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Thursday, January 7, 2010

529 Plans Catch SRI Fever

News summary by MFWire's editors

As the clamor for 'socially responsible' investments continues to grow, 529 college savings plans are increasingly adding these investments to their roster reveals the Wall Street Journal's Jilian Mincer on Thursday.

The District of Columbia College Savings Plan is the model student at the moment, as its lineup counts enough 'SRI' funds to create a diversified socially-minded portfolio. These investments were added to the plan, which is managed by Calvert Investments, to “give D.C. a niche” according to Laurent Ross, college savings plan manager for Calvert.

It's working too, Laurent confirmed, saying, “Almost all of our out-of-state clients use us because of the SRI.” Despite the attention however, the District of Columbia plan is still small, at a little over $131 million in assets, and has significant room for growth.

As socially-responsible investing is relatively new to the 529 market, despite its widespread popularity in the 401(k) and mutual fund realms, it's likely going to take some time to catch on. The biggest hurdle right now is awareness, according to Eric Packer, a senior investment adviser at Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts-based Progressive Asset Management. For his part, Jon Ellenbogen, a financial adviser with Wells Fargo, tells clients interested in investing in these kinds of plans to start at home – in their home state to be exact.

The biggest drawback to jumping on the SRI bandwagon? 529 plans such as the D.C. plan often carry with them higher fees –- a concern that is certain to resonate with parents paying already staggering tuition prices in the midst of a weak economy. Socially-responsible 529 plans may be the wave of the future, but it's going to cost you. 

Edited by: Patricia Kelly

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