Morningstar Inc. released its annual analyst ratings for 529 plans on November 2, 2022. Morningstar rated 54 of the largest 529 college savings plans, assigning them to one of five tiers: Gold, Silver, Bronze, Neutral and Negative. With 529 education savings assets hitting $386 billion in August 2022, Morningstar’s ratings represented 93% of those assets.
We’ll cover their ratings below, but if you’re interested in opening a 529 plan for a loved one, consider seeing our own 529 plan rankings.
Morningstar Ratings Methodology
Morningstar’s ratings of 529 plans are based on five factors, also known as the five Ps. These five factors are:
- Process: The 529 plan’s investment options.
- People: The reputation of the underlying money managers.
- Parent: The 529 plan’s program manager and state oversight.
- Price: The cost of the underlying investment options as compared with similar options.
- Performance: The 529 plan’s risk-adjusted investment performance, including consideration of both past performance and expected future performance.
Morningstar Ratings of 529 Plans
Morningstar rates their plans with medals, in the same structure as the Olympics. The remaining plans receive a neutral or negative rating. There were a total of 34 plans that received either a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating. These ratings were dispersed with 2 Gold, 12 Silver, 20 Bronze, 16 Neutral and 4 Negative. Negative ratings occur when a plan has at least one major flaw.
There were two downgrades and six upgrades this year. Vanguard-managed plans that employ an age-based approach to investing saw their rating in process downgraded to average. The plan also noted that fees have continued to decrease with the average fee falling to 0.45% from 0.48% last year.
The two 529 plans with Gold ratings include:
The 12 529 plans with Silver ratings include:
- T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan (Alaska)
- ScholarShare 529 (California)
- Path2College 529 Plan (Georgia)
- Bright Start College Savings Program (Illinois)
- Maryland 529 College Investment Plan (Maryland)
- Minnesota College Savings Plan (Minnesota)
- MOST Missouri’s 529 Education Plan (Missouri)
- The Vanguard 529 College Savings Plan (Nevada)
- CollegeAdvantage 529 Savings (Ohio)
- Oregon College Savings Plan (Oregon)
- Pennsylvania 529 Investment Plan (Pennsylvania)
- Edvest 529 Plan (Wisconsin)
The 20 plans that received a Bronze rating are:
- CollegeCounts 529 Fund (Alabama)
- Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan (Arizona)
- CollegeInvest Direct Portfolio College Savings Plan (Colorado)
- CHET Direct College Savings Plan (Connecticut)
- Delaware College Investment Plan (Delaware)
- Florida 529 Savings Plan (Florida)
- College Savings Iowa 529 Plan (Iowa)
- Bright Directions 529 College Savings Program (Illinois)
- CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan (Indiana)
- U. Fund College Investing Plan (Massachusetts)
- National College Savings Program (North Carolina)
- Bloomwell 529 Education Savings Plan (Nebraska)
- NEST Direct College Savings Plan (Nebraska)
- UNIQUE College Investing Plan (New Hampshire)
- New York’s 529 College Savings Program — Direct Plan (New York)
- BlackRock CollegeAdvantage 529 Plan (Ohio)
- Oklahoma College Savings Plan (Oklahoma)
- Future Scholar 529 (South Carolina)
- Invest529 (Virginia)
- CollegeAmerica (Virginia)
Differences Between Morningstar and Saving For College Ratings
There are several key differences between the Morningstar and Savingforcollege.com ratings of 529 plans. Investors should consider both sets of ratings because they complement each other.
- The number of 529 plans rated: Morningstar rates 54 of the largest 529 plans, while Savingforcollege.com rates 100 direct-sold and advisor-sold 529 plans, plus an additional 10 prepaid tuition plans.
- Timing of ratings: Morningstar rates the 529 plans annually, while Savingforcollege.com rates the 529 plans quarterly.
- Methodology: Morningstar bases its ratings on Process, People, Parent, Price and Performance and Savingforcollege.com bases its ratings on Performance, Costs, Features and Reliability.
- Tiers: Morningstar assigns 529 plans to five tiers (Gold, Silver, Bronze, Neutral and Negative) while Savingforcollege.com provides 5-Cap Ratings in half-cap increments, with separate ratings for state residents and non-residents. The separate ratings consider differences in 529 plan benefits for residents who invest in their home state’s 529 plan, such as state income tax breaks, birthday seed grants, matching contributions for low-income children and scholarship promotions.
- Additional insight: In addition to providing ratings, Savingforcollege.com also provides rankings in several categories, such as performance, lowest fees, best for my state and best rated, with separate performance rankings for 1, 3, 5 and 10 years.
- Fees: Savingforcollege.com publishes an annual fee study that evaluates the impact of fees on $10,000 of investments in each direct-sold plan.
Savingforcollege.com also publishes an annual ranking of FDIC-insured 529 plans.