Whether they stay or they go, people who bought into the state’s prepaid college tuition plan before July 2015 should see the value of their accounts jump this year.
On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that will allow investors in the state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition, known as GET, fund to roll their accounts over into the state’s new 529 college investment plan, called DreamAhead, and reap a small windfall in the process.
One GET unit is currently valued at $103.86, but account-holders who roll their units over could get as much as $140 to $144 per unit. That’s an increase of up to 38 percent.
Those who keep their money parked in GET could also see the value of their fund grow by as much as 15 percent.
All of this extra money is available because GET has a surplus of nearly $600 million – money that has grown in the investment fund, in part because tuition is rising more slowly than expected and because of gains in the stock market.
As a way to redistribute the gains while also encouraging people to buy into the 529 investment plan, state Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, sponsored the bill that would give investors an incentive to move their money into DreamAhead.
After that rollover period ends, the remaining GET unit-holders will see the number of units they own increase by as much as 15 percent, letting GET account-holders also share in the extra money, Mullet said.
The 529 investment plan works like an IRA or a 401(k), offering investors a chance to build their college savings tax-free in a variety of different investment options, many of which are tied to the stock market. In a 529 investment plan, the risk is borne by the investor.
GET is similar to an insurance plan – 100 units of GET are guaranteed by the state Legislature to cover tuition and mandatory fees at the state’s most expensive public university, no matter how much tuition goes up. With GET, the risk is borne by the state.
No one can predict how many people will decide to roll their money over to DreamAhead. But 58 percent of existing GET units are expected to be tapped to pay for college tuition by 2021, or earlier, a number that is based on the age of the student for whom the account was set up to benefit, said GET marketing and communications director Lucas Minor.
That group also holds about two-thirds of all existing GET units. And people whose kids will soon be going to college are seen as the group most likely to take advantage of the incentive to roll over the funds.
Mullet, who also sits on the Washington State Investment Board, said the 529 DreamAhead plan will include a bond fund option for conservative investors who don’t want to put money into the stock market.
He said about 60 percent of the GET fund is currently invested in stocks and 40 percent in bonds. In the weeks ahead, the investment board will likely rebalance the portfolio so the GET fund – which contains more than $2 billion in assets – contains more bonds than stocks, to insulate it from swings in the stock market until after the rollover takes place.
The committee that oversees GET must still make decisions about when the rollover will take place.
DreamAhead, which will be managed by the investment firm BNY Mellon, won’t be up and running until around May of this year. The legislation stipulates that investors will have a three-month window to make a decision on whether to roll over their funds to take advantage of the incentive.
The committee has talked about starting the rollover by Aug. 1 or earlier, before the fall semester begins, Minor said.
The cash value of each GET unit was measured at about $143 in December, Minor said. With swings in the stock market, “it could go up, it could go down,” he said.