I want to begin saving for my daughter’s college education and I need assistance in understanding the 529 College Savings Plan. I’ve been reading so much material and honestly, I am confused. How do you pick the right state and rate?
— P. McGhee, Via the Internet
For starters, investigate plans in your own state to see if you benefit from any state tax breaks. To get the best deal, avoid plans that charge high fees and be sure that the choices within the plan you choose are investments you would feel comfortable owning outside of the plan. Look for direct — sold plans as opposed to adviser — sold plans, unless you can invest in the latter type directly without paying a sales load (up — front fees as much as 5% of the portfolio). Some states allow their residents to buy adviser — sold funds without paying loads. Compare various plans’ disclosure documents. Also, you can compare the features of different state plans at Morningstar’s 529 Center (www.morningstar.com/centers/529. html) and Saving for College (www.sav ingforcollege.com). In comparing one state’s offering to another, ask a series of questions such as who is the fund manager? Does the plan offer a variety of mutual funds, including fixed — income investments? Does the plan impose any harsh restrictions? To find out more about 529 plans, also check out www.independent529plan.org and www.bankrate.com.