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Bright Start Direct-Sold College Savings Program logo

Bright Start Direct-Sold College Savings Program

Union Bank & Trust Company succeeded Oppenheimer Funds, Inc. as program manager of the Bright Start College Savings Program in July 2017. The Illinois direct-sold Plan features three age-based options using either a multi-firm or index-based strategy, three target portfolios, three index target portfolios and individual fund portfolios from a number of fund families.

Our Ratingx

4.5 of 5

Fee Scorex

5 of 5


4.5 of 5
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  • Program typeSavings
  • Inception2000, but substantially changed in July 2007 and again in July 2017.
  • State agency
    Illinois State Treasurer
  • Tax deduction
  • Program Manager
    Union Bank & Trust Company
  • Program distributor
    Union Bank & Trust Company
  • Manager contract termUNLOCK PRO

Ratings & Rankings

Our overall rating for IL residents

This is a program that offers outstanding flexibility, attractive investments, and additional economic benefits (such as generous state tax incentives) that for some people, at least, will provide a substantial boost to their savings. There are few, if any, weaknesses noted in the program.

Our overall rating for non-residents

This is an excellent program with many benefits for the participant and positive investment attributes. If it has any significant weaknesses then it also has some particularly good things to recommend it.'s 5-Cap Ratings provides an evaluation and comparison of 529 plans, utilizing a formula that examines dozens of factors grouped into the following categories.

4.54of 5

Each plan's performance score is developed directly from's Quarterly 529 Performance Rankings. A 529 savings plan must have at least one year of performance history before they will be assigned a 5-cap rating. For those plans that are not part of our quarterly performance rankings, such as plans offering a single set of bank-based investment options, we assign a performance score by evaluating the returns currently available on similar types of investments outside of 529 plans.


State residency requirements:


Who can be a participant/owner in the program?

U.S. resident individuals, UGMA/UTMA custodians, a Trust, and legal entities.

Significant time or age restrictions imposed by the program:


Did you know?

  • IL residents can claim a tax deduction for contributions to a IL 529 plan.

    Contributions are deductible in computing state taxable income

  • 529 plan contributions grow tax-free.

    Withdrawals are tax-free when used to pay for qualified higher education expenses.

  • You can contribute as much as you want, as often as you want.

    The key is to get started. Enroll today by completing a quick form online.

Bright Start Direct-Sold College Savings Program logo
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Maximum contributions:

Accepts contributions until all account balances in Illinois' 529 plans for the same beneficiary reach $450,000.

Minimum contributions:

No minimum.

Investment Options

Age-based investment options:

Choose between Multi-Firm Age Based Portfolios and the Index Age Based Portfolios, each containing 9 portfolios in Aggressive, Moderate and Conservative glidepaths. Contributions are placed into the portfolio corresponding to the beneficiary's age, and later reassigned to more conservative portfolios as the beneficiary approaches college age.View more age-based investment options

Static investment options:

Select among three Target Portfolios and three Index Target Portfolios; both offer Equity, Balanced, and Fixed Income options, and sixteen individual options.View more static investment options

Underlying investments:

Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, DFA, Dodge & Cox, BlackRock, Baird Funds, Ariel Investments, Oppenheimer Funds, Dreyfus, Nuveen and PGIM Investments.View a full list of this plan's investment options

Underlying fund allocations:


Portfolio Fees & Performance Lookup


Fees & Expenses

Enrollment or application fee:


Account maintenance fee:


Program management fees:

0.11% (includes 0.03% state administrative fee).
Index Portfolios: 0.08% (no state administrative fee).
No state administrative fee for the Vanguard Federal Money Market 529 portfolio.

Expenses of the underlying investments:

Index Portfolios:
0.04% to 0.07% Age-Based & Static Portfolios (portfolio weighted average)
0.02% - 0.10% Individual Fund Portfolios

Multi-Firm Portfolios:
0.15% to 0.35% Age-Based & Static Portfolios (portfolio weighted average)
0.11% - 0.72% Actively Managed Individual Fund Portfolios

Total asset-based expense ratio:

0.10% - 0.83%

Taxes and other Benefits

  • Tax deduction for single filers$10,000/yr
  • Tax deduction for joint filers$20,000/yr


Married filing jointly residents contributing $100/month can expect an additional $0 a year in tax savings.

Program match on contributions:


State tax deduction or credit for contributions:

Contributions to an Illinois 529 plan of up to $10,000 per year by an individual, and up to $20,000 per year by a married couple filing jointly, are deductible in computing Illinois taxable income. For a rollover contribution, only the principal portion is eligible for the deduction. Contribution deadline is December 31 postmark. For tax years ending on or between 12/31/09 and 12/31/20, employers may claim a credit against Illinois tax for 25% of matching contributions made to an employee's account in an Illinois 529 plan, with a maximum annual credit of $500 per employee. Unused credits may be carried forward for five years.

State tax recapture provisions:

Effective January 1, 2007, rollovers from this plan to an out-of-state program are included in Illinois taxable income to the extent of prior Illinois deductions. Effective January 1, 2009, nonqualified distributions from this plan are included in Illinois taxable income to the extent of prior Illinois deductions.

State definition of qualified expenses

The state's definition of qualified education expenses currently includes expenses for attendance at an institution of higher education as defined by the Internal Revenue Code and its regulations addressing qualified state tuition programs. It is unclear or as yet undecided as to whether tuition for elementary or secondary education will be considered a qualified education expense.

State tax treatment of qualified distributions:

Qualified distributions from an Illinois 529 plan are exempt. Qualified distributions from a non-Illinois plan are exempt provided the plan meets certain disclosure requirements.

State tax treatment of rollovers:

Illinois follows federal tax-free treatment except that, beginning in 2007, outbound rollovers are subject to the recapture of prior state tax deductions.

Does the sponsoring state exclude the value of an account for state financial aid purposes?


Does participation in the program provide beneficiaries with any advantages in qualifying for resident tuition status at state institutions?


Does the program have a formal agreement with a rewards program or outside scholarship program?

Yes, the Upromise Rewards program can be linked to any 529 college savings plan. Upromise Rewards is free to join and offers members cash back for college.

Upromise Helps Families Save for College

Upromise Helps Families Save for College

Statutory protection of an account from creditors:


Did you know?

  • Residents are not limited to investing in their own state's 529 plan.

    Another state may offer a plan that performs better and has lower fees.

  • The 529 plan chosen does not affect which state the student enrolls in.

    You can live in New York, open a plan from Nevada and send a student to college in Florida.

  • The best way to maximize your college savings?

    Start early and save often. You can get started today with easy online enrollment.

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Distributions & Terminations

To whom are distributions made payable:

Eligible educational institution, beneficiary, or account owner, as directed by the account owner.

Account Changes

Policy regarding participant/owner changes:

Accepts requests to transfer account ownership.

Documents, Access & Reporting

Does participant have online password-protected access to account?


Can the complete enrollment process including funding be done online?


Documents and other services accessible or downloadable on the program's public Web site:





Start saving for your child's future today

Step 1

Click the blue Enroll Now button to the right

Step 2

Complete the online application and make your first deposit

Bright Start Direct-Sold College Savings Program logo
enroll now
59,163 clicked to enroll