before any future pricing formulas will be considered.

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Join us on May 29th for College Savings Night with the Mariners

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Capture

Hootie is getting excited. His favorite day of the year is just around the corner! May 29th is 529 College Savings Day across the nation, and GET is proud to be partnering with the Seattle Mariners and ParentMap to celebrate! Join us May 29th for College Savings Night at Safeco Field, and watch the Mariners beat Cleveland. There’s even a fireworks show after the game. Over the past few weeks GET has been giving away Mariners swag and tickets to the game. Don’t worry though, if you weren’t one of our lucky winners, it’s not too late! Discounted tickets are only $16 with a souvenir T-shirt included. Just follow the link below to get your tickets, and don’t forget to stop by the GET table and say hi and learn how you can get your college savings started today. We hope to see you at the game!

Get your tickets at: www.mariners.com/get

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Forming Strong Habits is Key to Building a Bright Future

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goingplaces

On Sunday, May 31, we will be closing out our 17th enrollment year here at GET. This time of year is always so encouraging, as we see thousands of families making the decision to take action and get started, saving their way to a bright future for their children. If you’ve been thinking about starting your child’s college savings, but just haven’t been able to get to it yet, now is a great opportunity to take the plunge.

The good news is that once you take that first step and get started, the rest becomes easier. The key is to make the act of putting money away for college a habit. I recently read a book called The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, that I found to be quite powerful (no pun intended). As Duhigg puts it: “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits.” The three main elements of a habit are: a cue that triggers action, a routine response to that cue, and a reward for that particular course of action. It’s a cyclical process that feeds itself, which is why, for good or bad, habits are very difficult to break.

Now let’s have a look at how we can apply this framework to college savings specifically. The cue could be anything from seeing the rising cost of college, or talking with your kids about what they want to be when they grow up. The reward can be immediate: seeing your college savings account grow; or far out into the future: imagining your children’s long term success and happiness, or knowing they won’t be saddled with mountains of student loan debt. Of course, the hardest part to get going is all that work in the middle – the routine. For maximum success, many families find it helpful to make regularly scheduled contributions to their accounts. This can be in the form of monthly payment plans, or making bigger deposits at the same milestones each year (birthdays, holidays, the end of a school year, etc.). Of course, every family has a different routine that works for them, but the key is to find a routine that is predictable so that it becomes second nature.

Duhigg’s concepts are simple, yet profound. If we take the time to understand what drives us and fully commit ourselves to creating new habits that will help us reach our goals, we can make big impacts. College savings is no exception. It’s not an easy undertaking, but once you start, establish a routine, and keep your rewards in sight, your college savings plan will be a force to be reckoned with. So, with this year’s enrollment deadline around the corner, we encourage you to heed Smashmouth’s advice from the song, Walking on the Sun: “Don’t delay, act now!” But don’t worry, supplies are not running out – there’s plenty of GET to go around. It’s easy to enroll online at www.get.wa.gov.

Written by Lucas Minor

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Get your savings in full swing this spring

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CSPN-Baseball-Quote

I always welcome the start of baseball season, as it’s a great reminder that good things are in store for the months ahead. It’s a chance for renewed optimism as we cheer on the home team (Go Mariners!) and hope that maybe ‘this’ will finally be their year. And accordingly, Mother Nature is showing signs of bright life: the sun starts showing itself again, flowers are in bloom and everything is turning green again! But what do baseball and the change in seasons have to do with college savings?

Just as start of the season involves a steep learning curve for a team, getting your college savings started is not always easy right out of the gate. You’ll experience some growing pains and it will take time to get a consistent game plan established. Despite these early road bumps, remember that this time of year is also the perfect opportunity for a fresh start and to try out a new approach. If you stay committed and keep working hard, it will continue to come more naturally, and your college savings plan will begin to blossom.

A hang up for many parents looking to start their college planning is where to start. When I’m out in the community sharing information about our program, I often hear “What should we be doing?” “How much do we need to be saving?” “Tell me what I need to do!” This line of questioning is understandable, as it can feel overwhelming to be looking ahead when you’re busy trying to raise kids and triage their day-to-day needs. While I’m able to provide these harried parents with resources and tools, the reality is that there is no single magic formula that works for everyone. Every family’s situation is unique and their goals for their children are equally varied. But the good news is that often parents just need to have these early conversations, and once in the right mindset, they’re ready to find their own way.

Although there is no one right way, there are some best practices that families can look to so they can ensure long-term savings success. First, start as early as possible when kids are still young so there is more time to add to your savings and watch them grow. It’s easy to compare different options on the CSPN website to see which plan or mix of plans will work best for your family. Just as importantly, don’t set it and forget it – keep adding as your kids grow and get family and friends involved. Finally, let your kids know what you’re doing to plan for their future and reinforce that college will be part of their future.

However you choose to save for college, remember that practice and routine are the keys to success. In the words of legendary Dodgers team manager, Tommy Lasorda: “There are three types of baseball players: those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who wonder what happens.”

Written by Lucas Minor

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Now is the Time for Congress to Pass Legislation to Strengthen 529 Plans

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Yes_on_HR529

This past month both the US Senate and House of Representatives introduced legislation to make enhancements to 529 College Savings Plans. These tax-free plans are used by millions of families to save for their children’s future higher education expenses. These plans have proven to help limit or eliminate future student loan debt, while aiding to increase access to higher education.

This year, student loan debt reached an all-time high of $1.3 trillion, with the 2014 graduating class finishing college with an average of $30,000 in loans. Of the 37 million people carrying student loan debt, one-third are over the age of 40 and almost 2 million people  over the age of 60 are still paying off loans. It is important to take into consideration the simple fact that $20,000 in student loans paid over 20 years is actually more like $63,000!

When Americans are saddled with student loan debt, they are not able to buy homes, cars and other products that boost our economy. They are not able to innovate by putting their ideas into action by starting a new business. They are also limited in their ability to invest in their future by saving for retirement and other long-term goals.

On the flip side, 12 million Americans have saved approximately $250 billion in 529 plans; less than a quarter the amount of student loan debt in our country. It is the goal of all state 529 plans to reverse this trend and to someday have college savings out-pace student loan debt. The only way we can do that is to continue to improve 529 plans by offering more incentives for families to save.

Enhancements like those that are part of the proposed legislation in the Senate (SB 335) and House (HR 529) help all American’s see and understand the value of saving through 529 plans. These companion bills specifically call for:

  • Making computers an eligible expense;
  • Allowing the redeposit of funds without negative tax implications in certain extenuating circumstances (e.g. a student gets sick at the beginning of the term);
  • Updating outdated accounting rules.

Implementing common sense improvements to 529 plans so that more families see the benefits of saving will only help the overall health and well-being of our country over the long-haul. Simply put, when students graduate with little to no debt they have the resources to innovate, purchase, invest, volunteer and create. Now is the time to pass this legislation that strengthens 529 plans and if you agree, we encourage you to reach out to your Representatives and Senators in Washington D.C. to let them know of your support of these enhancements.

Written by Betty Lochner, Chair of the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) and Director of Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program.

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Presidents’ Day Reflections

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Whenever Presidents’ Day rolls around, it rekindles many fond memories from U.S. history classes in elementary and high school. Iconic events come to mind such as George Washington crossing the Delaware, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the framing of the Constitution and President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. I was always awed by these great leaders, and the impacts they made, not only in creating, growing and preserving a young nation, but in setting a precedent that representative democracies do work and can thrive. However, as I reflect on these larger-than-life images that many of us hold of our forefathers, I try to remember that despite all of the reverence we project onto them, many saw themselves simply as stewards of democracy and the public’s will.

To that end, our nation’s leaders have (generally) fought to preserve the foundations of the Constitution and made policy decisions intended to serve the best interest of the people. While our 44 Presidents have certainly held widely varying views on the best approaches to this noble purpose, something most could agree on is the importance of education. It’s hard to disagree with the idea that the dissemination of knowledge is the cornerstone for a thriving economy, an increasingly just political system, and the overall advancement of society.

That’s where we in the college savings industry come in. Like our Presidents, we’re advocates for education and do our best to help families prepare their children for the future. By planning ahead and setting our children up for academic success, we’re taking an active role in ensuring not only their future financial security, but that they will contribute to the progress of our country in a meaningful way. Today’s youth will be our next generation’s leaders, and we need to do everything we can to nurture their minds to prepare them for this important task. One of the best things about our country is that any one of our children has the potential to be a future President of the United States, and a solid educational foundation is an all but necessary prerequisite.

While recently there has been growing concern that our nation is falling behind other countries, we still haven’t lost sight of the important connection between education and innovation, economic success and society’s well-being. We continue to invest at all levels, from early learning to higher education. Further, we continue to wrestle with the best way to measure academic progress and provide non-traditional academic environments to support varying learning styles and needs. However, the question remains, “Is what we’re doing enough?” And, “What is our greatest opportunity for progress?” These are difficult questions with no clear answers, but as we reflect on our country’s history this Presidents’ Day, let’s remember that resiliency is firmly ingrained in our national DNA. I’m confident that collectively, we can tackle these issues and ensure our nation continues to thrive.

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”

– James Madison

 Written by Lucas Minor

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Legislation to Enhance 529 College Savings Plans

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Last week Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced H.R.529, legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make 529 plans more flexible and remove some of the obstacles participants face while saving for college.

Specifically, H.R. 529 includes:

  • Making computers an eligible expense;
  • Allowing the redeposit of funds without negative tax implications in certain extenuating circumstances (e.g. a student gets sick at the beginning of the term);
  • Updating outdated accounting rules.

This week Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Mark Warner (D-VA), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Probably the most needed and exciting piece of this legislation is the provision to make computers an eligible expense. In today’s high tech world where the focus of education is on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), it is hard to believe that electronic devices are not considered qualified higher education expenses. As more and more classes begin using e-books and cloud-based learning programs, it is clear that computers, tablets and mobile devices are at the heart of today’s college learning environment.

Innovation and creative solutions to our world’s most perplexing health, social and infrastructure challenges have and will come at the hands of students and professionals using technology. It is wonderful to see that this simple yet powerful fact is being recognized by our elected leaders and the pricy technology investments made by students will hopefully be a viable tax-deductible expense when using their 529 plan to cover these necessary educational costs.
Another big improvement to 529 plans as a result of this proposal is allowing for distributions to be re-deposited within 60 days of their withdrawal without a tax-penalty if students experience serious illness or sudden life circumstances that require them to take leave from their studies. There is no doubt that this is the right thing to do, as families save for years to put their children through college and should not be penalized for life events that are out of their control.

Lastly, this legislative blueprint calls for accounting updates that eliminate unnecessary paperwork for 529 plan administrators. Anytime you can reduce excessive operational procedures, the efficiencies gained only help reduce costs that can hopefully be passed along to customers, or in our case, to families looking to save for their children’s future.

Moving forward, we must do all we can to preserve and enhance the benefits of 529 plans. We strive to create greater access to higher education in our country and lower the student debt burden that now more than 37 million Americans experience every day.  We thank the leaders in the House and Senate for moving this legislation forward as part of a comprehensive plan to ensure students have the tools and resources they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom. We look toward swift action by Congress to pass these additional measures.

Written by Betty Lochner, Chair of the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) and Director of Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program.

 

 

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