Midnight Sept. 12 is the deadline for people with Guaranteed Education Tuition accounts to roll their units into the state's new 592 savings plan, and the state agency that runs GET is swamped with calls.
If you have money in Washington’s prepaid college-tuition plan, you only have about a week to roll your units over to a new type of plan.
And with the September 12 deadline approaching to exchange Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) units for a stake in the DreamAhead 529 college savings plan, state phone lines are jammed. Earlier this week, one account-holder said he waited more than 90 minutes to get through to an operator.
“The call and email volumes have been quite large and have picked up over the last week,” said Lucas Minor, the interim director of WA529, the agency that oversees GET and DreamAhead. (Longtime GET director Betty Lochner retired Aug. 31, and the agency is looking for someone to replace her.)
GET is a savings plan that functions like tuition insurance — 100 GET units are always guaranteed by the state to be worth one year of tuition and fees at the state’s most expensive public university. DreamAhead is more like a 401(k) — investors can choose how they invest their college savings, meaning they can reap the rewards of a bullish stock market, but are also at the mercy of the market if stocks fall. Earnings from both are exempt from federal taxes.
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This year, the state Legislature passed a bill that offered GET account owners an incentive for rolling their money into the state’s new DreamAhead plan. Under the plan, families that own GET units purchased before July 1, 2015, can roll over into DreamAhead and get an incentive for doing so. The state has received 18,000 rollover requests.
Currently, each GET unit has a payout value of $106.01. If a unit purchased before July 1, 2015, is rolled over into DreamAhead, its value rises to $143.
Mike Kleiner, a Seattle tax accountant, said he spent more than 95 minutes on hold this week to talk to a GET account representative on the phone. He had purchased most of his GET units before July 2015, but also had units purchased after that date, and he wanted to know exactly how much his account would be worth if he rolled over.
After he talked to a GET representative, Kleiner ended up doing the rollover online, and he said it went off without a hitch.
If he had stayed in GET, he would have been eligible for a unit “adjustment” that could have increased the number of his units by up to 15 percent. But Kleiner said he decided the rollover was a better deal.
Some accounts could be eligible for two adjustments. Account-holders who bought units between fall 2011 and spring 2015, when the price of GET units was at its peak, will get at least one adjustment. Once that process is completed, if GET still has 25 percent more money in its fund than it needs to pay off its obligations, everyone who still owns GET could get the second adjustment, which has a maximum cap of 15 percent.
The $2 billion GET fund has a surplus of nearly $600 million more than it needs to pay off its obligations — money that has grown in the investment fund, in part because tuition is rising more slowly than expected and in part because of gains in the stock market. As a way to redistribute the gains while also encouraging people to buy into the new investment plan, the state Legislature approved a bill this spring that created the rollover process.
Call volumes have been high because customers are dealing with choices that involve trade-offs, said Minor, the interim director, in an email. Many callers understand their options, he said, but also “just want to talk it through with a live person.” GET representatives can’t provide investment advice, he said, yet “discussing the information does help some customers feel better about making a decision.”
The rollover option has been available for nearly three months, and Minor said it’s a hard deadline of midnight Sept. 12 — the state agency that manages GET does not, at this time, intend to extend it.
On making that deadline: If account-holders log into their GET account and initiate an online rollover request before midnight Sept. 12, they will be eligible for the $143 unit cash value, Minor said. For paper requests, GET must receive the form in the office by Sept. 12.
The agency isn’t surprised by the sudden volume of calls. “People are often most motivated by impending deadlines,” Minor said.