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Posted: 1:44 p.m. Thursday, March 1, 2012

Clark updates his 529 guide



If you're saving for your child's college, I have updated my 529 plan guide for 2012. This invaluable resource can help you to be "Clark Smart" in an age when student loan borrowing now exceeds borrowing on credit cards.

The idea behind 529 plans is that the money you save will grow tax-free and can be spent tax-free on a child's college education. If the child doesn't go to college, you can transfer the plan to another child for free without being taxed. If there are no other children you want to have the money, you can use it yourself. But beware that you'll pay a 10 percent penalty plus tax on any earnings if you take this latter option.

529 plans are unnecessarily complicated because they're all required to have state sponsorship. Yet you're not limited by where you live as far as making contributions. You may, however, enjoy a state tax deduction if you select your own state's plan.

I have just finished my research on all the non-commission 529 plans around the country and the trend from my last update in late 2010 is still continuing. The 529 plans are steadily better and better in many states. I love how the costs for you are now below the average costs for a mutual fund!

In my 2012 update, I only include plans that charge less than 1% per year to manage your 529 account. The best plans are below 0.4% per year. That means almost none of your money is being diverted to the 529 manager allowing greater savings for your kids' college.

All my picks for 529 plans around the country are sold commission-free. You can buy them directly through the state that sponsors them by clicking on the hyperlink on my 529 guide.

If your state isn't listed in the "Honor Roll" section of my guide, pick a state from my "Dean's List." There you'll see plans from Utah, Iowa, New York, Georgia and Michigan. These are the lowest-cost plans available across the board. Utah is by far the single best plan in the country.

When you're putting money into a 529 plan, I recommend that you look at the investment option available in most plans known as the "age-based portfolio." This lets the plan adjust to a more conservative mix of investments as your child gets closer to college age. Residents of Arizona, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Oregon should invest ONLY in the age-based portfolios.

Finally, while wanting to save for your kids' college is great, remember my first rule: You shouldn't save a penny for college unless you are already saving the maximum you can for your own retirement. College can be paid for with grants, loans, scholarships and work. Retirement happens only if you have saved the dough.