Pennsylvania - 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 Pennsylvania

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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.

Pennsylvania has it's own state-operated 529 plan called PA 529. It is important to note that your child does not have to go to a PA 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!

Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania as well. Pennsylvania's' higher education costs rose by 26.1% in just the last 10 years, ranking as the 38th highest state.

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

OwnershipDegreeSchoolsPublic Out-of-State TuitionPublic In-State TuitionMedian DebtTotal Annual In-State Cost
Public 4 year 45 $21,631 $13,302 $26,000 $19,117
Public 2 year 48 $12,861 $5,705 $13,259 $9,600
Private 4 year 116 $34,663 $34,663 $25,444 $24,942
Private 2 year 147 $16,014 $16,014 $12,092 $18,371

These costs rise every year. Rising tuition is a major driver in these increased higher education costs. Tuition at a 4-year university in PA rose 14% (ranked 35th worst in the US), while a 2-year or trade school increased their tuition by 20 percent.

529 Tax Benefits for Pennsylvania Residents

Pennsylvania offers tax benefits and deductions when savings are put into your child's 529 savings plan.

For single filers:$15,000/yr per beneficiary
For joint filers:$30,000/yr per beneficiary

Best 529 Plans in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s 529 Investment Plan is managed by the Pennsylvania Treasury Department with recordkeeping and investment services provided by Ascensus College Savings and The Vanguard Group respectively. The program features 3 age-based investment options and 10 static investment options, including a socially responsible equity portfolio, using Vanguard-managed portfolios. The Guaranteed Savings Plan, available only to Pennsylvania residents, functions as a unit-type prepaid tuition plan and provides protection against increasing tuition costs in various institutional categories.

State Plan Name:PA 529
Minimum Contribution:$25
Maximum Contribution:up to $511,758 per beneficiary across accounts. As market value increase, the account may continue to accrue earnings, but no additional contributions or transfers will be accepted.
Fees:0.2250% to 0.3250% asset management fee, depending on portfolio; 0.1350% operational support fee; $10 annual account maintenance fee, if you want paper statements;

Pennsylvania 529 Plan Statistics

There are 230,190 registered in Pennsylvania with a total value of $5,199,706,677. That is an average of $22,589 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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