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
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,"
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.
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.