05-25-2017 Columns

On “529 Day,” think about college savings plans

You probably won’t see it on your calendar, but May 29 (5/29) is 529 College Savings Day, or 529 Day for short. This day, named after the 529 plan, a popular college-savings vehicle, is designed to promote people’s awareness of the need to save and invest for the high costs of higher education. And that need has never been greater. Consider the following: College prices keep moving up. College costs just keep rising. For the 2016–2017 school year, the average cost (tuition, fees, and room and board) was about $20,000 for in-state students at public universities and more than $45,000 for private schools, according to the College Board. These costs are likely to continue climbing. Student debt is at record levels. Of the Class of 2016 graduates who received loans – about 70% of the total student population – the average individual debt was $37,172, a record high, according to a study cited by CBS News.

What can you do to help your children graduate from college without having to provide a big “IOU” in exchange for a diploma? In the spirit of 529 Day, you might want to consider investing in a 529 plan. It’s certainly not the only means of saving for college, but it does offer some attractive benefits.

For starters, contribution limits are quite high – you can accumulate more than $200,000 per beneficiary in many state plans. And you can typically invest in the 529 plan offered by any state, even if you don’t reside there. If you do invest in your own state’s plan, you may be eligible for state income tax incentives.

Also, all withdrawals from 529 plans will be free from federal income taxes as long as the money is used for a qualified college or graduate school expense of the beneficiary you’ve named — typically, your child or grandchild. (Withdrawals for expenses other than qualified education expenditures may be subject to federal and state taxes and a 10% penalty on the earnings portion of the distribution.)

Furthermore, you have complete control of your 529 plan assets. You decide who will get the money and when he or she will get it. You can even change the beneficiary to another family member.

Keep in mind, though, that your 529 plan will be counted on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), although schools typically only consider up to 5.6% of parental assets when calculating financial aid. And distributions from a parent-owned 529 account used for one year’s college expenses will not usually reduce next year’s financial aid eligibility. (For more information on how a 529 plan might affect your child’s financial assistance, you may want to consult with a college’s financial aid office.)

If you can find a 529 Day event in your area, you may want to attend so that you can learn more about the many aspects of saving for college. But even if you can’t personally take part in 529 Day, give some thought to a 529 plan – it might be part of the solution for helping your children earn a relatively debt-free degree.

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Swimming pool safety

The Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) wants to remind residents of safe and healthy swimming practices, including ways to prevent illness and injury, whether swimming in a public or private pool.

We each play a role in preventing injuries, such as those from mishandling pool chemicals, or illnesses caused by germs in the places we swim. Exposure to bacteria or chemicals in pools can cause harm or illness; however, both of these can be prevented through a few simple precautions.

While chlorine and other pool disinfectants kill most germs within minutes, some germs can live in pool water for days. Contaminants from the human body, like urine, feces, and sweat mix with chlorine and form chemicals that can make our eyes red and itchy as well as trigger asthma attacks. Most commonly, the germs present in water we swim in can cause diarrhea, especially if the water is swallowed. It’s very important to keep these germs from contaminants, like urine and feces, out of the water we all swim in. To prevent recreational water illness, you should avoid swallowing pool water or getting water in your mouth, wash hands thoroughly after changing diapers, using the restroom, and before eating or handling food. Never swim if you have diarrhea – you can spread germs in the water and make others sick. Take children on bathroom breaks every 30-60 minutes and only change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area – not poolside where germs can rinse into the water.

Everyone can help create healthy swimming experiences this summer. By following these basic steps, Berrien County residents and visitors can prevent injury and death due to many waterborne infections and outbreaks and enjoy all that the water offers.

For more information, visit the Berrien County Health Department website at www.bchdmi.org or Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bchdmi.

Memorial Day is a time to honor America’s fallen heroes

We certainly would not enjoy the blessings we do here in Southwest Michigan if it were not for the selfless courage of America’s servicemen and servicewomen.

Although Memorial Day is the unofficial beginning of summer, please take some time during the holiday to honor its true meaning.

It is a day to remember the real-life heroes who gave their lives in service to America and to celebrate everything they fought and died to protect.

I encourage everyone to show their gratitude for those who gave the full measure in defense of liberty.

I will be paying tribute to fallen heroes at local Memorial Day events and at the Senate’s annual Memorial Day service, where I am honored to have U.S. Army captain and Iraq War veteran Jon Hall as my special guest.

One of the ways we express our appreciation is to adorn the graves of our veterans with special markers. Sadly, some people are stealing these markers and selling them. I have introduced legislation to crack down hard on these thefts so we can give our veterans the honor and rest they have rightfully earned.

Residents can pay their respects by attending a local ceremony or parade, flying the flag at home or the office at half-staff from sunrise to noon, or participating in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m.

Most of all, take a moment to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom. Celebrate what they died protecting and remember its true cost. Our nation remains strong today because of their dedication. It is a debt we can never repay, but one that we can sincerely honor.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback on the important issues facing Michigan. You can contact me at 517-373-6960.

Legislative update

I am happy to announce that my first two pieces of legislation were approved by their respective House committees this last week.

The first bill I introduced, House Bill 4302, would increase the penalties for assaulting a courtroom employee. This issue strikes close to home for Berrien County, and it is very important to me since my husband and many of our friends were working in the courthouse the day of the shooting.

My bill and the bipartisan package it was a part of, was voted out of the House Committee on Law and Justice recently and now moves to the House floor for consideration.

Additionally, I introduced House Bill 4336, which helps close a loophole allowing out-of-state residents to illegally claim a primary residence exemption on their second home in Michigan without consequence – even after being caught.

We are blessed to live in a beautiful area that draws many out-of-state visitors who may eventually buy property in our community and this is something that should certainly be encouraged. However, tax laws should be followed consistently and out-of-state residents should pay their fair share.

House Bill 4336 was approved by the House Committee on Tax Policy May 17 and also moves to the House floor for consideration.

If you have an idea for legislation that would make our community and state a better place to live and work, please call my office at 517-373-1403 or email me at KimLaSata@house.mi.gov. I would love to hear it!

It is an absolute honor to serve as your State Representative, and I will continue to fight and represent you as best I can.

Just the Facts, Please

Last week, the Department of Justice named former FBI Director James Mueller as special counsel, charged with investigating potential Russian influence on our election and government. The American people’s faith is crucial to our democracy. Corruption, or even its appearance, can cause irreversible harm to the stability of our country.

This is why I support the DOJ’s decisions to name Mueller as special counsel. The American people deserve answers and they deserve to have someone we can all trust give them just the facts.

Mueller is well qualified to do this. He served as FBI Director under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, making him the second-longest serving director next to J. Edgar Hoover. As special counsel, Mueller will oversee the FBI investigation, have broad autonomy to subpoena any information he chooses, and if needed, prosecute.

I have long said that we must follow the facts wherever they lead us. In February, during a live tele-town hall, I said I would support a special prosecutor.  In March, I publicly called for the Attorney General to recuse himself.  In May, I reiterated my support for an independent and non-political FBI. And just this week, I called for former FBI Director James Comey to testify publicly before Congress.

My motto remains: Just the facts, please. In the meantime, rest assured that I will continue to be a voice for common sense and decency.

To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).