The 10 best college savings plans in America that anyone can use

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The cost of college keeps ticking up.
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REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

The price of college in the US continues to tick up at a worrisome pace.

In 18 years, the cost to attend a public college is estimated to be about $54,000 a year – over $200,000 for a 4-year degree, according to a recent analysis by investment management company Vanguard. At private colleges, that figure is about $120,000 a year – nearly half a million dollars in total.

Given that enormous expense, it’s no wonder many parents worry about how – and when – to start saving for college.

Some families look to 529 plans, an account that allows college savings to grow tax-free, similarly to saving for retirement in an IRA. Some states offer a full or partial tax deduction on 529 contributions as well. When the funds are used to pay for college and other qualified education expenses, withdrawals from a 529 plan are not taxed.

But the offerings in 529 plans vary from state to state, meaning families need to do their due diligence before signing up. Savingforcollege.com (SFC) takes some of the guesswork out of deciding on a plan. The site provides “5-Cap Ratings” – rating each plan from 0 to 5 – in areas such as investment performance, costs (fees and other expenses), and reliability (flexibility to make changes and the quality of financial disclosures from the program).

Still, there are additional things to keep in mind when choosing a 529 plan. If you select an out-of-state plan but live in a state with income tax, you may miss out on a valuable tax deduction. And each plan has a different fee schedule, which should be taken into consideration before making a choice.

Below, take a look at the top 10 college savings plans in America. All scores are out of a possible five points.


10. Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan

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UAA: University of Alaska Anchorage/Facebook

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in Alaska’s 529 plans for the same beneficiary reach $400,000,” according to SFC.

• Performance score: 4.05

• Costs score: 3.68

• Reliability score: 4.80

Sign up for the plan here »


9. Louisiana START Saving Program

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LSU/Facebook

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in Louisiana’s 529 plan for the same beneficiary reach $500,000,” according to SFC.

• Performance score: 3.80

• Costs score: 5.06

• Reliability score: 2.30

Sign up for the plan here »


8. Nevada USAA 529 College Savings Plan

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University of Nevada, Reno/Facebook

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in Nevada’s 529 plans for the same beneficiary reach $370,000,” according to SFC.

Performance score: 3.21

• Costs score: 3.76

• Reliability score: 4.93

Sign up for the plan here »


7. University of Alaska College Savings Plan

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University of Alaska Fairbanks/Facebook

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in Alaska’s 529 plans for the same beneficiary reach $400,000,” according to SFC.

• Performance score: 4.38

• Costs score: 3.75

• Reliability score: 4.80

Sign up for the plan here »


6. Michigan Education Savings Program

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University of Michigan Law School/Facebook

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in Michigan’s 529 plan for the same beneficiary reach $500,000,” according to SFC.

Performance score: 4.21

• Costs score: 4.80

• Reliability score: 4.80

Sign up for the plan here »


5. Florida 529 Savings Plan

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Facebook/uflorida

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in Florida’s 529 plans for the same beneficiary reach $418,000,” according to SFC.

• Performance score: 4.34

• Costs score: 2.31

• Reliability score: 3.00

Sign up for the plan here »


4. Pennsylvania 529 Investment Plan

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University of Pennsylvania/Facebook

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in Pennsylvania’s 529 plans for the same beneficiary reach $511,758,” according to SFC.

• Performance score: 3.80

• Costs score: 3.14

• Reliability score: 4.20

Sign up for the plan here »


3. Ohio CollegeAdvantage Direct 529 Savings Plan

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The Ohio State University Alumni Association/Facebook

“Accepts contributions until all 529 account balances in Ohio’s 529 plans for the same beneficiary reach $445,000,” according to SFC.

• Performance score: 4.05

• Costs score: 4.35

• Reliability score: 4.60

Sign up for the plan here »


2. New York’s 529 College Savings Program — Direct Plan

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meunierd/Shutterstock

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in New York’s 529 plans for the same beneficiary reach $375,000,” according to SFC.

Performance score: 4.56

• Costs score: 4.73

• Reliability score: 5.00

Sign up for the plan here »


1. Utah Educational Savings Plan (UESP)

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Brigham Young Cougars fans cheer.
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Ethan Miller / Staff / Getty Images

“Accepts contributions until all account balances in Utah’s 529 plan for the same beneficiary reach $430,000,” according to SFC.

• Performance score: 4.42

• Costs score: 4.18

• Reliability score: 5.00

Sign up for the plan here »