Quarterly 529 plan performance review: Q4 2017

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By Matthew Toner

February 15, 2018

Financial Professional Content 

Each quarter Savingforcollege.com analyzes the investment performance figures for thousands of 529 portfolios and ranks the 529 savings plans from best to worst for one-, three-, five-, and 10-year investment performance. Our 529 plan performance rankings include plans that consumers can enroll in directly, as well as those sold through brokers and fee-based financial planners.

In producing our rankings, we compared the reported investment performance of a subset of portfolios from each 529 savings plan. We use a subset because plans vary greatly in their underlying investment options. We use a representative subset of options to compare plans on an apples-to-apples basis. The “performance score” determines the ranking. For more details, please view our methodology.

It is important to remember that this data represents historical performance. Past performance over any period is not a guarantee of future results.

529 plan performance rankings

Direct Sold

For the most part those plans that have performed well continued to perform well, especially across the 10-year rankings. The top five of Pennsylvania 529 Investment PlanUSAA 529 College Savings PlanNew York’s 529 College Savings Program — Direct PlanCollege Savings Iowa and the Learning Quest 529 Education Savings Program (Direct-sold) remained unchanged. However, that is not to say these plans performed well across all four categories. The top performers averaged across all ranked categories can be found below with the New York’s 529 College Savings Program — Direct Plan and the Alaska T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan plans being the only ones to rank in the top 10 in each time period. However, it could reason that California’s ScholarShare 529 and the Ohio CollegeAdvantage Direct 529 Savings Plan will join them when the plans have enough historical data to obtain 10-year 529 plan performance rankings.

There wasn’t much movement overall except in the one-year and three-year categories, naturally. Some notable movers up the chart include the SMART529 WV Direct College Savings PlanUSAA 529 College Savings Plan and Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET), all moving up double digit spots in the 3Y category. In the one-year category, the START Saving ProgramCollege Savings Iowa and MOST – Missouri’s 529 College Savings Plan (Direct-sold) made double-digit leaps to get inside the top 15.

Plan 1 y 3y 5y 10y Top 10 periods
ScholarShare 529    3 2 3 1,3,5
Ohio CollegeAdvantage Direct 529 Savings Plan 8 1 1 1,3,5
T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan 5 4 4 9 1,3,5,10
University of Alaska College Savings Plan 5 4 4 9 1,3,5,10
New York’s 529 College Savings Program — Direct Plan  10 10 2 3 1,3,5,10
The Vanguard 529 College Savings Plan 2 6 9 11 1,3,5
Edvest 12 8 7 3,5
START Saving Program 7 12 16 8 1,10
SMART529 WV Direct College Savings Plan 14 3 8 22 3,5
College Savings Iowa 15 15 15 4 10

Broker-Sold

Similar to the direct-sold plans, there wasn’t much volatility in the 10-year rankings, except for the Ivy InvestEd 529 Plan plan which was previously unranked due to a lack of 10-year data and now ranks 3rd. In the one-year 529 plan performance rankings, a few plans made double-digit jumps including the Ivy InvestEd 529 Plan, Putnam 529 for America, and New York’s 529 Advisor-Guided College Savings Plans. The top performers average across all ranked categories can be found below.

There were a few standout plans that made leaps in nearly every category. The Bright Directions Advisor-Guided 529 College Savings Program out of Illinois moved up eight, 20, four and seven spots in the one-, three-, five- and 10 -year rankings, respectively. CollegeChoice Advisor 529 Savings Plan moved up significantly ranking 2nd, 1st, and 2nd in the one-, three-, five- and 10 -year rankings, respectively. Other big overall movers up the charts include the Fidelity Advisor 529 PlanNew York’s 529 Advisor-Guided College Savings Plan and the Bright Directions Advisor-Guided 529 College Savings Program.

Plan 1y 3y 5y 10y Top 10 periods
CollegeChoice Advisor 529 Savings Plan 2 1 1 1,3,5
CollegeAmerica 15 3 4 2 3,5,10
Nebraska Education Savings Trust — Advisor College Savings Plan 13 2 6 3,5
MFS 529 Savings Plan 10 6 12 1 1,3,10
Fidelity Advisor 529 Plan 4 8 8 12 1,3,5
Bright Directions Advisor-Guided 529 College Savings Program 11 4 13 4 3,10
New York’s 529 Advisor-Guided College Savings Plan 8 5 14 1,3
Putnam 529 for America 12 14 1 5
Ivy InvestEd 529 Plan 6 19 9 3 1,5,10
NextGen College Investing Plan — Client Select Series 18 10 3 7 3,5,10

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