[Updated on Jan. 14, 2014 with new rates for 2014.]
For the most part, 529 plans offer mutual funds as investment options. After the financial crisis in 2008-2009, many 529 plans added more conservative, guaranteed principal options offered by banks and insurance companies. Because money in 529 plans is typically long term, these guaranteed principal options sometimes offer attractive yields. They can be a better deal than bond mutual funds because they don’t have interest rate risk.
These guaranteed principal options are especially good for students who are already in college or about to enter college. When you are going to withdraw the money in a few years, even bond mutual funds are too risky. For instance, the moderate-risk age-based portfolio for a student age 19 or over in the Vanguard 529 plan (Nevada) lost 3.4% in 2013.
Colorado’s CollegeInvest Stable Value Plus 529 Plan offers a stable value fund by MetLife. The interest rate resets every year in December. The rate guaranteed through December 31, 2014 is 2.64% after admin fees charged by the Colorado 529 plan.
The stable value fund is only guaranteed by MetLife. MetLife is rated Aa3 by Moody’s and AA- by S&P. Although MetLife isn’t FDIC, I would be OK with a guarantee by MetLife.
The interest rate offered by the MetLife stable value fund has been relatively stable (pun intended). A Colorado state law about “the minimum nonforfeiture rate for annuity contracts” might have something to do with it.
You don’t have to live in Colorado to use Colorado’s 529 Plan. You can have more than one 529 plans in different states for the same beneficiary. You can transfer money from one 529 plan to another 529 plan once every rolling 12 months for the same beneficiary if you didn’t get a state income tax deduction which requires a claw-back when you transfer out.
22 states either don’t have a state income tax or don’t offer any extra tax break for using an in-state 529 plan. If you live in these 22 states, you are completely free to use a 529 plan from any state: Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina (effective Jan. 1, 2014), Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.
If you get a state income tax deduction for your 529 plan contribution, the deduction usually has an upper limit. If you are contributing more than that limit, the additional money can still go to a 529 plan from any other state.
If MetLife isn’t good enough for you, TIAA-CREF offers similar options in many 529 plans it runs, albeit at substantially lower interest rates. TIAA-CREF is one of a handful of insurance companies with the AAA rating. The interest rates and the rate expiration dates vary from plan to plan.
These guaranteed principal options offered by insurance companies are good alternatives to bond mutual funds in 529 plans because they offer a competitive yield without interest rate risk. If you currently have bond funds in an IRA and stock funds in a 529 plan, it could make sense to do a swap: sell bond funds in the IRA to buy stock funds; sell stock funds in the 529 plan to buy the stable value fund.
[Photo Credit: Flickr user pennstatelive]