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March 31, 2009
It sounds like just a new twist on the all-too common Nigerian scams or Madoff-style Wall Street bait-and-switch. But it's true: Some states, businesses, and colleges are really handing out free cash to help build up parents' college savings accounts.
There are a few catches, of course. Nobody should sign up for anything that sounds suspiciously good without doing a little homework. And most of the grants and rebates are comparatively modest: The typical family might reap a few hundred dollars. Few parents will get enough free cash to make up for the average 20-plus percent decline in 529 college savings plans over the past year. (Tax-protected education savings accounts are called 529s after the part of the Internal Revenue Service code that created them.)