CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginians who want to take advantage of the state's SMART529 college savings plans now have more flexibility to determine how much they want to save.
Under the original Pre-Paid Tuition program created by State Treasurer John Perdue 10 years ago, students who were beneficiaries of those pre-paid plans received payments each semester that were equal to the tuition and fees charged by West Virginia universities during that semester.
Buying those pre-paid plans typically required minimum monthly payments, which were often deducted from a parent's paycheck.
But under the SMART529 WV Direct plan -- approved by the West Virginia College Prepaid Tuition and Savings Program Board on Sept. 6 -- people can create college savings accounts that they can help manage themselves. Direct plan owners can decide how aggressive, or how conservative, they want their investment strategies to be.
The new "Smart Savings Match" program for lower-income families provides "a dollar-for-dollar match of up to $500 in each calendar year.
Under this program, the maximum total for any student is $2,500, based on $500 payments a year over five years.
To qualify for this program, the adjusted gross income of a family must be under $50,000 for one dependent, under $60,000 for two, under $70,000 for three and under $80,000 for four or more dependents.
Employers also can create matching SMART529 accounts for their own employees.
Children must be 12 or younger at the time these matching grants are approved. Individuals creating these accounts must be able to claim beneficiaries as their dependents on income tax returns.
New accounts, such as those in the recently created SMART529 Select program, can be opened with minimum payments of just $50. Subsequent payments can be made in any amount.
Savingforcollege.com, which analyzes investment performance figures for college savings plans in all 50 states, ranked West Virginia's plans as the fifth-best in the nation as of Sept. 30, said Perdue spokeswoman Kim Ward.
Kara Hughes, acting executive director of the state Board of Treasury Investments, said she and her husband created a West Virginia Direct Plan for their son Rocco, now 6 months old.