Rating the Largest 529 College Savings Plans

Business, Lifestyle

Morningstar, Inc. (NASDAQ: MORN), a leading provider of independent investment research, today announced new Analyst Ratings and reports for 62 of the nation’s largest 529 college-savings plans, which represent more than 95 percent of the more than $250 billion in 529 plan assets as of Sept. 30, 2017. The five-tiered, qualitative Morningstar Analyst Rating™ scale has three positive levels—Gold, Silver, and Bronze—in addition to Neutral and Negative ratings. This year, Morningstar manager research analysts awarded four Gold ratings, 10 Silver ratings, 20 Bronze ratings, 26 Neutral ratings, and two Negative ratings to 529 college-savings plans—the full list is available here.

“The 529 industry continues to make strides; over the last year, a number of 529 plans improved their asset-allocation approach and reduced fees,” said Leo Acheson, Morningstar’s lead research analyst for 529 college-savings plans. “For example, we upgraded the Illinois Bright Start College Savings plan from Bronze to Gold after the plan added top-notch investment options and cut expenses. By contrast, we downgraded New Jersey’s Franklin Templeton 529 College Savings Plan as its fees have not remained competitive and the plan’s age-based portfolios introduce market-timing risk by making large, abrupt declines in equity exposure, whereas others have smoothed the transition from stocks to bonds.”

Compared with 2016, Morningstar analysts upgraded six plans and downgraded three plans:

State

Current
Morningstar
Analyst Rating

Previous
Morningstar
Analyst Rating

Upgrades

Bright Start College Savings (Direct)

IL

Gold

Bronze

CollegeCounts 529 Fund

AL

Silver

Bronze

Scholars Choice College Savings Program

CO

Bronze

Neutral

BlackRock CollegeAdvantage 529 Plan

OH

Bronze

Neutral

CollegeAccess 529

SD

Neutral

Negative

The Hartford SMART529

WV

Neutral

Negative

Downgrades

CollegeInvest Direct Portfolio

CO

Neutral

Bronze

New York’s 529 Program (Direct) 

NY

Bronze

Silver

Franklin Templeton 529 College Savings Plan

NJ

Negative

Neutral

The 34 plans that earned Gold, Silver, or Bronze ratings are considered Morningstar Medalists, which are likely to offer the best investment experiences for college savers. A Neutral rating indicates plans that generally have room for improvement and a Negative rating indicates at least one major flaw within a plan, in Morningstar’s view.

The Morningstar Analyst Rating for 529 plans gives investors saving for a child’s college education a tool to help comprehensively assess 529 plan options. To determine a plan’s rating, Morningstar analysts consider five factors: the design of the plan’s investment options; an assessment of the plan’s underlying money managers; the stewardship practices of the plan’s program manager and state overseer; whether the plan’s investment options are a good value proposition compared with those of its peers; and the plan’s risk-adjusted performance. In limited instances, Morningstar also takes into consideration unique benefits that a plan offers to college savers, including local tax breaks, grants, and scholarships.

A summary of the 529 college-saving plan ratings is available here, along with additional resources on how to make the most of 529 plans. In May 2017, Morningstar published an article about asset allocation and glide path design, fees, and industry growth, a companion piece to the ratings.

Individual investors who are Premium Members of Morningstar.com may use the site’s interactive 529 Plan Center to view the Morningstar Analyst Ratings for 529 college-savings plans, accompanying analysis, and data on the plans’ investment options. The research and ratings are also available in Morningstar® Advisor WorkstationSMMorningstar OfficeSM, and Morningstar DirectSM, the company’s core investment research and analysis platforms. Morningstar®ByAllAccountsSM aggregates data from more than 50 529 college-savings plans and delivers it to portfolio accounting platforms. Morningstar also offers a family of 529 college-savings plan indexes. More information is available at http://www.morningstar.com/company/.

About Morningstar, Inc.
Morningstar, Inc. is a leading provider of independent investment research in North AmericaEuropeAustralia, and Asia. The company offers an extensive line of products and services for individual investors, financial advisors, asset managers, retirement plan providers and sponsors, and institutional investors in the private capital markets. Morningstar provides data and research insights on a wide range of investment offerings, including managed investment products, publicly listed companies, private capital markets, and real-time global market data. Morningstar also offers investment management services through its investment advisory subsidiaries, with more than $200 billion in assets under advisement and management as of June 30, 2017. The company has operations in 27 countries.

Morningstar’s Manager Research Group consists of various wholly owned subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc. including, but not limited to, Morningstar Research Services LLC. Analyst Ratings are subjective in nature and should not be used as the sole basis for investment decisions. Analyst Ratings are based on Morningstar’s Manager Research Group’s current expectations about future events and therefore involve unknown risks and uncertainties that may cause such expectations not to occur or to differ significantly from what was expected. Analyst Ratings are not guarantees nor should they be viewed as an assessment of a fund’s or the fund’s underlying securities’ creditworthiness. This press release is for informational purposes only; references to securities in this press release should not be considered an offer or solicitation to buy or sell the securities.

 

SOURCE Morningstar, Inc.

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