McLeansboro Times-Leader

Opinion

September 30, 2010

Take advantage of college-saving plans

One of the biggest gifts we can give our children is to invest in a plan for their higher education.

Forty states in the U.S. recognize September as College Savings Month, and while our children are now back to school and classes are in full-swing, I wanted to share with you some of the opportunities available in Illinois to help you start preparing for your child's future.

Making sure that our children understand the importance of a college education, and ensuring that they have the proper means to attend is something that parents can start preparing for when their children are still in grade school. Organizations from all over Illinois are working hard to reach out and make sure that parents are aware of the existing opportunities to invest in a "pre-paid tuition" plan.

Illinois has several options that parents are encouraged to take advantage of to get their child on the right track at an early age.

College Illinois and Bright Start are two programs in Illinois that were specifically created to help families, regardless of their income level, save for college expenses. Anyone who is a U.S. citizen is eligible to sign up for either of these programs, and individuals are free to set up accounts for anyone; including children, grandchildren, a spouse, or even someone who is not related to you.

Through these programs, investments receive special tax benefits, which allow their funds to grow and flourish by the time their child reaches college-age. Once the child is ready to go to college, the money can be used to attend just about any school, in any state, or overseas even if the child chooses to study abroad.

College Savings Month is a time for families across Illinois to consider the value of higher education, and how much impact a college degree can have on a child's life.

According to the College Board, the average family income in 2008 for those with a bachelor's degree was $101,099 compared to $49,414 for those who had just acquired a high school diploma.

According to the Center for Social Development, youths with college-saving plans are almost four-times more likely to attend a four-year college and graduate.

It is critical that we talk to our children about the important role that higher education plays in today's world, and just how important it is to invest in it. 

For more information on College Illinois or Bright Start, I encourage you to visit www.529prepaidtutition.org or www.brightstartsavings.com. 

• Gary Forby is an Illinois state senator in the 59th District, which includes part of Hamilton County.

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