Take ‘First Steps’ Towards College Savings

By: Ashmar Mandou

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - EducationAccording to data collected by U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2023-2024 school year is $42,162 at private colleges, $23,630 for out-of-state students at public universities and $10,662 for in-state students at public schools. The rising cost of higher education may have some families second guessing whether to send their child to college, however Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs is encouraging families to look into the Illinois First Steps program and Bright Start/Bright Directions savings programs.

“I am the first generation to attend college,” said Treasurer Frerichs. “Due to our financial situation, it did place a burden and there are many students, like me, who have talent, who have passion, but may not attend because of their family’s financial situation. I am here to say that if you do the research and invest into a Bright Start or Bright Directions college savings account you can take control of your child’s education.”

Early childhood music teacher and mother of two, Magaly Cordero met with a financial advisor who informed her about the college savings programs. “I was interested in the program [Bright Start] and found it useful as we removed the middle man and took control of what was best for our children’s education,” said Cordero. “We researched what worked best for us, what investments worked, and where we could take the risks. It means the world to me that I am able to provide my children with a path towards higher education. It gives me a sense of peace that we have this plan put in place.” Here is what you should know about the Illinois First Steps Program/Bright Start:

What is the Illinois First Steps Program?
Illinois First Steps is a college savings starter program established in 2023 that provides a one-time $50 seed deposit into the 529 college savings account of children born or adopted to Illinois residents. Illinois First Steps is overseen by the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer to help Illinois families combat the rising cost of higher education.

Do you qualify?
The parent or legal guardian must reside in Illinois at the time of birth or adoption. The child listed as the beneficiary of the Bright Start account must be born or adopted on or after January 1st, 2023. You must claim the $50 seed deposit from the Illinois First Steps before the child’s 10th birthday.

What is a Bright Start 529 Account?
A 529 college savings plan is a state-sponsored, tax-advantaged investment plan that enables you to save money for a beneficiary’s future education expenses. Funds can be used to cover a wide range of qualified education expenses at universities, community colleges, trade schools and apprenticeships nationwide. The Illinois 529 college savings plans are Bright Start (for individuals who manage their own account) and Bright Directions (for account owners who work with a financial advisor). If you are interested in learning more, visit www.illinoisfirststeps.com or www.brightstart.com.

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