The Best 529 Plan For My Daughter Is Not As Perfect As She Is

Best 529 Plan PinI recently opened a new 529 account for my daughter’s college savings.  After a lot of thought, and without much fanfare, I have decided to use the Virginia 529 inVest Plan, the same plan I use for my son.

From my research, it’s the best 529 plan available for our family. I have written an extensive but simplified review of the four Virginia 529 plans for anyone interested. I call the new page VA 529 Simplified.

Tax-Advantaged Savings

As I do with my son, I will be contributing $300 per month for my daughter’s college savings. Virginia allows a state tax deduction of $4000 a year per account owner, per account, per child (sounds confusing, see this link for an explanation) if you participate in one of the four Virginia 529 programs.

The $7200 dollar tax deduction will save me $414 in state taxes per year. That is a 5.75% risk-free return on my money that I get back when I submit my state tax return and get my refund.

The primary reason I went with the Virginia state plan is that if I went with another state’s plan, I would not get the tax deduction. Had I used the Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, or the Vanguard plans with other states, my investments would still grow tax free, but that upfront tax break would not be there.

Virginia does have an option to invest with the American Funds CollegeAmerica program, but it requires working with a financial adviser and I prefer to work without one. The fees are subsequently higher when working with an adviser.

These factors all led me back to the Virginia inVest program being the best 529 plan for us. The downsides of this program, which I talk about in detail on the VA 529 Simplified tab, is that there are not a lot of investment choices, and the user interface is outdated and poorly designed.

I also invested in six separate funds for my son’s account, but the website does not organize multiple accounts very well.  I may have over-diversified his portfolio, considering the frustrating administration of the portfolio.  Fees are very low for the program as a whole, just 0.20% for the state of Virginia, plus varied fees for each fund.

I did find a few investments that I believe will work well for my daughter’s college savings. I am going to cut in half the number of investments I use to three, and stick to the tried and true index funds strategy.

The Index Strategy

I am a big fan of Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard investments. Vanguard funds are prominent throughout the Virginia 529 inVest program. Bogle is a big proponent of index fund investing

Over time, index funds outperform a vast majority of managed mutual funds, and they have much lower fees.  The three funds that I will be equally investing in are:

Fund    *as of 10/06/2015



5-Yr Return

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund




Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund




Parnassus Equity Income Fund




Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund has been a top performer of all the investment options in the Virginia 529 inVest plan this year and for the prior ten years. The international index fund has hit some turmoil in the last few years, but over the long-term adds significant diversification.

Lastly, I decided to choose a third fund from the not-so-exciting selection. It is a socially responsible fund, although that is not the reason I chose it. The profile of the fund indicates that it invests 75% of its holdings in dividend paying stocks. Since dividend investing is a strategy I follow, and the returns are solid, this seems like the fund for me.

While the fees are a bit higher than the Vanguard funds, I think putting 1/3 of the money into a managed fund is prudent diversification. It has also performed quite well in relation to its peers of the inVest plan.

Final Thoughts on the Best 529 Plan Available

Overall I am satisfied with the choice I am making for saving for my daughter’s education, but not thrilled. If the total market funds were not available, then this vehicle would not be acceptable.  My plan is to very methodically and consistently deposit money into the account each month of each year, for 18 years.

A dollar cost averaging effect will be ingrained in my investment plan, purchasing more shares of the funds when the market is low, and fewer shares when the market is high. Dividends will be paid on all three funds and reinvested.

The top holdings of the domestic funds are the largest blue chip companies in the US, but the fund also owns many mid cap, small cap, and micro cap stocks that trade on the NYSE and NASDAQ.  It is as diverse as all the stocks traded in the US.

As index funds typically outperform their managed peers, my guess is that the total market funds will be a conservative but reliable choice of investments. The managed Parnassus fund adds a bit more risk, but it is still relatively conservative for an all stock fund.

But when you add in tax savings to this strategy, I am getting that extra 5.75% cash return on my money every year. That $414 in tax returns I receive over the 18 year period equals nearly $7500 in guaranteed returns (as long as the law stays intact and the tax rate does not change).

The $7500 will go into my general cash account and potentially my taxable dividend growth investments accounts.

The plan will start as an all stock portfolio, and eventually will need a few tweaks. At some point after 10-15 of investing in stocks only, I do plan to transfer a percentage of the portfolio to less risky assets of fixed income to reduce the risk of losing money due to stock market fluctuations when approaching her start date.

I have plenty of time to think about. Today I need to focus on getting her investments started.

Now that it is November, I could potentially put in $4000 to get the tax break for the entire year, even though she only 2 months old. My concern with making that move is that the market in my opinion is a bit high at the moment.  I would hate to deposit $4000 in December and see a market downturn of 10-20% in 2014.

That kind of downturn would take a long time to recover from, and I am not in this to time the market. So at this point I will simply start the monthly purchases and if I do see a significant downturn before January, I will position myself to take advantage of it.

What have you determined to be the best 529 plan for your kids? Is it your state’s plan, or another state?

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  1. SavvyJames says:

    I am at a point where I don’t have to worry about financing college, but enjoyed the read. You have obviously put significant thought – as should be the case for all parents – into how to deploy your money and contribute to securing the future of your children. Also, love the title of the post!

    1. retirebeforedad says:


      Thanks for stopping by. Paying for college is probably my biggest concern regarding my retirement. I know I do not have to pay for my kids college, but I have committed to it nonetheless. They’ll be in school when I want to be retired, so it is critical I start early. As for the title, I was at a loss for a while, but that really summarizes the story. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s the best of our options. She is perfect today, but I am guessing that won’t last forever!


  2. RBD, great timely article for me. A friend is considering 529 options and I’m his best source of info.
    A couple of things: Did you go with actively managed for any other reason that dividends? And further, why do you like dividends so much? I don’t mean to be pointed, but the research indicates (I’m currently in the thicket of this issue in my PhD) that a total return view is likely to produce better results than one focused purely on income/dividends. In other words, not only to dividend paying stocks fail to provide a greater return than those that pay little to none (primarily provide capital gains), they may actually underperform because of investor sentiment and the ongoing dividend premium. (False security and a irrational love of large, stable companies)

    Email me if you want to swap blogrolls with each other! Glad I found you!

    1. retirebeforedad says:


      Thanks for reading and commenting. I chose the 3rd fund as actively managed because I didn’t want half of my portfolio in international. The only options outside of the managed fund was a bond index fund, and some combined asset class funds that aren’t 100% stocks. The plan seem to have put in this other fund to have a socially responsible fund, but it happens to also be a good fund. In short, I wanted a 3rd fund that was a stock find, and that was the only choice (a criticism of the plan itself). The dividends for me was a plus of that choice.

      As for dividend growth investing, it has worked well for me if you read the articles on CVX and KO. Long-term dividend increasers, wide moat, and reinvesting the dividends. I subscribe to the research work of Jeremy Seigel for this strategy who I am sure you are aware of. Some blogs you might be interested in who are very strong proponents of dividend growth investing are Dividendgrowthinvestor.com, dividend growth machine, and dividend mantra to name a few if you haven’t read their stuff. And check the blog rolls.

      Very cool that you are doing a PHD on this stuff! It’s a hobby for most of us.


  3. Green Money Stream says:

    I use NY’s 529 plan and have liked it so far. I just use a combo of Vanguard funds which works for me. This post is good because it is reminding me to look at my son’s account a little more often. Now that it is 4 years old, there is a decent amount of savings accumulated so I should monitor it a little more closely. I enjoyed the post.

    1. retirebeforedad says:


      Thank you for reading and for your comment. As long as you are happy with the choices, then that is great. Vanguard runs that program I believe. My problem is with the Virginia user interface and the selection of funds. I try to revisit my retirement and education savings every year, but usually it takes two years for me to get to it!


  4. I looked into a 529 for my kids, and then realized I couldn’t get a state deduction. It was at that point that I decided I should max out my 401k and use some of the growth generated to fund my kids college and get the state deduction and federal deduction now instead.