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MY TURN: IDeal’s may match offers a jumpstart to saving for college, training and apprenticeships

by MARILYN WHITNEY/Guest Opinion
| May 13, 2023 1:00 AM

As someone who has worked in education for more than 25 years here in Idaho, I have always looked forward to the high school graduation season and the sense of excitement and promise it brings.

It’s hard to top the joy and satisfaction that comes with seeing a son, daughter or grandchild walk up to the podium and accept their diploma.

But this milestone also brings another realization. The commencement ceremony is a reminder of just how incredibly fast time flies and how quickly our children and grandchildren grow up and move on to higher education and pursuing their career dreams.

In my new role as executive director of IDeal, Idaho’s 529 Education Savings Program, my goal is to help parents — especially those just beginning that journey — and grandparents take full advantage of the time and opportunity to financially prepare their loved ones for continuing their education after high school.

Going to college or pursuing any other type of postsecondary education or training is expensive. But from my own personal and professional experience, I know there are resources to make it more affordable.

IDeal is clearly one of those options, and right now we are providing an incentive for anyone who opens and contributes at least $25 to a new Idaho 529 account for children up to the age of 5. For every new qualifying account opened in May, IDeal will contribute another $25 to jumpstart the process of saving for education, which is an important first step because research shows that children with an education savings account are more likely to go on after high school and obtain a degree or credential.

I’ve seen education savings work firsthand. We opened and contributed consistently to our daughter’s 529 account, which she used to pay for tuition, a computer, books and other college expenses. We opened 529 accounts for our two oldest grandsons, so they are better prepared to follow their own educational path — whether that’s college in Idaho or another state, or for skills training.

We know that not every high school senior graduating this month will be on a four-year college or university campus this fall. One of the biggest myths about IDeal is that it’s a program solely for those hoping to earn a college degree. In fact, Idaho parents can leverage the tax advantages of 529s for children who want to pursue a technical credential or an apprenticeship.

Idaho’s 529 accounts can also be used to pay for K-12 private and religious school tuition, and more Idahoans these days are using IDeal 529s as a vehicle for paying down student loan debt.

The flexibility in uses and the state tax deduction — up to $6,000 of annual contributions for single filers and $12,000 for married filers — are the true hallmarks of the 529 program. Getting started takes 15 minutes and $25. Just visit our website at www.idsaves.org.

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Marilyn Whitney was named executive director of IDeal in January 2023. She previously served as deputy for communications and policy for the Idaho State Department of Education as well as deputy chief of staff and senior special assistant for Education and Government Services in the administration of Gov. Butch Otter.