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College-savings plan launches sweepstakes

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

At least one member of the High School Class of 2029 will have a solid foundation from which to start his or her college education. Eventhough the lucky student may not have been born -- yet.

The Path2College 529 Plan is sponsoring a statewide, newborn sweepstakes, in which one Georgia baby, born between Jan. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2011, will be awarded $5,529 toward a Path2College 529 college-savings plan.

The sweepstakes is intended to promote the Path2College program, and help parents become aware of it, said Chuck Penuel, director of the Path2College 529 Plan, an Atlanta-based, state program for college savings.

"College costs have been increasing faster than consumer inflation," said Penuel. "New parents have so much on their minds, so we wanted to find a fun, yet beneficial way, to remind them about saving for their new bundle of joy's future."

Penuel said Path2College secured its first hospital partnership with Northside Hospital, which will work with the program in coordinating the newborn sweepstakes. "We know that working together we can raise awareness of the importance of education for our children," he said. "We look forward to adding more hospital partners throughout the state, and helping one lucky Georgia child achieve his or her dreams."

The Path2College 529 Plan, launched in 2002, has been a successful college-savings program in Georgia, according to its director. The plan is managed by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., which is part of the New York, N.Y.-based TIAA-CREF financial services organization.

"The earlier families start to save, then, the more time they have to save," Penuel said. The plan has more than $960 million in assets, and almost 120,000 accounts, as of April 1, 2011, he added, noting an average account size of $8,000.

Penuel said the increasingly popular program helps families prepare for the future costs of college tuition, and other qualified expenses, such as fees, books and room and board costs.

"It can be used for colleges anywhere in the country, and not just for schools in Georgia," he said. "The majority of financial aid is in the form of student loans. That means that you could end up graduating college with a lot of loan debt. So, whatever parents can save, even if they cannot save the entire amount, is that much less that a student would have to take out in student loans."

A 529 Plan account can be opened online with as little as $25, he said, adding that the plan is federal and state income tax-deferred, and withdrawals for qualified higher-education expenses are income-tax free.

"The other big advantage is that Georgia offers a state income tax deduction for up to $2,000 a year for each account," said Penuel.

Parents, legal guardians or grandparents -- at least 18 years of age -- of a child born in Georgia during 2011 have until April 14, 2012, to enter the sweepstakes. They can enter and obtain official rules by visiting www.Path2College529.com. Penuel said a winner will be randomly chosen to receive the sweepstakes award. The results will be announced April 15, 2012.

To learn more about the Path2College 529 Plan, or its newborn sweepstakes, call the Path2College customer service line, at (877) 424-4377, or visit the web site at www.path2college529.com.