Idaho families take advantage of college savings program

Andrew and Monze Stark will spend more time paying off college loans than they did earning their degrees.

So when the young couple had their son Eli three years ago, they started saving for his college so he wouldn’t start a career strapped with college debt.

Eli’s college savings account was “tucked under the mattress” until the Starks learned of Idaho’s 529 College Savings Plan, launched by the Legislature to allow families to save and invest for higher education while earning state and federal tax advantages.

Idaho’s 529 Plan is celebrating its 15-year anniversary and boasts nearly 30,000 accounts with $364 million under its management.

Idaho’s 529 College Savings Program celebrating its 15-year anniversary
29,321  — active accounts
15,340 — account owners
$364 million — under management
$12,366 — average account balance
13 — average age of beneficiary

The Starks started their investment plan a year ago but they are making regular payments to Eli’s college fund and they sent a link to family and friends who might like to contribute with the dream he’ll start college will full tuition.

Andrew and Monze Stark 2
Andrew and Monze Stark are both graduates of the University of Idaho. They have already started a college savings account for 3-year-old Eli.

“When we found out we were having a baby, we made some decisions about our lives,” Andrew said. “We decided that higher education was extremely important and that we would do whatever was necessary to make sure our son could get an education.”

The Starks are in the majority of the more than 15,000 Idahoans with 529 plans — the No. 1 reason for starting an account is the birth of a child.

“We decided Eli would have every opportunity possible to attend college because we are living proof of the difference higher education makes in someone’s life,” Andrew said.

Monze is a first generation college graduate. She was born in Mexico and her parents moved the family to Idaho so her father could work in the dairy industry while her mother worked in the fields, cleaned houses and did various other jobs to help support their four daughters.

Monze’s parents encouraged their eldest to go to college and live the American dream, but they didn’t have the ability to help financially. Monze earned scholarships but she also incurred student loan debt. She now works at the University of Idaho advising multicultural students on how to digest the costs of continuing their education. She helped her husband and sisters complete college and she’s well aware of the costs. Andrew is a communication specialist at UI.

“Because of my background, it was a no-brainer for us to figure out how our child would not have to worry about finances,” she said. “I promised myself he’d have a better life than what I had because that’s what my family wanted for me and that’s what I want for my child.”

Teresa Noble knows first hand of the benefits of long-time investments in Idaho’s 529 Plan. She started plans for her two daughters 15 years ago.

“ I am so thankful because it was not only a safe investment, but a very wise one as well,” she said.

Teresa Noble
Teresa Noble was able to pay full tuition for her daughters to graduate from college thanks to Idaho’s 529 College Savings Plan.

Both of her daughters earned undergraduate degrees without debt. Her older daughter Sydney is continuing to invest in her 529 Plan as she purses a master’s degree.

“Because we saved this money, they were able to do a lot of things in college they would not have been able to do, things they loved, such as jobs in social justice work,” Noble said. “They weren’t so strapped for cash.”

Craig Simanton also started a 529 Plan in 2001 right after the birth of his first child.

“Our contributions have grown beyond my expectations and our daughters will be able to graduate from any public university in Idaho and graduate without any college loans,” he said.

The Simantons regularly talk as a family about education goals and dreams. The talks are prompted by the college saving’s accounts quarterly financial statements.

“Having the funds to pay for a good portion of their college education is obviously the goal but the motivation it has given our girls to plan for college is just as important to us,” Simanton said.