Trail Financial Planning, LLC is a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm located in Bellingham, WA

GET to Dream Ahead? Part 3: People stories

GET to Dream Ahead? Part 3: People stories

This is the third post I’ve written about Washington state’s Guaranteed Education Plan (GET).  I keep writing because I keep getting questions from people who care about supporting their kids going to school.  To learn.  To grow.  To become educated.  To become thoughtful.  I am a big fan of kids, and a really big fan of thoughtful.  

This post is to continue to help people answer a question about their GET units, and the new 529 college savings plan: 

Should I roll my GET units into the new Dream Ahead Investment plan?

Specifically in this post, I will describe what happened when I contacted GET on behalf of a couple of my financial planning clients.  I will tell you what I learned, and what it led me to recommend for them.  In the previous two posts, I wrote about:

Post 1:  In 2017, I explored some of the underlying economics of GET.  I should have titled the post, “Do you get your GET?”  You can access it here.

Post 2:  In June of 2018, I described the new Dream Ahead Investment plan, and the rollover offer for current GET unit holders.  I should have titled this post, “What will you get if you leave GET?”  You can access it here.  

Since then, several people have contacted me with questions about their own situations.  In general, I advise people contact GET directly.  Two people have told me their experience:  one person felt reassured and confident in a course of action.  Another just felt more confused.  When I give advice, I like to eat my own cooking.  Even if it’s to call someone else.  So, even though I don’t personally own any GET units, I contacted GET on behalf of a couple of my clients (who signed release of information letters allowing GET reps to speak about their individual accounts). 

I called GET, and was informed by a pleasant sounding recorded voice, that they were experiencing very high call volumes.  I wanted to talk to a human.  So, I put myself in the queue.  I was informed that my wait time would be 32 minutes.  Although I dislike being put on hold, I appreciate that someone valued my time enough to program an informational message of how long I would spend in telecom purgatory.  So, I put my phone on speaker, poured a cup of coffee, and tweaked my GET unit valuation spreadsheet to the metronomic cadence of, “we are currently experiencing higher than normal call volumes.  You might want to consider calling back next week when wait times may be less.  If you would like to leave a message…”  Wheeeeeeee! 

Quick aside – I thought the “you might want to call back next week” comment was funny, and probably inaccurate.  so, I called again today, a week after my original call, and was informed that the wait would be 37 minutes.  

After 31 minutes, Daniel picked up my call.  Foreshadowing:  Thanks Daniel, you were very helpful!

Before I describe the results, let me tell you a bit about the two GET unit accounts I was calling about.  I’ll leave the numbers intact but mask any personal information. 

Data:  The GET accounts

GET account #1 – owned by Pete and Carol on behalf of their son, “Michael.”  Michael is a confident 16 year-old, who likes sports, and has an inclination to help out others.  Pete and Carol bought 300 units for Michael as a single purchase in 2013 when tuition costs were rising rapidly.  They paid $48,477 for the units, for an average cost of $161.59.  Since then, three adjustments have been made to Michael’s account:

1)      They received a unit re-basement, where they received some of their contribution back as cash, reducing their “contribution” into GET.

2)      They received a unit re-amortization, where they were credited additional units.

3)      They asked for a refund of one-half of their original contribution.

The net result is that they now own about 170 units, at an average cost of $133.26/unit.  Their remaining contribution, or cost basis, of $22,677.

GET account #2 is also owned by Pete and Carol for their other son, Doug.  Doug is 9 years old.  He is not a big kid, but he has big ideas about civil rights and equity.  Pete and Carol bought 50 units for Doug back in 2010 at $101/unit.  The have received a unit re-amortization, so that they now have 56 units, with an average cost basis of about $89/unit.

Analysis method:  How to answer the question?

Daniel (the GET rep) and I reviewed Pete and Carol’s GET accounts.  Daniel helped me to figure out how much Pete and Carol would receive in value for each option.  

I chose to compare each option by looking at the difference between the value after making a decision and the value today.  A super simple example of this analysis would be to look at a single GET unit that is rolled over to Dream Ahead.  It’s current value is $103.86.  The “new” value would be $143.  The gain would be $39.14.  

One more side note – I will be presenting a financial analysis of the options available to GET unit holders.  But, there are other considerations that are much more personal for you to consider:  How important is the guarantee part of GET to you?  When will you need the money?  Are you able to accept the risk of a self-directed investment account?  What if Doug grows and earns a scholarship?  Why does John (the author of this blog) keep describing random bits about these people?   (The answer to the last two questions is known.  The scholarship part is answered at GET Account FAQs  The final question is answered at the bottom of this post).

Analysis of Michael’s account

Based on the current value of Washington tuition, the units for Micheal are worth $17,673 (170 units * $103.86/unit).  For option #1, the rollover to Dream Ahead, the calculation was fairly straight-forward.  Since the units were purchased before July 2015, the payout amount would be $143/unit or the amount contributed, whichever is higher.  The rollover amount would be $24,333.  

However, option #2, staying in GET, was more difficult to analyze because of all of the adjustments and refund requests.  In addition, the formula for the adjustments has not been fully determined, though some guidelines exist.  Daniel helped me figure out how many units would likely qualify for adjustments, and I figured out a range in possible future value, from low to medium to high.  The range for option #2 is between $20,088 to $22,425. 

The final results from of my analysis are shown below.    

Decision for Michael’s account.  This decision was not a slam dunk.  Pete and Carol were worried about the additional risk due to being “in the market.”  We had a conversation about risk, return and time frame.  Since Michael is going to be needing the money soon (over the next 6 years), and intends to go to school in Washington, Pete and Carol debated between staying in GET (Option #2) and rolling over to Dream Ahead with a very conservative investment choice.   In the end, they decided on a roll over with a conservative investment choice.  

Analysis of Doug’s account

Based on the current value of Washington tuition, the units for Doug are worth $5,891 (56 units * $103.86/unit).  Option #1, the rollover to Dream Ahead, was again a straight-forward calculation:  since the units were purchased before July 2015, the payout amount would be $143/unit or the amount contributed, whichever is higher.  The rollover amount would be $8,111.  

As with Michael’s account, I calculated a range of possible values for Option #2, staying in GET.   The range for option #2 is between $5,891 to $6,683. 

The final results of my analysis are shown below.    

 

Decision for Doug’s account.  This decision was pretty easy.  Pete and Carol chose the rollover to Dream Ahead.  They would receive a significantly higher value than by keeping the money in the GET program.  Plus, they wondered if Doug may want to go to school outside of Washington state, making even more reason to move out of GET.  They selected a Year of Enrollment plan based on Doug’s age:  he is 9 years old, so they selected a 2028 year of enrollment, then chose a return/risk profile that felt reasonable. 

 Wrap-up

I like financial planning.  The reason is because I like working with people.  I am especially motivated to help people work for their kids.  I chose to use the names Pete, Carol, Michael and Doug because the real people of those names do lots of good work for people and kids.  

Pete and Carol refer to the same person.  Michael and Doug are nowhere near kids.  In fact, they are highly accomplished athletes who have already completed college, and have shown skill and perseverance on the athletic field.  Though I love watching their athletic accomplishments, I am most inspired by their humanity. 

You can read more about Pete and Carol’s A Better Seattle.  To read about Michael’s efforts, check out The Bennett Foundation.  Doug doesn’t maintain a web presence as far as I can tell, but his musings and work on race and class truly inspire me.  They bring other people’s lives into their own.  Their stories are worth following.  

If you still aren’t sure how you want to proceed with your GET units, and you would like to talk to someone, I am happy to talk with you in a free consultation.  Just submit your details through our contact page.

John Chesbrough
john@trailfp.com

I am a financial planner and investment manager. I also am the owner of a fee-only, independent financial advisory firm called Trail Financial Planning. I enjoy working with people who care for others and their community – parents, firefighters, therapists, doctors, nurses, and teachers. I may be spotted at through my blog or on the many winding trails of Whatcom County. To learn more, or contact me directly, please visit my firm's website: www.trailfp.com.