Decide To Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: U.S. 529 College Savings Plans
While my children are far from newborns, there has been a recent baby boom among my friends, family, and colleagues. Shortly after the first coos and smiles, many parents start thinking about their children’s future and saving for college. According to CNBC, a US four-year private college in 2036 could cost nearly half a million dollars.
Note: I'm specifically using the term ‘college’ as opposed to ‘university,’ as this is how United States citizens refer to higher education, and 529 college savings plans are only available in the U.S.
I am only getting around to setting up 529 plans for my children now and, as it turns out, only 29% of U.S. parents take advantage of 529 plans for their children.
Before starting my research, I imagined I would have as much fun researching 529s as my husband did picking out a new television. There would be tons of choice and readily available information from each fund manager regarding their SRI (Socially Responsible Investments) strategy, right?. I would get to invest in something that is both good for my children and beneficial for the environment. You might be less surprised than I was was to find out that my husband ended up having a lot more fun with the TV.
Starting at savingforcollege.com, I was actually unable to easily identify which funds were SRI-focused. To do this, I needed to open up every state’s plan, click into each fund, and do an additional search for what was actually included under each plan. Not exactly efficient.
I took to Google and found a small handful of articles; many of them a few years old. These pointed me to a limited number of states that have funds available to residents of other states. Green Child Magazine had one of the more recent articles identifying SRI-focused funds, so I decided to work off of their list:
Washington DC, Illinois, Virginia, California, Connecticut, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.
It turned out to be a multistep process that started on Saving For College, followed by reading about the state’s individual 529 plans on their own website, followed by searching for the actual name of the mutual fund that makes up the 529 college savings plan.
For example, a list of Washington DC’s 529 college savings plans can be found on the Saving for College website. Under the list of Investment options, I guessed that the U.S. Socially Responsible Equity Portfolio was a fund with a SRI mandate (based on the name). Going directly to the Washington DC College Savings Plan website, I was able to find more information. After a little more digging on the website, I was able to find that this 529 plan was comprised of the Dimensions U.S. Sustainability Core 1 Portfolio DFSIX. Finally, I was able read more about their investment strategy and portfolio as it related to their SRI approach.
This multistep process was repeated for each fund I wanted to assess. For those with a SRI or ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) approach, this was defined differently for each fund, so it was important to dig a little deeper. There may be additional social causes in which you’re interested, so it could end up being a time consuming process. This was time well spent given I don’t plan to move this money around often. The investment will likely remain in the fund for over a decade.
Fund managers are receiving more and more pressure from their clients - in particular pension funds - to dedicate a larger portion of their assets to ESG, SRI and impact investing. According to a recent special report by Pensions & Investments, institutional assets containing ESG principles in the U.S. grew 16.9% from 2014 to $4.73 trillion by the start of 2016. This trend will continue if we all continue to put our money where are mouth is as it relates to our own personal investment strategies.
Additional Resources for Curious Minds
ESG, SRI & Impact Investing: Explaining the Difference to Clients (Investopedia)
Socially Responsible Investing: How to Save For College (Green Child Magazine)
7 College Savings Plans for Socially-Conscious Investors (Forbes)
More institutional investors putting money on ESG (Pensions & Investments)
Socially responsible investing with 529 plans (Saving for College)
The scary amount college will cost in the future (CNBC)
DC College Savings Plan
US Sustainability Core 1 Portfolio