North Carolina - Saving For College Report

We discuss the tax benefits, trends, do's and don'ts and various plan options of setting up a 529 college savings plan in North Carolina

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As parents, grandparents and students we know college is coming and that we're somehow going to have to pay for it someday. Fortunately we have many options available to us including savings bonds, the stock market and 529 plans. Starting a 529 account now is always the best option, no matter how old you (or your child) is. While playing the stock market may yield higher returns on your investment, placing your money into a 529 plan allows it to grow in a tax free environment. One study even found that when the federal tax benefits were taken into consideration, 529 plans outperformed their benchmarks in every category.

North Carolina has it's own state-operated 529 plan called College Foundation of North Carolina. It is important to note that your child does not have to go to a NC college or university in order to use this savings account. 529 plan funds can be used at any accredited college or university across the nation, including some K-12 private schools!

North Carolina College Costs & Trends

Colleges and universities across the United States experienced increased operating costs of 2.5% in 2019. This most recent inflation figure was down slightly from the 2.9 percent increase in 2018 and 3.4 percent increase in 2017. These costs are forwarded directly to students in the form of higher tuition and living expenses. As these costs steadily rise every year, parents are looking for ways to help offset these future higher education costs.

These rising costs are hitting closer to home in North Carolina as well. North Carolina's' higher education costs rose by 45.9% in just the last 10 years, ranking as the 14th highest state.

The table below shows the average one-year costs in 2020 for different types of NC colleges and universities.

OwnershipDegreeSchoolsPublic Out-of-State TuitionPublic In-State TuitionMedian DebtTotal Annual In-State Cost
Public 4 year 16 $21,546 $7,001 $23,525 $12,758
Public 2 year 59 $8,245 $2,437 $10,507 $7,217
Private 4 year 58 $26,521 $26,521 $25,630 $22,714
Private 2 year 42 $18,581 $18,581 $10,543 $17,224

These costs rise every year. Rising tuition is a major driver in these increased higher education costs. Tuition at a 4-year university in NC rose 9% (ranked 45th worst in the US), while a 2-year or trade school increased their tuition by 6 percent.

529 Tax Benefits for North Carolina Residents

Unfortunately North Carolina does not offer any tax benefits for socking away funds in a 529 account for your child. Thankfully, NC residents can open an account in any other state that lets them.

Best 529 Plans in North Carolina

The National College Savings Program has simplified its 529 investment menu in recent years and now offers age-based and static portfolios using Vanguard funds, a fixed-income option managed by the state treasurer, and a federally-insured deposit account with the State Employees’ Credit Union.

State Plan Name:College Foundation of North Carolina
Minimum Contribution:$25
Maximum Contribution:up to $450,000 per beneficiary
Fees:0.25% annual administrative fee, calculated based on the portion of an account's daily balance invested in the investment option(s) chosen and deducted directly from investor’s account.

North Carolina 529 Plan Statistics

There are 145,297 registered in North Carolina with a total value of $2,519,065,330. That is an average of $17,337 per account. Unfortunately 529 plans are not widely used... a 2018 study by Edward Jones found that only 29 percent of Americans were even aware that 529 savings plans exist!

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