Ohio 529 Plans Earn Best and Worst Ranking

April 23, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The state of Ohio's two 529 college savings plans earned spots at both ends of the spectrum in a new Morningstar national ranking of 529 programs.

A Morningstar news release said Ohio’s direct-sold CollegeAdvantage plan was named as one of the country’s best while its Putnam CollegeAdvantage was listed as one of the worst.

According to the announcement, CollegeAdvantage got its kudos because of its “sensible” age-based options, active and index strategies, low fees, and “generous” tax deductions for in-state residents. Because the state of Ohio manages CollegeAdvantage, it has the flexibility to create a lineup of offerings from numerous fund families, Morningstar said.

The Putnam CollegeAdvantage appeared on the Worst list for the second year in a row.   Morningstar commented: “Despite lowering fees and adding non-Putnam funds to its lineup during the past year, it still relies heavily on Putnam funds, which have been hampered for several years by high manager and executive turnover and poor performance.”

“2008 was a terrible year for 529 plan investors,” said Greg Brown, Morningstar mutual fund analyst and author of the study, in the announcement. “In recent years, the industry made strides by lowering fees, improving investment options, and closing down poorly structured plans. Last year, however, we saw too many plans that were overly aggressive with their investment strategies as students approached college, and plans that stayed loyal to strategies that just weren’t working.”

Also on the top list were Virginia's two plans, Education Savings Trust and CollegeAmerica, which earned Morningstar's accolades two years in a row.

"Virginia Education Savings Trust is managed by the state of Virginia, rather than a fund company, which gives the plan the freedom to choose among different fund families," Morningstar said in its announcement. "The fund also offers a mix of index and actively managed age-based portfolios, as well as healthy state tax breaks and low costs. Virginia CollegeAmerica returns to the Best list with its lineup of high-quality American Fund funds with broad asset class exposure and low fees."

Further, Morningstar said, its "longtime favorite" Utah Educational Savings Plan Trust returns to the Best list for its low costs, strong lineup of Vanguard Group index funds, and the flexibility offered by five age-based options. Indiana CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan debuts on the Best list with strong underlying funds, broad asset class exposure, prudent age-based portfolios, and customization options.

At the other end, Morningstar said two Nebraska 529 plans appear on the Worst list this year. Nebraska AIM College Savings Plan makes its fourth appearance in a row as a result of its high fees and lack of fund options. Nebraska State Farm College Savings Plan joins the Worst list not only because plan administrators chose precisely the wrong time to invest heavily in Oppenheimer bond funds, but also because the state still hasn't done anything to address the problem (see  College Savings Plans Hit Hard by Oppenheimer Fund Loss ).

More information is available  here .

Best 529 College Savings Plans
Name, Program Manager
Ohio CollegeAdvantage, Ohio Tuition Trust Authority
Utah Educational Savings Plan Trust, UESP Trust
Indiana CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan, Upromise Investments, Inc.
Virginia Education Savings Trust, Virginia College Savings Plan Board
Virginia CollegeAmerica 529 Savings Plan*, American Funds

Worst 529 College Savings Plans
Name, Program Manager
Ohio Putnam CollegeAdvantage*, Putnam
Nebraska AIM College Savings Plan*, Union Bank and Trust Company
Nebraska State Farm College Savings Plan*, OppenheimerFunds
New Jersey Best 529 College Savings Plan, Franklin Templeton
Montana Pacific Life Funds 529 College Savings Plan, Pacific Life Funds

Source: Morningstar