Alabama Treasurer John McMillian.jpg

FLORENCE — When State Treasurer John McMillan travels the state on behalf of Alabama's CollegeCounts 529 Fund, he said he doesn't necessarily don the role of salesman because the plan sells itself.

What he does is tout its value to Alabama families. 

Alabama's college savings plan is designed to help families invest for the continually rising cost of college with a secondary goal of ultimately preventing burdensome student debt.

"We're doing well with investors in the plan, about 94,000 accounts (42,000 from out of state) and about $1.8 billion invested," he said Friday during a visit to the Shoals. "But we haven't spread the word well enough, and many people just don't know about it."

In the past four years alone, CollegeCounts has awarded over $4.5 million in scholarships to more than 1,300 students. The economy in recent years has been an asset to the growth of the fund, he said.

The plan is unlike any in the history of the state in that anyone can contribute any amount of money on behalf of the named beneficiary. Those funds can be withdrawn and used at colleges, universities and career technical schools nationwide, even at some international schools.

Ideally, McMillan said it's best to "invest early, contribute regularly and let the compounding interest work for you."

He said the more a family invests, the less likely the student will be to have to rely on student loans.

The push at this time of the year is to encourage 2019 state income tax deductions, whereby those contributions must be made to new or existing accounts by Dec. 31.

The plan allows for easy setup. Accounts can be opened online at CollegeCounts529.com, or through an enrollment kit by mail.

McMillan said his office is also utilizing a campaign on Alabama Public Television to "raise awareness at a younger age."

He said contributions can continue to be made to the fund through the student's college years, which is especially helpful in the case of enrollment later in the child's life.

"It's never too late to invest, even if the child is in high school," McMillan said. "It's easy to get started, and it's a win-win for account holders and beneficiaries."

Alabama taxpayers who make a contribution to CollegeCounts can take advantage of a state income tax deduction of up to $10,000 for married couples filing jointly, and $5,000 for individuals on contributions they make to an account each year.

For information, CollegeCounts specialists are available by calling 866-529-2228.

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