State Treasurer of Iowa

Study Shows One in Five Know Purpose of a 529 Plan

May 29, 2019

One-third of Americans have heard of 529 college savings plans but only one in five know what the plans are for. That’s according to a survey released by the College Savings Plans Network ahead of 529 Day, which found a tie between 529 awareness and saving for higher education.

The survey was conducted prior to the commencement of the network’s national 529 awareness campaign in March. Involving state treasurers, higher education agencies, financial service firms and other state officials in 28 states, the campaign aims to make “529” a more recognizable term for Americans of various means.

“For the past 20 years, College Savings Iowa and 529 plans have been an important tool for thousands of Iowa families,” said State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald. “But, we know we must continue forward to get as many families as possible involved in saving for their childrens’ futures by saving with 529 plans.” 

529 Day is observed on May 29 (5/29) by state plans throughout the country as an opportunity to increase awareness of the college savings plans. This 529 Day, College Savings Iowa is proud to be a part of the national celebration and spreading the message about the benefits of 529 plans around the state and country.

Similar to recent findings from other sources, 32 percent claimed to have heard of 529 college savings plans. When asked about the purpose of a 529, only 22 percent could connect the plans to education. Among those surveyed, the least aware age groups were 18- to 29-year-olds, at 27 percent, and those over age 60, at 29 percent.

Based on assumptions built into the campaign’s 529 investment calculator, setting aside $10 a week over 18 years to invest in a 529 plan can add up to around $15,000 – half of the average student debt upon graduation. Conversely, the College Savings Plans Network estimates the cost of not saving that amount, and having to borrow and repay with interest, would amount to $21,650 in student debt.

College Savings Iowa offers families a tax advantaged way to save money for their children’s higher education. It only takes $25 to open an account, and anyone – parents, grandparents, friends and relatives – can invest in College Savings Iowa on behalf of a child. Iowa taxpayers have the additional benefit of being able to deduct contributinos up to $3,387 per beneficiary account from their 2019 Iowa income taxes*

As of December 2018, according to the College Savings Plans Network, more than 13 million 529 accounts were open with an average amount of $22,500. The national campaign hopes to spark an increase in the total number of accounts by “making 529 a household number,” as stated by Boozer, and a term as recognizable as 401(k).


The “For Their Future Movement” involving 48 partners in 28 states and Washington, D.C., launched on March 4, 2019. The public-private partnership was formed on the basis of increasing awareness of 529s, which help families save for higher education and lessen reliance on student loans. The effort marks the first time state plans and their partners have united to launch a national campaign. The partners’ 529 message is being amplified throughout 2019 and into 2020 under an agreement with Fred Rogers Productions. The campaign’s spots air before and after episodes of the PBS KIDS series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.


The CSPN National Awareness Benchmark Research survey was an online survey conducted by Bozell using Survey Monkey. The study was fielded Jan. 28 to Feb. 16, 2019. A total of 2,003 respondents completed the survey, providing for a +/-2.54 percent margin of error. Participants were recruited through the survey company and through social media invitations. 

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