This year, I’m thrilled to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of IDeal, Idaho’s official 529 College Savings Program. It’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come and exciting to imagine how we can keep growing to help enable the professional and educational hopes and dreams of Idahoans.
Back in 2000, Idaho’s elected leaders resolved to help families and individuals plan for the rising costs of college and training programs. A governing board was established in 2001 and IDeal began opening its first accounts for savers across the state. Since its inception, IDeal has helped parents, grandparents, relatives and employers save for higher education, transformed the lives of Idahoans who have pursued their dreams, and contributed to a more educated and skilled workforce.
Much of this story is told by the numbers. In its first year, nearly 800 people opened IDeal 529 accounts. During the last two decades, that number has grown to over 60,000 savers; in 2020, a record 4,912 new accounts were opened. Account assets have grown significantly thanks to monthly contributions by account owners and the sound financial management of our investment partners, helping families save over $720 million for their education goals.
Our achievements are also measured by real Idahoans’ stories. Grandparents who struggled to pay for their own children’s schooling are funding accounts for their grandchildren. Young mothers are saving so that one day they can pursue graduate school while simultaneously paying for their children’s higher education. Recent graduates are using their accounts and the tax advantages to reduce student loan debt.
Like the growth of savers, the program itself has evolved, making it easier and more advantageous for Idahoans to participate.
Initially, lawmakers approved an annual tax deduction of $4,000 for individuals or $8,000 for couples filing jointly. This deduction was increased in 2017 for both categories, allowing families to retain more of their funds for school.
In 2018, the Legislature incorporated new federal legislation allowing 529 funds to be used for K-12 tuition. A year later, the rules were modified to enable funds to be used for federally certified apprenticeship programs, benefitting high school graduates interested in pursuing job skills essential to Idaho employers trying to fill well-paying positions.
Last year, the Legislature approved a tax credit for employers who contribute to employees’ 529 accounts. Employers can earn a 20 percent tax credit, up to $500 per employee. According to a poll by Gift for College, 72 percent of employees indicated that a voluntary benefit such as a 529 would increase loyalty to their employer. This policy change can be both a great economic development tool and an important boost to families saving for education dreams.
We are proud to celebrate twenty years of growth in participation, assets and education dreams achieved statewide. As we look to the future, we are excited to continue this growth through education and creative partnerships with community leaders, employers and financial professionals. Everyone can play a part in promoting the Idaho College Savings Program as a proactive tool to help families and individuals thrive and prosper.
If there’s a single takeaway from all we’ve learned in 20 years, it’s that setting expectations matters. Washington University researchers showed that merely having an education savings account can profoundly influence whether students pursue and complete training after high school—making them up to seven times more likely to do so. Without question, planning and saving are truly the stuff dreams are made on.
Be part of this life-changing and enduring legacy by starting or contributing to a loved one’s IDeal 529 account today, at idsaves.org.