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Guaranteed Tuition Plans No Guarantee

September 25, 2009

by Emily

Personal savings, college endowments and college savings plans all suffered when the stock market took a nose dive last fall. Students, families and even schools who thought they were financially secure soon learned otherwise and had to scramble to come up with alternative plans to pay bills. Now that things are beginning to even out and return to a state of normalcy, those affected by the recession are looking towards recovery and assessing their long-term plans. For some college savings plans, especially "guaranteed" tuition savings plans, the future looks particularly bleak, even without further financial setbacks.

Guaranteed tuition savings plans are one of several types of college savings plans, which allow families to save for college tax-free and often involve other incentives, as well. Prepaid tuition savings plans allow families to pay tuition ahead of time at certain schools, ensuring that bills will be paid for students, even if tuition skyrockets, as it seems likely to continue doing. Many families in states where they're offered have purchased them for young children who may not be attending college for another 15 years or more, but some plans have already begun to run out of money due to losses in the stock market and the sharp rise of college costs.

As a result, states including Texas, Alabama and Pennsylvania are struggling with the prospect of not being able to fund their current obligations to these plans. Several prepaid tuition plans have been closed off to new investors, including the plans in Texas and Alabama. Despite this, Alabama may not have enough money to pay tuition for all students currently enrolled in its prepaid plan. Pennsylvania has introduced legislation to remove "guaranteed" from its tuition savings plan's name and make it clear that the state has no obligation to bail out the plan if it doesn't earn enough money to meet its obligations.

Texas has also announced a rule change for people who currently have money invested in its guaranteed tuiton plan. When they invested, families were told that if their children did not go to one of the state colleges whose tuition the plan will fully fund, they would be able to close their account and withdraw the full amount of tuition at those institutions at that time. Now, the Texas Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board has said that families whose children do not attend one of the schools included in the plan can only withdraw the amount they invested, minus an administrative fee. State legislators have urged the board to reconsider, but so far it appears that those with money invested have three choices: they can pull their money out before the rule goes into effect on October 30, they can limit their children's college choices to those sanctioned by the tuition savings plan, or they can take a guaranteed loss on their "guaranteed" tuition investment.

To help you avoid the problems currently facing Texas parents, US News has a helpful article on questions to ask before investing in a prepaid college savings plan. Prepaid tuition plans, 529 plans, and other college savings vehicles can still be a good idea, even though they've been through difficult times. As with many things, the trick to being successful in your choice is first doing your research and figure out which plan is best for you and your family.


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