Oregon College Savings Plan is back

Oregon's state-sponsored College Savings Plan was one of the casualties of the financial markets' meltdown in 2008. A combination of the financial collapse and reckless management by an OppenheimerFunds employee caused the plan's most "conservative" investment options to lose more than 35 percent of its value between May and November 2008.

Things are looking much brighter today.

Last January, the state of Oregon settled its lawsuit against OppenheimerFunds for $20 million. The settlement doesn't completely replace the $36 million Oregon investors lost, but it helps. Beginning this month, Oregon parents who participated in Oppenheimer's Core Bond Fund will receive a share of the settlement based on the extent of their participation in the fund.

Effective this week, TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing Inc. has taken over management of the Oregon College Savings Plan. The company was selected after a three-month bid process.

TIAA-CREF has nearly $6 billion in assets under management in so-called 529 college savings plans around the country.

The new options for parents, grandparents, relatives and friends to contribute to college savings are attractive, and parents should strongly consider participating.

A 529 plan provides tax-free earnings for the life of the account, including withdrawals for college tuition, some higher-education expenses such as housing and books, and job training. Participants also can deduct contributions from their state income taxes up to an annual limit indexed to inflation. The limit for 2009 joint filers is $4,170.

Under TIAA-CREF, anyone may open an account on behalf of a future college student for as little as $25, or $15 per pay period if your employer offers that option.

Several fund choices are available, including age-based portfolios and a principal plus interest option that insures your principal and guarantees your account will earn at least 1 percent. Proceeds may be spent at most colleges in the United States and many abroad, including graduate schools.

The Oppenheimer Core Bond Fund debacle was a cold shock to many Oregon parents, especially because it was supposed to be managed conservatively and designed specifically for parents of students nearing college or already enrolled.

State officials have worked diligently to make things right and to recover as much money as they could on behalf of investors whose accounts lost value.

Parents and others who want to learn more can attend a meeting with College Savings Plan representatives from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Kid Time! Discovery Experience, 226 N. Ross Lane. The play area will offer free admission for the day.

Details of the plan are available at OregonCollegeSavings.com

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