Step by step: Setting up a 529!

Boy posing as scholarly graduate

Because the bottom line of this post is so important, I’m going to start with it: Signing up for a 529 was so EASY and took only a few minutes – why did I wait this long to do it?!?!

I’m a big believer in taking the mystery out of things that on the surface seem difficult, but truly aren’t. I’m going to share my experience so you know exactly what to expect and how quick the process was!

Let’s go back to the beginning.

When my husband and I found out that we were going to be having our first child, we started to talk about setting up a 529. What’s a 529? It’s a tax-advantaged way to pay for higher education (read more about it here). Yes, we talked about it, but never got around to actually doing it. We’re just so busy, busy, busy! Our daughter is now 9 months and, after encouragement from our tax advisor, we finally decided to bite the bullet, set aside time and get everything set up.

And, seriously, it couldn’t have been any easier.

Our tax professional suggested, so that’s what we went with (however, there are other plans you can use – check with your financial planner or tax professional for suggestions!). We decided to tackle what we thought was going to be a tedious endeavor during our daughter’s morning nap. We crossed our fingers, hoping that her nap would last long enough for us to focus! Each individual must open up a separate account, so we tackled mine first.

We logged onto the website, clicked “Open Account,” and we were off!

NOTE: Before you begin, make sure you determine HOW MUCH you can afford to allocate to the 529. You can contribute as little as $25 a month ($15 if contributing through payroll deduction). Iowa taxpayers can deduct up to $2,975 in contributions per beneficiary account from their adjusted gross income for 2012.*

Seven Simple Screens

1. New Participant
The screen asks for everything you would expect when opening an account – your SS#, address, phone number, the usual.

2. Beneficiary
Here is where you enter in everything about the person for whom you’re setting the account up for. This is where you’ll need to enter their SS#, too.

3. Choose Investment
This was the page that took us the most time, as we hadn’t discussed this prior to beginning the process (so you might want to learn from my mistake!). This page is where you choose how College Savings Iowa will invest the money that you are saving. There are two options and then subcategories under those:

1. Age Based Savings Track: Your portfolio’s investments are decided by College Savings Iowa, but you choose one of four tracks ranging from aggressive to conservative. Your portfolio will automatically shift the asset allocation as your beneficiary nears college age. (This is the option we went with!)

2. Individual Portfolios: You make your own asset allocation decisions and your investments stay the same until you change them.

4. Pick Method of Funding
Make sure to have the credit union’s routing number, your account number (can be found on the bottom of your checks), and your financial institution’s phone number.

So how do you want to get money into your 529 account? You have four options: automatic regular contributions from your bank account, onetime allocation from your bank account, with a check (you print a form and then mail it in), or with a rollover or transfer.

For us, the auto transfer is the perfect fit. We were even able to select the date that we wanted the transfers to start. Once your bank account is connected to the 529 plan, you can transfer additional money directly to it from your credit union or bank whenever you’d like! You can also sign up for annual automatic increases, which I thought was kind of cool!

5. Select Delivery Option
There are three categories that allow you to choose the manner in which you’d like to receive notifications:
• Statements – Online, Online with Paper Copy at End of Year or All By Regular Mail
• Transactions/Profile changes – Email or Regular Mail
• Tax Forms – Regular or Email

6. Create User Name and Password
Hooray! You are basically done! Just as the page title suggest, this is the place where you create that ever-important user name and password.

7. Complete Your Account
All of the information that you have inputted up until this point shows up in a nice and neat format on this page. You just need to review for accuracy and edit any section if you have any changes! You’ll need to choose three security questions and a security picture (but beware – the pic choices are super-duper lame).

AND YOU ARE DONE! Time passed? 20 measly minutes – and that’s only because I was writing notes down so I could tell you guys all about what to expect! When we set up my husband’s account, it only took us a whopping 5 minutes since we now had all the decisions made and information at our finger tips.

My biggest regret is that we didn’t do this sooner. I honestly thought it was going to take longer and kept making up excuses. Hopefully I have taken the mystery out of the process and helped put your mind at ease.

Sound off in the comments below: What sorts of savings plan do you have set up for your children?