Spring is right around the corner, and many of us have reluctantly begun collecting receipts, statements and other necessary paperwork for tax day. One of the bright spots in this preparation is being able to take advantage of the tax breaks you can receive from your investments. In particular, I want to bring to your attention tax incentives available when saving for college using the state’s 529 plan, known as START.

START investors can exempt up to $2,400 in deposits per account per year from income reported on their state tax returns. If you don’t make $2,400 in deposits in one year, you can carry forward your unused portion to subsequent years.

This same tax break applies to business owners who open START accounts as incentives for their employees. For each START account opened, a business can exempt up to $2,400 in deposits per tax year from income reported on its state income tax return. The company can also roll the balance over to the next tax year if it doesn’t take the full $2,400 exemption.

START is free from state and federal taxes from start to finish. When it is time to withdraw money for educational expenses, individuals do so without paying state or federal taxes on their disbursements. In addition, interest earned on START deposits is exempt from federal and state taxes when used to pay for higher education expenses.

For those of you who already have START accounts, you can benefit this tax year if you made deposits into the program by December 31, 2003. Refer to your Louisiana tax booklet to be sure you get your full exemption amount.

If you have not invested in START yet, there is no time like the present. If you begin saving now, you will be able to take an exemption on next years tax return.

In closing, START is much more than a good tax break; its a smart investment. The program has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years. In 2001, we had a little more than 3,000 account owners. Today, we have nearly four times that amount with 11,545 accounts and $37,234,789 in total assets.

I hope all of our account owners will keep in mind the important tax advantages the program has to offer when they fill out this years tax returns. I also encourage any individual who does not have a START account for a child or grandchild to open one now in order to benefit next year.

For more information, please click on START on the Louisiana Department of the Treasury’s website at www.latreasury.com. If you do not have Internet access, please call 1-800-259-5626, extension 1012.