For parents looking to save for college, Utah offers one of best plans in nation

Published: Friday, Nov. 11 2011 5:14 p.m. MST

The Utah Education Savings Plan was recently rated in the top six college savings plans in the nation.

That means that when parents or grandparents are looking to invest in their child's future, Utah is a great place to start.

The executive director of Utah's Education Savings Plan said Utah has $4 billion invested and that it is one of the largest college savings plans in America.

"Start saving, even if it's a small amount of money," said Lynne Ward. "Since we are coming so close to the holidays, if there is a child in your life that you want to give a present to, consider giving them a UESP account."

Morningstar, the organization that rated the plans, applies a comprehensive assessment of college savings plans when determining their ratings.

Utah's plan follows an age-based track, meaning those investing can choose how much money they want to invest each year and can increase that money as the child gets older.

Also, the money invested grows tax-free federally and statewide, and even when it is withdrawn to spend on college expenses, no taxes are charged on it. And with the amount of money put into the funds, investors receive a 5 percent tax credit. So they get some of that money back in the form of tax returns.

If a parent starts investing the maximum $1,740 every year until the child is 19, the account will have grown to approximately $33,060. For some universities, that would pay for tuition, books and more.

Ward also said the UESP offers 12 different plans to accommodate any family's needs or abilities to save.

The first student to benefit from a UESP account just embarked for college this fall. Duane and Corrine Hill began the account in 1996 for their granddaughters Marley Rose Hill-Filben and Kira Hill-Filben.

"You always want to do something for your grandkids, and education is so important," Hill said. "It seemed like a logical investment for us to put some money in."

Marley Rose Hill-Filben attends the University of Utah, which is Hill and his late wife's alma mater. Hill said Corrine was working in the governor's office, and the second she heard about the program went down the hall and said she would like to sign up for her two grandkids.

"I think we all have had going to college as primary," Hill said. "There was no other alternative. It was the assumption that you just will go like your grandmother and grandfather and your uncles and the whole family."

Hill said he likes contributing to his grandchildren's educations and is glad the plan has been able to come to fruition with Marley's account almost totaling $30,000. So instead of having to protest on Wall Street about paying off her loans, Hill-Philben will be able to just focus on school and finding a job after graduation.

"It makes me very proud that something we started way back 15 years ago has matured to that amount and has become sizable and can become a great help," Hill said.

EMAIL: sgambles@desnews.com

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