The College Savings Plan Network is working to standardize 529 plan disclosures to make it easier for investors to research and compare the plans.
Now, there are 85 plans nationwide, and the original plan of one plan for each state “has gone out the window,” says Bruce Harrington, VP and director of product development and marketing at MFS Investment Management. Many states have multiple 529 programs, he says, so for the average investor, deciding which plan to use is “very complicated.”
And there are no “standard rules that govern the development of 529 plan offering documents,” Harrington says. “Unlike starting a new mutual fund and following the SEC guidelines,” there are no guidelines for 529s, so “what you get is 85 different variations of offering documents.”
The College Savings Plan Network, a trade group run by the National Association of State Treasurers, has already drafted a set of guidelines and has presented them to the Securities & Exchange Commission for approval. The SEC could decide to regulate 529 plans, as “it’s not clear who has complete oversight” of the plans. The Municipal Standards Rulemaking Board (MSRB) has oversight of 529s now, “but it’s kind of open for tinkering with which body could regulate 529s,” Harrington says.
States can voluntarily choose to follow the guidelines now. Oregon, for instance, is setting up a new 529 plan with Oppenheimer to replace the state’s former plan through Strong Funds, Harrington says, and the new plan “will be required to adhere to the new guidelines.” MFS and Schoolhouse Capital, a subsidiary of State Street, which runs New Mexico’s 529 plan, have been asked to adhere to the Network’s rules as well.