DATE: September 13, 2004
CONTACT: Gus Wales
PHONE: (225) 922-2029
FAX: (225) 922-0790
Governor proclaims September as College Savings Month
Gov. Kathleen Blanco has proclaimed the month of September as “College Savings Month, ” encouraging families to plan ahead for the cost of college attendance.
“I urge our citizens to recognize the benefit of obtaining a higher education and want the citizens of Louisiana to begin saving for their children’s education now,” Blanco said.
The proclamation mirrors the actions of the College Savings Plans Network (CSPN) of the National Association of State Treasurers, which has also declared September as national College Savings Month.
According to CSPN Chairman Diana Cantor, more than 6.5 million families have opened accounts in Section 529 qualified tuition programs across the country, for the specific purpose of helping their children obtain a college education without incurring excessive student loan debt.
“Paying for higher education is something all parents of students should start thinking about early,” said State Treasurer John Kennedy. “Every child should have the opportunity to attend college or a vo-tech school, and our 529 savings program is providing families with the tool to make this a reality.”
“In Louisiana, our 529 program is known as the START Saving Program, which is an acronym for the Student Tuition Assistance and Revenue Trust,” said Jack Guinn, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), the agency that administers START. “Our program now has in excess of 13,000 accounts and total assets of $50 million.”
According to START Director Carol Fulco, START benefits include: An annual exemption from state-taxable income of up to $2,400 in deposits per account per year and any unused exemption can be carried forward to future years; a state-paid match on deposits that ranges from 2 to 14 percent, depending upon the account category and the owner’s adjusted gross income; a choice of multiple investment options in fixed, variable and mixed portfolios; the flexibility to use funds at any accredited college or university for tuition, room and board, books, fees and more; and a tax exemption on earnings when used to pay these expenses.
Blanco’s proclamation stressed that since 1980, the rising costs of higher education have out-paced inflation, growth in family income, and the rate of public assistance provided to students – posing a serious threat to Louisianans’ ability to ensure their children’s access to postsecondary education.
“Louisiana’s Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) – the state’s premier scholarship program – covers tuition costs, but it does not pay for room and board, books, some fees and other expenses,” Guinn said.
However, a START account can help cover any shortfall in funds for college expenses, according to F. Travis Lavigne Jr., Chairman of the Louisiana Tuition Trust Authority (LATTA), the governing body that oversees the START program.
“The state’s START program is a perfect supplement to TOPS, but it is also great on its own or in addition to other savings programs,” Lavigne said. “START is one of the best college savings programs in the nation, and now is the perfect time to open an account for your beneficiary.”
Parents and others interested
in opening a START account should call LOSFA toll-free at (800) 259-5626, Ext.
1012, or visit the START Web site located at www.startsaving.la.gov.
In order to participate in START, the account owner or the beneficiary must
be a Louisiana resident.