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When it comes to saving for college, you don't always have to remain in-state.
Families poured cash into the 529 college savings plans in the first half of 2018, according to recent data from the College Savings Plans Network.
These tax-advantaged accounts allow families to sock away after-tax dollars and have them accumulate earnings free of federal income taxes. As long as you take the money out to pay for qualified education expenses, you can do so tax-free.
Savers invested close to $330 billion in these plans, boosting the average plan balance to an all-time high of $24,153, the College Savings Plans Network found.
"People are getting more serious about saving," said James DiUlio, chair of the College Savings Plans Network. "Young parents with college loans don't want that to happen to their kids."
A handful of state plans were standouts, grabbing a massive share of assets.
Be aware that, while you are not restricted to investing in only your home state's 529 plan, more than 30 states do offer some form of state tax break to residents who choose the local college savings plan, according to Savingforcollege.com.
However, if you shop around, you may find a better deal in another state, based on account and investment fees, fund line-ups and more.
You should also consider whether you'd like to buy a plan on your own or would you prefer to work with a financial advisor. So-called advisor-sold 529 plans tend to be more expensive.
Here are the five largest state plans based on assets under management as of June 30, 2018, according to the College Savings Plan Network.
1. Virginia's CollegeAmerica: This 529 plan is advisor-sold and holds $64.2 billion in assets under management.
A bonus: Virginia taxpayers may deduct up to $4,000 per year in contributions with an unlimited carryforward to future tax years.
2. New York's 529 College Savings Program Direct Plan: You can participate in this plan without the help of a financial advisor. Currently, this plan holds $24.2 billion in assets under management.
Empire State residents saving in the state's plan may be able to deduct up to $5,000 a year in contributions — $10,000 if married and filing jointly — when they file state income taxes
3. The Vanguard 529 Plan in Nevada: This plan holds $17.9 billion in assets under management. It's available directly to investors. Residents don't get a tax deduction for contributions.
4. The UNIQUE College Investing Plan in New Hampshire: This direct-sold plan has $12.7 billion in assets under management. New Hampshire doesn't offer a deduction for residents who contribute to the plan.
5. Utah's My529: Rounding out the top five, this direct-sold plan holds $12.6 billion in assets under management.
Utah residents contributing to the state's plan qualify for a 5 percent state income tax credit, provided they contribute at least $1,960 per qualified beneficiary (if single) or $3,920 if married and filing jointly.
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