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John Perdue: W.Va. treasurer urges families to plan for college

Dec. 16, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

For me, shopping for Christmas presents has always been a difficult task. You buy your child that special toy they want, they play with it for a little while, they put it aside, and maybe, just maybe, they play with it again.

But in the end, it almost always ends up in a yard sale someday. So when you're pondering the perfect gift for the children in your life this year, why not consider the gift that keeps on giving? That's what I found when I purchased a SMART529 college savings plan for my children.

Whether you're opening a new SMART529 account or contributing to an existing plan, the gift of education is always the right size and it lasts a lifetime. You can give the gift of education to your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews -- even yourself!

SMART529 offers three plans: SMART529 WV Direct, SMART529 Select, and The Hartford SMART529.

The Direct plan is for West Virginia residents only. It offers a simple set of investment options, there are little to no fees, no minimum contributions to open an account and no minimum monthly contributions after that. The Direct plan also has great tax benefits. West Virginia residents get to reduce their taxable income, dollar-for-dollar, for the full amount they contribute to SMART529.

The SMART529 Select plan is great for grandparents or family members that live out of state. And for those who would like help from a financial investment professional, The Hartford SMART529 plan can be set up to meet your family's particular needs.

If you invest in a plan before Dec. 31, you'll make a commitment to save for your child's education and your state tax bill will be less. In addition, you have added that little present that perfectly rounds out a child's Christmas. Don't expect rejoicing on the spot, but he or she will thank you later, believe me. I am a proud account owner and my daughters appreciate their college degrees.

Want to start a SMART529 plan? The Hartford has professionals on hand to help you get started. Call 1-866-574-3542. You can also start your own plan online at www.SMART529.com.

You can share contribution coupons with family and friends so they can give SMART529 gifts, too. Call or go online to request free SMART529 gift pigs to use as stocking stuffers, and make a pledge to your child to save all year long.

Saving for college could not be any more important, with escalating costs and soaring student debt.

John Perdue is the treasurer of the state of West Virginia.