10. Alabama: CollegeCounts 529 Fund Advisor Plan (Class F) | State income tax deduction up to $5,000 per year ($10,000 for joint filers) | Account maintenance fee waived if Alabama resident | Total asset-based expense ratio: 0.42%-1.65% (direct-sold counterpart charges 0.27%-0.88% plus 0.25% management fee) | Funds from American Century, BlackRock, Credit Suisse, DFA, Fidelity, Lazard, MainStay, Neuberger Berman, Northern Trust, Pimco, State Street, T. Rowe Price, Templeton, Touchstone, Voya, William Blair (Photo: Shutterstock)
9. South Carolina: Future Scholar 529 College Savings Plan (Class I) | Unlimited state income tax deduction | 0.05% program management fee | Total asset-based expense ratio: 0-0.96% | Funds from American Century, BlackRock (iShares), Carillon ClariVest, Columbia Threadneedle (Columbia Management Investment Distributors is program manager and distributor), DFA, Fidelity, Janus Henderson, JPMorgan (Photo: Shutterstock)
8. Rhode Island: College Bound 529 (Class I) | State income tax deduction limited to $500/year ($1,000 for joint filers | Total asset-based expense ratio: 0.33 – 1.06% | Invesco mutual funds and ETFs (Photo: Shutterstock)
7. Colorado: Scholars Choice College Savings Program (Class O) | Unlimited state income tax deduction for state residents | $20 annual fee, waived for account owners or beneficiaries who are Colorado residents (and for accounts with at least $2,500) and program management fees of 0.04% | Total asset-based expense ratio: 1.09% | Funds from Brandywine Global, ClearBridge Investments, Franklin Templeton Investments, Legg Mason (program manager with QS Investors and the program distributor), QS Investors, Royce & Associates, Thornburg Investment and Western Asset (Photo: Shutterstock)
6. Nevada: SSGA Upromise 529 Plan | $300 annual state matching contribution ($1,500 lifetime max) for Nevada beneficiaries with family income under $75,000 | $20 membership waived for Nevada residents | Total asset-based expense ratio: 0.28%-0.89% (0.29% for savings) | Funds from State Street Global Advisors, the plan investment manager and savings account from Sallie Mae Bank (Photo: Shutterstock)
5. Arkansas: iShares 529 Plan (Class F) | State income tax deduction up to $5,000 per year ($10,000 for joint filers) | $10 annual account maintenance (waived for minimum $20,000 balance, 0.35% or 0.40% manager fee | Total asset-based expense ratio: 0.35%-0.84% | iShares ETFs (BlackRock Investments and Ascensus Broker Dealer Services Inc. are the plan distributors) (Photo: Shutterstock)
4. Kansas: Schwab 529 College Savings Plan | $3,000 state tax deduction ($6,000 for joint filers | 0.20% program management fee | Total asset-based expense ratio: 0.40%-1.00% but index portfolios have all-inclusive fee of 0.25% | Funds from American Beacon, American Century (program manager), Baird, JPMorgan, Laudus, Metropolitan Western Asset Management, Schwab, (program manager) and Vanguard (Photo: Shutterstock)
3. Illinois: Bright Directions Advisor-Guided 529 College Savings Program (Class F) | $10,000 state income tax deduction ($20,000 for joint filers) |0.18% program manager fee but 0.15% manager fee for Invesco Government Agency 529 Portfolio |Total asset-based expense ratio: 0.205%-1.36% | Funds from American Century, Ariel, Baird, BlackRock, Calvert, Causeway, DFA, Delaware Funds, Dodge & Cox, Harbor Funds, Invesco, MFS, MainStay Investments, Oppenheimer Funds, Northern Trust, Pimco, Principal, Sit Mutual Funds, T. Rowe Price, Templeton, William Blair, and Vanguard (Photo: Shutterstock)
2. Virginia: College America (Class 529-F | $4,000 state tax deduction for single and joint filers but unlimited for contributors age 70 and above | Total asset-based expense ratio 0.41%-1.12% | American Funds (Photo: Shutterstock)
1. Nebraska: TD Ameritrade 529 College Savings Plan | $10,000 state tax deduction for single and joint filers except $5,000 each for married filing separately) |0.25% manager fee, 0.19% sub-administration fee and 0.03% state fee | Total asset-based expense ratio: 0.49%-1.46% | Funds from DFA, Goldman Sachs, MetWest, T. Rowe Price, Tributary and Vanguard (Photo: Shutterstock)
(Related: Top 10 Direct-Sold 529 College Savings Plans)
Advisors helping clients save for college have a choice: They can recommend a direct-sold 529 plan that the client would open themselves, or invest their client’s money in an advisor-sold plan, one which will almost always charge higher fees but often include more investment options, including often actively managed funds.
Both types of 529 plans offer the same benefits of tax-free savings and tax-free withdrawals so long as the funds are used for qualified education expenses such as tuition and room and board. (Now educational expenses for private K-12 tuition costs qualify as a result of a 2017 tax cut law.) Many plan contributions also qualify for state income tax deductions. In most cases, those deductions are only available for residents contributing to an in-state 529 plan, but some states allow state tax deductions for contributions to any 529 plan, including those out of state.
Savingforcollege.com, a website that provides information and tools for families to use to help families finance a college education, recently released its performance rankings for direct-sold 529 plans, broker-sold plans and RIA-sold plans. The performance rankings reflect a composite score in seven asset allocation categories: 100%, 80%, 60%, 40% and 20% equity and 100% fixed income and 100% short-term compared to published investment returns.
We’ve already reported on the top 10 direct-sold plans. Now we’re focusing on the best RIA-sold plans, which tend to cost less than broker-sold plans because they don’t charge commissions. Many RIA-sold plans also don’t charge a management or program fee since the RIA already charges an advisory fee. Most of these plans offer a variety of investment choices including age-based, static investment (usually target funds) and individual investment options, which often include actively managed funds.
Note that Savingforcollege.com maintains a directory of financial advisors for readers who are considering turning to a professional advisor for college savings guidance. It offers a 25-question exam on college planning and funding topics, and advisors who pass receive a “529 Pro” badge on their profile.
Check out the slideshow above for the 10 best RIA 529 plans for 2018, according to Savingforcollege.com. Most of the plans also ranked in the top 10 for the past three, five or 10 years or for two or all three of those time periods.