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How to Open a 529 College Savings Plan in Less Than 10 Minutes

With college tuition prices going up each year, it's never too early to start planning for your little one's future in a 529 plan. Parents are starting to put aside more money earlier, and it's easy to see why.

The average cost of college tuition for an out-of-state school in the 2017-2018 school year was $34,740, according to CollegeData.com. Multiplied by four years, that comes out to $138,960, which is just the average rate. If your child is admitted to a top tier school that's accompanied by a sky-high tuition bill, you may need substantially more. Federal student loans can help, and so can choosing a cheaper in-state option, and don't forget those precious scholarships! But no matter your situation, one powerful solution for every parent who's saving for their child's (or children's) future education is a 529 College Savings Plan. And it only takes 10 minutes to open one.

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What is a 529 plan and what are its benefits?

A 529 plan offers a fairly huge tax advantage in that you don't pay capital gains tax -- ever. Capital gains tax is the tax you pay on the profit from the sale of property or an investment. In 2018, depending on your tax bracket you could pay as much as 20% in capital gains tax, eliminating a big chunk of your savings. A 529 plan allows you to avoid this completely. Each state offers slightly different incentives, so it's important to know how contributing to a plan in Virginia might be different than in Florida, California, Colorado, or wherever you call home.

There are a few drawbacks to note. For one, you can't invest in individual stocks in a 529 plan. Instead, a 529 plan offers an array of index funds and mutual funds. Another downside is that the money must go toward paying educational expenses. Recent tax code changes allow you to apply these funds toward private grade school tuition and expenses.

If your child doesn't enroll in college, instead choosing a different path, most 529 plans allow you to switch the beneficiary to anyone living in your home -- yourself included. This gives you the option to change the account so that it applies to another one of your children. Or, you could finally pursue that Master's or doctorate degree, putting the 529 funds toward your own tuition expenses. A single beneficiary is allowed to have more than one account in the same state, and multiple people can fund the accounts. However, no matter the number of accounts, each state has a maximum contribution limit that applies to the beneficiary.

You may be asking yourself: How much time does it actually take to open and start funding a 529 plan? Here's how you can open a plan in less than 10 minutes, with your existing broker if you have one.

Open a 529 account in less than 10 minutes

Most brokerage firms give you the option to open a 529 plan. If you're a pre-existing customer, the process should be much faster than starting from scratch, since your personal information is stored. If your broker offers 529 plans, they will be listed under the broker's products page. You'll answer a few questions to register. You can choose to manage the account yourself, which is the more common approach, or you can choose to turn over account management to the beneficiary when they turn 18. Grandparents can do this for their grandkids as well.

If you don't have a broker, you'll need to select one and open an account with them. There are also other options for opening a 529 account that vary state to state, which you should research.

Next, you'll submit standard financial information including your legal name, billing and mailing address, Social Security number, employer's information and the beneficiary's name, address, and Social Security number.

Once you enter the personal information, you'll be given the option to read through the various terms and conditions associated with the account. Make sure to print and keep copies saved to your computer for future reference.

Next, you'll pick which funds you want to invest in, among choices of mutual funds, index funds, or a blend of both. You'll have to decide what you're most comfortable with. No matter what you decide now, know that you can adjust it in the future.

Lastly, they'll ask how you'd like to fund the account. This is another advantage of being a pre-existing customer of the broker because your bank account is already linked to the broker. You will decide between making a one-time deposit or setting up reoccurring deposits. If you are a new customer, you'll need to set this up.

Bank transfers usually take between one and two business days, however once you've decided how to transfer the funds and how much to start funding it with, you're finished! You've now started funding a 529 College Savings Plan for your kid. I timed it myself to open one for my son, and it took me 9:23.44 from start to finish. Not too bad, and it was probably one of my more productive 10 minutes!

Avoid being part of the trillion

Congratulations! You've taken your first step toward helping your kids avoid a staggering amount of debt in the future. About 44 million Americans owe a collective $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, according to CNBC.com. No 22-year-old should need to deal with this, yet it's the No. 1 financial issue facing current generations, as well as new ones.

There is plenty of information available on 529 plans, and how to determine if it's the right option for you and your family to save for future education costs. It takes less than 10 minutes to get started, and you'll be well on your way to enhancing your children's education and their lives.

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