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Open enrollment starts for tuition program

Washington's Guaranteed Education Tuition Program enrollment opens Nov. 1 for families looking for a safe and convenient way to save for college.

The program allows parents to purchase Guaranteed Education Tuition units at today's price of $163 and be guaranteed that the value of 100 units will always be equal to one year of resident, undergraduate tuition and required state fees at the highest-priced Washington public university (UW or WSU), no matter how much tuition increases.

Families can buy any amount from 1 to 500 units per student. The average account holds just under 200 units.

Guaranteed Education Tuition accounts can easily be used at nearly any public or private college, university or vocational school in the country. Already, students have used their accounts at colleges in all 50 states and five foreign countries.

More than 135,000 accounts have been opened since the program began in 1998.

The new enrollment year runs Nov. 1, 2011 through May 31, 2012.

Betty Lochner, director of the Guaranteed Education Tuition Program, encourages families to save an amount that fits best within their budget.

"The important part is to get started and then have a plan to contribute regularly over the years," Lochner said. "Even smaller amounts will add up over time."

The monetary value of a Guaranteed Education Tuition unit is the same regardless of which school the units are used.

If a college costs more than UW or WSU, the student pays the difference. If it costs less, the money can also be applied towards room and board, books or other qualified expenses.

"Parents who start early have the opportunity to save literally thousands of dollars on the future cost of college," Lochner said.

More than 11 percent of new accounts are opened by a student's grandparents.

The Guaranteed Education Tuition Program is a 529 plan offering tax-free growth and withdrawals. It is self-sustaining and is not dependent upon state general funds for ongoing operations.

For more information on the program, including fees and limitations, visit the web site at get.wa.gov.

Accounts can be opened online, and customer service staff is available at (800) 955-2318 to help in any way needed.

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