Archives for November 3, 2015

Morningstar Top 529 College Savings Plan Rankings 2015

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

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Investment research firm Morningstar has released their annual 529 College Savings Plans Research Paper and Industry Survey. While the full survey appears restricted to paid premium members, they did release their top-rated plans for 2015. Remember to first consider your state-specific tax benefits that may outweigh other factors. If you don’t have anything compelling available, you can open a 529 plan from any state.

Here are the Gold-rated plans for 2015 (no particular order). Morningstar uses a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating scale for the top plans and Neutral or Negative for the rest.

Here are the consistently top-rated plans from 2010-2015. This means they were rated either Gold or Silver (or equivalent) for every year the rankings were done from 2010 through 2015.

  • T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan, Alaska
  • Maryland College Investment Plan
  • Vanguard 529 College Savings Plan, Nevada
  • CollegeAdvantage 529 Savings Plan, Ohio
  • CollegeAmerica Plan, Virginia (Advisor-sold)

The trend here is consistency. There was no change in either of the lists above as compared to last year. Utah only missed on out the consistent list because they weren’t top-ranked in 2010.

The “Five P” criteria.

  • People. Who’s behind the plans? Who are the investment consultants picking the underlying investments? Who are the mutual fund managers?
  • Process. Are the asset-allocation glide paths and funds chosen for the age-based options based on solid research? Whether active or passive, how is it implemented?
  • Parent. How is the quality of the program manager (often an asset-management company or board of trustees which has a main role in the investment choices and pricing)? Also refers to state officials and their policies.
  • Performance. Has the plan delivered strong risk-adjusted performance, both during the recent volatility and in the long-term? Is it judged likely to continue?
  • Price. Includes factors like asset-weighted expense ratios and in-state tax benefits.

A broad recommendation is to simply stick with one of the plans listed above unless your in-state plan is offering significant tax breaks. Many other state plans may have specific investments that will work just fine as well. Here are my personal favorites, and why:

  • The Nevada 529 Plan for its low costs, variety of Vanguard investment options, and long-term commitment to consistently lowering costs as their assets grow. The Vanguard co-branding is also a sign of positive stewardship.
  • The Utah 529 plan has low costs, includes a nice selection of Vanguard and DFA funds, and is highly customizable for DIY investors. Over the last few years, the Utah plan has also shown a history of passing on future cost savings to clients.

I feel that a trend of consumer-first practices is important as the quality of all 529 plans can change with time. Sure, you can roll over your funds elsewhere, but wouldn’t you rather have your current plan just keep getting better and better?

Savings I Bonds November 2015 Interest Rate

“The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone.”

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New fixed rate for November 2015 is 0.1%. The most recent official announcement states that effective November 2015, the new fixed rate on Series I savings bonds is 0.1%, up from the previous 0.0%. The variable inflation-indexed rate is 1.54% (as was predicted). Thus, buying a new I Bond between November 2015 through April 2016 will earn a composite rate of 1.64% for the first six months, and after that 0.1% the current inflation-indexed rate updated every 6 months.

If you theoretically bought on November 30th, 2015 and sell on November 1st, 2016, at the very minimum you’d earn a ~.89% annualized return for an 11-month holding period, for which the interest is also exempt from state income taxes. As long as inflation isn’t zero or negative over the next 6 months, you’ll earn more. Not a bad minimum short-term return for what could be a good long-term investment. I’m buying some after mid-November (don’t want to cut it too close to the deadline).

Existing I Bonds will earn their fixed rate the semi-annual inflation rate (adjusts every 6 months based on the original purchase date, eventually will be 1.54%).

Original mid-October post below:

New inflation numbers were announced, which allows us to make an early prediction of November 2015 savings bond rates before their official semi-annual announcement on the 1st of the month. This also allows us the opportunity to know exactly what a October 2015 savings bond purchase will yield over the next 12 months, instead of just 6 months.

New Inflation Rate
March 2015 CPI-U was 236.119. September 2015 CPI-U was 237.945, for a semi-annual increase of 0.77%. Using the official formula, the variable component of interest rate for the next 6 month cycle will be approximately 1.54%. The new fixed rate won’t be announced until November 1st, but unless something very extraordinary happens, this is going to be a very accurate prediction. You add the fixed and variable rates to get the total interest rate. If you have an older savings bond, your fixed rate may be different.

Purchase and Redemption Timing Reminder
You can’t redeem until 12 months have gone by, and any redemptions within 5 years incur an interest penalty of the last 3 months of interest. A known “trick” with I-Bonds is that if you buy at the end of the month, you’ll still get all the interest for the entire month as if you bought it in the beginning of the month. It’s best to give yourself a few business days of buffer time though, since if you wait too long your effective purchase date may be bumped into the next month.

Buying in October
If you buy before the end of October, the fixed rate portion of I-Bonds will be 0%. You will be guaranteed the current variable interest rate of -1.60 for the next 6 months, for a total rate of zero (it can’t be negative). For the 6 months after that, the total rate will be 1.54%. Add in the last-3-months-of-interest penalty for holding less than 5 years, and I just wouldn’t buy in October.

Buying in November
If you wait until November, you will get 1.54% an unknown fixed rate for the first 6 months. The fixed rate is likely to be zero. There may be a small chance it is 0.1%, and an even smaller chance it will be 0.2%. Every six months, your rate will adjust to the fixed rate a variable rate based on inflation. At least here if inflation picks up, you’ll get a hiked rate earlier than versus buying in October.

If you buy on November 30th, 2015 and sell on November 1st, 2016, at the very minimum you’ll earn a ~.84% annualized return for an 11-month holding period, for which the interest is also exempt from state income taxes. As long as inflation isn’t zero or negative over the next 6 months, you’ll earn more. That still isn’t a slam dunk short-term play, but if you want to buy it anyways for a long-term investment, it’s not bad. Keep your money in an online savings account earning 1% or more until then.

Existing I-Bonds
If you have an existing I-Bond, the rates reset every 6 months depending on your purchase month. Your bond rate = your specific fixed rate + variable rate (minimum floor of 0%). Again, this new rate update isn’t terribly high, but due to their annual purchase limits, you should still consider their unique advantages before redeeming them. These include ongoing tax deferral, exemption from state income taxes, and being a hedge against inflation (and even a bit of a hedge against deflation).

Annual Purchase Limits
The annual purchase limit is now $10,000 in online I-bonds per Social Security Number. For a couple, that’s $20,000 per year. Buy online at TreasuryDirect.gov, after making sure you’re okay with their security protocols and user-friendliness. You can also buy an additional $5,000 in paper bonds using your tax refund (see IRS Form 8888). If you have children, you may be able to buy additional savings bonds by using a minor’s Social Security Number.

For more background, see the rest of my posts on savings bonds.

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