529 Plans: The West Coast (AK, HI, WA, OR and CA)

529 Plans: The West Coast (AK, HI, WA, OR and CA)

As promised, here is the first post (of many!) about some specific states' 529 college savings plans. We are focusing on regions of the United States, and maybe because I'm still cold here in Buffalo, NY, I chose to hone in on our opposite coast (where California's warmth is calling my name!). While here, we focus on California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska, all to bring you the West Coast 529 highlights.


The Last Frontier State has three plans to choose from: the UA College Savings Plan, the T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan and the John Hancock Freedom 529. All three savings plans are fairly similar in what they offer. Here are some bottom-line similarities:

  • No residency requirements
  • No state tax credit or deduction (thanks to Alaska’s no income taxes)
  • Deferred taxes on earnings
  • No financial aid benefits, state matching grants or any rewards programs
  • No enrollment fees
  • Maximum contributions of $320,000 per beneficiary
  • Account maintenance fees (around $20/month) are waived with automatic contribution and for accounts of certain dollar amounts
  • All have a $50 per month minimum contribution after initial contribution
  • All three are managed by T. Rowe Price

Of the three, the John Hancock plan is the only adviser-sold plan. It also has a higher initial minimum contribution of $1,000, as compared to the other plans' minimum of $250. JH offers more investment options than the other two including multi-managed portfolios for age-based options and multi-fund, lifestyle and individual fund portfolios for static investment options.

The UA plan, on the other hand, offers some nice perks to future University of Alaska students. These include waived account maintenance and program management fees. Also, the plan offers returns equal to the university's tuition increases. In addition, UA offers both static and enrollment-based portfolios, which are very similar to the T. Rowe Price plan.


Hawaii has only one 529 plan, and it is aptly named the Hawaii College Savings Program. The program is managed by Upromise, and Vanguard Group acts as investment manager. Here's the 411 on this five-two-nine:

  • No state residency requirement
  • Maximum contribution of $305,000
  • Minimum contributions of $15
  • Fees: $0 for enrollment, $20 annual maintenance fee
  • No contribution matches from the program
  • No state tax deductions or credits
  • Features four age-based options, four multi-fund fixed options and two individual-fund options


Fidelity Investments manages the Golden State’s two savings plans. The ScholarShare College Savings Plan is a direct-solid option while the ScholarShare Advisor College Savings Plan offers an adviser-sold plan. These two plans find common ground in the following:

  • Open to all US residents
  • Maximum contribution of $350,000
  • No state tax deductions or credits for contributions
  • No program match for contributions
  • Fees for the two plans vary slightly: the straight savings plan doesn’t charge a maintenance fee while the adviser plan will set you back $20 a year on accounts with less than $25,000 (this fee will be waived if you participate in automatic contribution).

Contribution levels also differ. The savings plan's minimum contribution is $50, but the adviser plan's minimum is $1,000. After the first initial contribution, the savings plan has a $25 minimum monthly contribution for the lump-sum, and the automatic plan weighs in at $15 monthly or $45 quarterly. For the lump-sum adviser sold plan, there are no subsequent minimum values; however that plan’s automatic contribution minimums are $50 for the month or $150 for the quarter.

The straight direct-sold savings plan offers two age-based options as well as static options, including six multi-fund and six individual-fund portfolios. The Social Choice Portfolio and an interest-bearing Bank Deposit Portfolio are also featured static options..

The adviser-sold plan gives you more choices in the age-based options (eight) and more individual-fund portfolios (thirteen) but a few less multi-fund options (two).


Oregon weighs into the 529 arena with two plan choices: the MFS 529 Savings Plan (an adviser-sold plan) and the Oregon College Savings Plan (the direct-sold option). Here are some common-ground items between the two plans:

  • Open to both residents of Oregon and non-residents
  • Maximum contributions of $310,000
  • No enrollment / application fees
  • No program match for your contributions
  • Contributions are deductible up to a certain amount each year (right around $2100 for singles and $4200 for married couples) with contributions in excess of these amounts carried forward for four years

The MFS plan is, aptly enough, managed by MFS Investment Management. It features a minimum initial contribution of $250 with no minimums after that. There are five portfolios in the age-based investment options while the static option includes four multi-fund and fourteen individual fund options. It also features a $25 maintenance fee for accounts with balances less than $25,000; this is waived for residents of Oregon.

The Oregon Savings plan is managed by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing. For contributions, the lump-sum route is a $25-per-portfolio minimum for both initial and subsequent contributions. The automatic payroll deduction route deducts $15 for each contribution to the investment portfolio.There are no account maintenance fees. Investors can choose from six age-based options as well as seven multi-fund and six single-fund portfolios. 


Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (or the GET for those "in the know") is a bit of a different plan. It is essentially a prepaid plan, but (here's where it changes things up) participants purchase units. Each unit is worth one percent of the in-state undergrad tuition at Washington’s priciest state public university. These units can be used at any college or university in the country that participates in the federal financial aid program. Here’s what you need to know:

  • The owner of the account or the beneficiary has to be a resident of Washington when enrolling in the program
  • There’s an enrollment period (usually fall through spring) unless your child has not yet celebrated his first birthday
  • There is a $50 enrollment fee
  • Choose from a lump sum plan (pay as you go) or custom monthly plan (montlhy payments)
  • The maximum contribution is $58,500 (500 units)
  • The minimum is one unit, which will set you back around $120
  • Units have to be at least two years old before you can use them

That's it for the West Coast! This info should get you started, but if you are in need of more detailed information (and links to each individual plan), give the www.bankrate.com website a whirl. This wealth of up-to-date, non-biased information answers all US 529 plan questions. Also make sure as you stay tuned as we continue to sweep eastward toward your own state's 529 college savings plans. And don't miss our previous posts in the series!

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Niki's picture

Niki wrote:

Thu, 05/19/2011 - 18:08 Comment #: 1

Are you in my mind?

Your last few posts seem to be directed at me. Thanks for all the great info, I am waiting for PA. Although when I was looking into it (not very much, just a few internet searches) it looks like I can set it up through my UPromise account. We have plain old savings accounts but I want to step it up and do automatic monthly contributions.

retirebyforty's picture

retirebyforty wrote:

Sat, 05/21/2011 - 18:17 Comment #: 2

I am participating in the OR 529 direct sale plan. I just started so I'll have to wait a few years to see how it does.
This is a great series. It would be really great if you can assign stars to each state's 529. I know that's difficult, but it would be really useful.

From my research OR's plan is average, but we get tax deduction so we're sticking with it for now. If there is a better plan, I would love to know more about them.

Insurance Guru's picture

Insurance Guru wrote:

Mon, 08/01/2011 - 14:52 Comment #: 3

I am really excited to see you're covering 529s and similar plans in such detail - can't wait until you get to my state (Michigan)