Louisiana recently joined 39 other states and the College Savings Plan Network to proclaim the month of September as College Savings Month. We do this each year to encourage families to prepare ahead of time for the rising costs of sending children to college.

Paying for higher education is something all parents should start thinking about early. Every child should have the opportunity to attend college or avo-tech school, and Louisiana’s 529 savings plan, known as START, is providing families with the tools to make this a reality.

START benefits include tax advantages such as an annual exemption from state-taxable income of up to $2,400 in deposits per account per year. Any unused exemption can be carried forward to future years. The program also offers state matching funds that range from 2 percent to 14 percent of deposits depending on an individuals income. In addition, START offers multiple investment options in fixed, variable and mixed portfolios and flexibility to use funds at any accredited college or university for tuition, room and board,books, fees and more.

One more benefit of START is that its a great supplement to Louisiana’s TOPS scholarship program.

TOPS covers tuition costs, but it does not pay for expenses like books,certain fees or room and board. A START account can help cover any shortfall in funds for college expenses such as these.

Today, START has more than 13,000 accounts and about $50 million in total assets. But we can do better. We will continue to promote the program as long as there are still Louisiana families who are not aware that it is an option to help them save for college.

Remember that an investment in your child’s college education is an investment in his or her future.

Parents and others interested in opening a START account for a child should call the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance toll-free at (800)259-5626, ext. 1012, visit the START website located at www.startsaving.la.gov,or click START on the Treasury’s website at www.latreasury.com.Keep in mind that in order to participate in START, an account owner or beneficiary must be a Louisiana resident.