October 30, 2018 – Morningstar, a leading provider of independent investment research, announced new Analyst Ratings and reports for 62 of the nation’s largest 529 college-savings plans. In 2018, Morningstar identified 31 plans that it believes to be best-in-class options, assigning these programs Analyst Ratings of Gold, Silver, and Bronze. These plans, for the most part, follow industry best practices, offering some combination of the following attractive features: a strong set of underlying investments; a solid manager selection process; a well-researched asset-allocation approach; an appropriate set of investment options to meet investor needs; and strong oversight from the state and program manager. These features improve the odds that the plan will continue to be a strong option for investors. Gold-rated plans have all or a vast majority of these attributes. Silver- and Bronze-rated plans embody most of these qualities but often have some room for improvement.
Since 2012, ratings for 529 plans use the same scale as the Morningstar Analyst Rating for mutual funds. Both Analyst Rating methodologies consider the same five factors to arrive at the final rating, though the 529 ratings reflect the quality of the entire plan–not a single investment, as is the case for the fund rating. To arrive at an Analyst Rating for 529 plans, analysts consider: Process, People, Parent, Performance, Price. Process: Did the plan hire an experienced asset allocator to design a thoughtful, well-diversified glide path for the age-based portfolios? What suite of investment options is offered?
People: What is Morningstar’s assessment of the underlying money managers’ talent, tenure, and resources?
Parent: Are the program manager and investment manager a good caretakers of college savers’ capital? Is the state managing the plan professionally?
Performance: Have the plan’s options earned their keep with solid, risk-adjusted returns over relevant time periods?
Price: Are the investment options a good value?
CollegeCounts Direct Plan Morningstar Pillar Ratings
Process | Positive
People | Positive
Parent | Positive
Performance | Neutral
Price | Neutral
Morningstar rates the five Pillars: Positive, Neutral, or Negative. While these ratings can help with the selection process, they should not be the only factor considered. A Morningstar Analyst Rating for a 529 College Savings Plan is not a credit or risk rating. Analyst Ratings are subjective in nature and should not be used as a sole basis for investment decisions. Morningstar does not represent its Analyst Ratings to be guarantees. Please visit Morningstar.com for more information about the Analyst Ratings, as well as other Morningstar ratings and fund rankings.