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Cerulli: 529 Plan Assets Double

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NU Online News Service, April 30, 2003, 11:10 a.m. EDT – Assets at 529 college savings plans grew 119% in 2002, to $20 billion, according to a new report from Cerulli Associates Inc., Boston.

Despite the rapid growth of the 529 plan market, many providers have been disappointed with the performance of individual plans, Cerulli researchers write.

Although 529 plans added more than 1.6 million new accounts and more than $10 billion in new contributions in 2002, only seven providers ended the year with more than $1 billion in assets, the researchers write.

More than 70 savings plans are now in operation with 49 states and the District of Columbia each sponsoring at least one plan. The number of providers serving as program managers, private-label partners, distributors and investment-only managers has increased dramatically as the competition for assets intensifies, according to the Cerulli report.

However, the top 10 providers control 82% of the assets. Cerulli figures show that the other 25 providers split only 18% of the assets.

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The Cerulli researchers warn that providers are worried about the profitability of 529 plans. The average 529 savings plan account has a balance of $6,457, which, in most cases, falls short of covering account administrative and operational costs, the researchers write.

The Cerulli researchers see plenty of room for growth: only 4.3% of U.S. children under 18 had 529 accounts at the end of 2002, and overall awareness of the program remains low.

Cerulli is projecting 40% compounded annual growth in 529 plan assets from now until 2008.

However, the top programs are likely to attract most of the new assets, and the low account balances could keep many providers from making profits, the researchers write.