The GET (Guaranteed Education Tuition) program is Washington State's
529 prepaid college tuition program. With GET, the State of Washington
guarantees that the money you save for your child's college education
will keep pace with rising college tuition.
Betty Lochner, Program Director for GET, explains how it works. "If you buy a year of tuition now, you will get the equivalent tuition the year your child goes to school. It works on a unit system."
You can open an account for anyone - a child, grandchild, other relative, a friend, even yourself. Enrollment runs from Sept. 15 through March 31. Once enrolled, you can purchase up to 500 units - or five years of tuition and state-mandated fees - for each student. One year of resident undergraduate tuition and state-mandated fees at the most expensive public university in Washington will cost 100 units. Mid-level schools run about 78 units, and community colleges cost about 55. Leftover units can be used for other qualified higher education expenses like room and board, books and supplies. Students can use up to 125 units per school year.
While the value of GET units is tied to tuition at a Washington state public university, students can use their GET units at nearly any college, university or vocational school -public or private - in the U.S. as well as many schools worldwide. The unit value may not, however, equal the tuition at other schools - especially private colleges.
The unit price is $70, effective through April 30, 2007. The unit price rises with the rate of tuition at the most expensive public university in Washington state - currently the University of Washington.
Ideally, you should purchase GET units when your child is very young, for the biggest return on your investment. But GET is still considered a good deal even if you start planning for college later and purchase GET as late as your child's middle school years. "You need four-plus years or more if you are going to make your benefits grow at a healthy rate," Lochner says.
Units can be purchased in lump sums of any amount whenever enrollees want, though lump-sum units must be held for two years before they can be used for college expenses. Or, enrollees can use a custom monthly plan that spreads the cost of 50 units over a specified number of years. The contract freezes the unit price - great if you're starting early - but adds 7.5 percent interest. Enrollees can also opt for a combination of the two plans.
Lochner recommends the Custom Monthly Plan for families with small children as a way to get them into the habit of saving, "Buy the biggest plan you can afford now and add additional units when you can," she says.
Relatives and friends can contribute to a student's GET account by means of coupons that are provided by the program. Existing education accounts, such as Coverdells, can be rolled into a GET, but there could be fees. It's best to consult a financial planner or tax advisor.
For more information, visit the GET program website , email GETInfo@hecb.wa.gov or call 800-955-2318 (toll-free). Translation service is available for customers who do not speak English.
Andrea Leigh Ptak is a freelance writer and graphic designer who lives in south Seattle with her husband, 11-year-old daughter, one dog and three cats.
Originally published in the November, 2006 print edition of ParentMap.