Parents and grandparents looking for easy ways to learn about and enroll in 529 plans—higher education savings plans with tax benefits—may find answers in their employer's break room. Many companies are adding 529 plan seminars and payroll deductions to their benefits packages. More than 5,000 employers participate through Upromise Investments, Inc. programs alone.
[Take these 4 steps before opening a 529 plan.]
Here's how parents and grandparents can make the best use of 529 plan benefits through the workplace:
1. Attend and ask questions at seminars and at benefits fairs: When an employer participates in a 529 plan, a 529 plan educator will generally give an interactive, lunch-hour presentation. Janet Kottman, employed by Upromise Investments as senior institutional relationship manager for Missouri's direct 529 college savings plan, says that sometimes she gets to present two slides before she's asked to answer questions—such as "Can I save for my grandchild via payroll deduction?" and "Can I use 529 plan benefits if my child attends a trade school?"
There may be multiple meeting days to choose from for a larger workplace. For instance, Sprint offered four 529 sessions to its workforce at its Overland Park, Kan., campus in February 2012.
Normally, the plan educator is from the 529 plan of the state where employees reside. Since it's possible to select 529 plans from anywhere in the country, Kottman directs attendees to 529.com or the College Savings Plans Network website to view information on other plans.
[Learn why to consider purchasing another state's 529 plan.]
2. Bring home materials to review later: Generally, employers who participate in a 529 plan will give out materials about the plan to employees. A plan representative may also give out brochures at a benefits fair, T. Rowe Price 529 Plan Senior Product Manager Thomas Kazmierczak says.
Take plan educators' business cards so you can ask additional questions at another time, Kottman says. At benefits fairs, she says, it's hard to answer questions because she only gets seconds with each individual.
3. Utilize payroll deductions: "When employees learn that they can have the contributions made through payroll direct deposit, it gives them a sense of relief, knowing that it will be done automatically and done before their deposit is made into their checking account," Kottman says. Generally, all they need is to fill out a form, print it, and give it to the human resources or payroll office.
The payroll deduction continues indefinitely until the plan holder cancels authorization, Kazmierczak says. If a $25 contribution is set up from biweekly paychecks when a child turns 2, he or she could accumulate $10,400—not counting any earnings by his or her 18th birthday.
Parents who can no longer contribute or need to reduce the amount of the payroll deduction, can contact their payroll department, Kazmierczak says. He notes that it only takes a couple of days to cancel contributions made from a checking account. However, for the payroll deduction, he says, it may take employers one or two payroll cycles to modify the deduction.
Reyna Gobel, frequently quoted as an expert on student loans and college costs, is the author of "Graduation Debt: How To Manage Student Loans And Live Your Life" and "How Smart Students Pay for School: The Best Way to Save for College, Get the Right Loans, and Repay Debt." She has appeared on PBS's Nightly Business Report and speaks regularly at CollegeWeekLive.