Target Market Analysis 2018: Trend in Parents Saving and Using 529s

By Paul Curley, CFA | | April 20, 2018

What percentage of parents save for college, save for college with 529s and save for college without 529s in 2018?

Strategic Insight 529 Industry Analysis 2018

The Strategic Insight 529 Industry Analysis 2018 builds on seventeen prior Strategic Insight college savings studies:
– 529 Distribution Analysis: 2017
– 529 Plan Industry Analysis 2017
– 529 Plan Distribution: 2016
– 529 Industry Analysis 2016
– 529 529 Distribution Study (2015)
– 529 Industry Analysis (2015)
– 529 Distribution Study (2014)
– 529 Industry Analysis (2014)
– 529 Advisor Study (2013)
– 529 Industry Analysis (2013)
– 529 Financial Advisor Support, Selection and Distribution Preferences (2012)
– 529 Industry Analysis (2012)
– 529 Plans and Distribution Analysis (2011)
– 529 Advisor Perspectives (2011)
– Evaluating the College Savings Market Opportunity (2009)
– 529 Strategies for Success (2004)
– 529 Plans: An Investment in Your Company’s Future (2002)

Consumer Survey

The primary goal of this study is to analyze the decision-making and product-selection processes of individuals who are either 529 users, non-529 college savers or non-college savers. For Strategic Insight’s 2018 College Savings Consumer Survey, we partnered with a premier B2B and B2C panel provider and data collection services company to conduct a proprietary survey of over 1,000 consumers in February 2018. This nationally representative sample included U.S. household decision makers between the ages of 25 and 82, with annual incomes of $25,000 or more, who were parents or legal guardians of a child or children under the age of 18.

The survey utilized a choice model method that mapped the target market into three categories: 529 users, non-529 college savers and non-savers. This approach provides firms with strategies on how to convert non-college savers to college savers, college savers to 529 users and 529 users to 529 power users. Longitudinal analysis is reported for certain data points, as Strategic Insight conducted similar consumer surveys with enhancements based on feedback in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, partnering with the same firm to poll consumers. While there were not any changes in the demographics of survey-takers in 2018, one change in the 2016 demographics was to include those with annual incomes of $25,000 or more, as opposed to $30,000 or more, to improve sample alignment with the U.S. Census. While this broadened out the target market of the survey takers, we do not project material changes in results due to the inclusion of the category. Therefore, year-over-year trend reporting will be included in charts and tables, and in the written analysis.

Other Surveys and Interviews

In addition to the consumer surveys described above, Strategic Insight regularly conducts proprietary industry surveys of product providers, advisors, broker-dealer home offices, plan sponsors and parents to give firms a 360-degree view of the current and projected state of the college savings plan industry. Strategic Insight also regularly conducts primary research in the form of interviews and meetings with industry executives in order to understand the latest trends in product development, marketing and distribution of college savings plans.

What percentage of parents do not save for college, save for college, save for college with 529s and save for college without 529s?

The table reports the segmentation that was used in the survey. Of the 1,007 respondents polled, 59% were saving for college, while 41% were not. The 59% saving for college includes 27% that were 529 plan users (either 529 savings plans or 529 prepaid plans) and 32% that were saving for college, but were using something other than a 529 plan (for example, bank accounts). Compared to the prior year survey by Strategic Insight, more families were saving with 529s. In 2017 for example, 58% were saving for college, with 24% as 529 users and 34% as non-529 users. Over the longer-term, less families are saving for college. For example in 2015, 74% were saving for college, with 27% as 529 users and 47% as non-529 users; this compared to 2014, when 75% were saving, with 33% as 529 users and 42% as non-529 savers. Therefore, advisors, accountants and estate planners should note the growing demand and opportunity for college financial planning, and that parents are more receptive now to college financial planning and 529s than even a few years ago given the widening college affordability gap. Have the college financial planning discussion with your clients today to meet the growing need.