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11 best & worst 529 college savings plans of 2015: Morningstar

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With college tuition rising faster than inflation, saving for college needs to start early. One of the best ways to make sure there’s enough money is to invest in a 529 college savings plan. The plans are a good choice because of federal and often state tax breaks.

In over a decade since 529 plans were added to the IRS code, assets in the 85 plans studied have reached $218 billion, up 9 percent from a year earlier. Morningstar recently released its ratings of 66 of the plans. Each was assigned to the Gold, Silver, Bronze, Neutral or Negative category.

It’s noteworthy that Virginia, with about $50 billion in assets under management, has nearly a quarter of the total nationwide assets in 529 plans.

Morningstar noted that 529 investors are sticking with top-ranked firms, with 70 percent of the total being managed by companies ranked highly. Morningstar judged the plans on criteria that included asset allocation, strategy and expense ratios.

We’ve listed the plans that merited the top two ratings and those that were deemed at the bottom. Of course, the vast majority received a rating of Neutral. In fact, last year 13 of the 529 plans were in the Gold, Silver and Negative categories, two more than this year.

(If you have been saving and are looking for the best way to spend the bucks, check out 30 Best Paying College Majors: 2015 and 30 Worst Paying College Majors: 2015. Also, look at Top 25 Best Value Colleges: 2013.

Keep reading for the Best and Worst 529 College Savings Plans of 2015:

HIGHEST RATED 529 PLANS

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1. Michigan Education Savings Program

Rating: Silver

Program Manger: TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing

State’s Total AUM: $4.4 billion/Rank: 15

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2. CollegeAdvantage 529 Savings Plan – Ohio

Rating: Silver

Program Manager: Ohio Tuition Trust Authority

State’s Total AUM: $6.9 billion/Rank: 9

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3. CollegeAmerica– Virginia

Rating: Silver

Program Manager: American Funds

State’s Total AUM: $50.8 billion/Rank: 1

4. Virginia529 inVEST

Rating: Silver

Program Manager:

State’s Total AUM: $50.8 billion/Rank: 1

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5. T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan– Alaska

Rating: Gold

Program Manager: T. Rowe Price

State’s Total 529 AUM: $6.6 billion/Rank: 10

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6. Maryland College Investment Plan

Rating: Gold

Program Manager: T. Rowe Price

State’s Total 529 AUM: $4 billion/Rank: 17

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3. The Vanguard 529 College Savings Plan– Nevada

Rating: Gold

Program Manager: Ascensus College Savings

State’s Total 529 AUM: $14.8 billion/Rank: 3

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4. Utah Educational Savings Plan

Rating: Gold

Program Manager: Utah Educational Savings Plan

State’s Total 529 AUM: $7.8 billion/Rank: 6

LOWEST RATED 529 PLANS

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9. Ivy Funds InvestED 529 Plan – Kansas

Rating: Negative

Program Manager: Waddell & Reed Investment Management Co.

State’s Total AUM: $4.7. billion/Rank: 14

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10. Schwab 529 College Savings Plan – Kansas

Rating: Negative

Program Manager: Charles Schwab & Co.

State’s Total AUM: $4.7 billion/Rank: 14

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11. CollegeAccess 529 – South Dakota

Rating: Negative

Program Manager: Allianz Global Investors Distributors

State’s Total AUM: $1.2 billion/Rank: 32