MONEY 529 plans

Why the Best College Savings Plans Are Getting Better

stack of money under 5-2-9 number blocks
Jan Cobb Photography Ltd—Getty Images

Low-cost 529 college savings plans continue to rise to the top in Morningstar's latest ratings.

Competition is creating ever-better investment options for parents who want to save for their kids’ college costs through tax-preferred 529 college savings plans, according to Morningstar’s annual ratings of the 64 largest college savings plans.

In a report released today, the firm gave gold stars to 529 plans featuring funds managed by T. Rowe Price and Vanguard. The Nevada 529 plan, for example, which offers Vanguard’s low-cost index funds, has long been one of Morningstar’s top-rated college savings options. The plan became even more attractive this year when it cut the fees it charges investors from 0.21% of assets to 0.19%, says Morningstar senior analyst Kathryn Spica.

“In general, the industry is improving” its offerings to investors, Spica adds.

You can invest in any state’s 529. In many states, however, you qualify for special tax breaks by investing in your home-state 529 plan. If you don’t, you should shop nationally, paying attention to fees and investment choices.

Morningstar raised Virginia’s inVEST plan, which offers investment options from Vanguard, American Funds and Aberdeen, from bronze to silver ratings, in part because Virginia cut its fees from 0.20% to 0.15% early this year.

Virginia’s CollegeAmerica plan continued as Morningstar’s top-rated option for those who pay a commission to buy a 529 plan through an adviser. American Funds, which manages the plan, announced in June it would waive some fees, such as set-up charges.

But there are exceptions. Morningstar downgraded two plans—South Dakota’s CollegeAccess 529 and Arizona’s Ivy Funds InvestEd 529 Plan—to “negative” because of South Dakota’s high fees and problems with Arizona’s fund managers.

Rhode Island’s two college savings plans moved off the negative list this year after the state started offering a new investment option based on Morningstar’s recommended portfolio of low-cost index funds. Given the potential conflict of interest, Morningstar did not rate the plans in 2014.

Joseph Hurley, founder of Savingforcollege.com, which also rates 529 plans, says he hasn’t analyzed the Morningstar-modeled funds because they are new and don’t have enough of a track record. But, he adds, the Rhode Island direct-sold 529 plan offers several low-cost index fund options.

Here are Morningstar’s top-rated 529 plans for 2014:

State Fund company Investment method Expenses (% of assets) for moderate age-based portfolio (ages 7 to 12) Five-year annualized return for moderate age-based portfolio (ages 7 to 12)
Alaska T. Rowe Price Active 0.88% 11.25%
Maryland T. Rowe Price Active 0.88% 11.42%
Nevada Vanguard Passive 0.19% 8.65%
Utah Vanguard Passive 0.22% 8.01%

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TIME viral

This Is the Awesome Sound You’ll Hear When You Skip Stones on a Frozen Lake

It's probably not what you'd expect

Cory Williams, who runs a YouTube channel all about life in Alaska, made a very interesting discovery lately: skipping rocks on a mostly frozen lake leads to a surprisingly cool sonic experience (skip to 3:45 in the video to hear). Williams was totally not expecting the sound, which is kind of like a laser or some kind of chirping bird. Watch as he gets really, really excited about this revelation and then searches for more stones so he can hear the sound again.

Though this experience was new to Williams, several other people have tried it and had similar results:

Read next: This Woman Can Sing Two Notes at Once and It’s Eerily Beautiful

TIME Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin’s Family Won’t Face Charges Over Party Brawl

Willow Palin told police that people were shouting "f--k the Palins" when the fight broke out

Police in Alaska said Thursday that no charges would be filed against members of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s family over a fight that broke out at a party that they were attending.

A police report released Thursday also shed new light on the brawl, which occurred at the home of Korey Klingenmeyer, where Palin’s husband Todd and children Willow, Track and Bristol had gone to a party Sept. 6.

Bristol Palin told police that Klingenmeyer had shoved her to the ground and insulted her, prompting the fight. Klingenmeyer and several others say that he let Bristol punch him several times before he pushed her back.

The report, which includes multiple statements comprising at times conflicting accounts, indicates that Sarah Palin, the former Vice Presidential candidate, was in the area in the wake of the altercation but does not suggest she was involved.

One officer says in the report that when he arrived on the scene, Palin’s son Track appeared “heavily intoxicated,” had blood around his mouth and was not wearing a shirt. Both parents, Sarah and Todd, were with him, and Sarah encouraged him to speak with the officer.

Willow told a police officer that people were shouting “F–k the Palins” during the altercation.

See the full report here.

TIME Economy

Why Everyone Who Lives in Alaska Is Getting $1,884 Today

North slope oil rush Alaska
The North slope oil rush in Alaska, circa 1969 Ralph Crane&—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

That's enough to buy a trip to somewhere warmer

If polar bears and Snow Dogs weren’t enough to make you want to move to Alaska, consider this: You can get paid thousands of dollars a year just for living there.

Today, Oct. 2, almost every permanent resident of Alaska — even babies — will get paid $1,884 as a dividend from the state’s Alaska Permanent Fund, a government fund that invests proceeds generated from the state’s oil reserves to ensure future wealth for the state.

When the first dividend checks were issued to residents in 1980, TIME predicted that the windfall would be long-lasting:

Nor is there any end in sight to the flow of dividends from the oil fund, which by the end of this year is expected to total more than $1 billion. Oil price increases could also continue to swell the fund. While most Americans complain bitterly every time OPEC members raise prices, Alaskans have reason to applaud. With the price of domestic oil now decontrolled, Alaskan crude can rise to the world level; thus the state’s royalties will grow with each foreign price hike.

Today the Alaska Permanent Fund is valued above $50 billion, and the dividend paid to residents this week will total $1.1 billion.

And for the individual who’s squirreled away his dividend payment each year since the program launched in 1980? He’s made a cool $37,000 just for being loyal to the state.

Read more about the origins of the Alaska Permanent Fund in TIME’s archives: Alaska Bonanza

TIME animals

Here’s Why Thousands of Walruses Are Gathering on Alaska’s Shore

Approximately 1500 walrus gather on the northwest coast of Alaska on Sept. 23, 2014
Approximately 1500 walrus gather on the northwest coast of Alaska on Sept. 23, 2014 Corey Accardo—NOAA/AP

The time has come, the walruses said, to gather on land since we can't find any ice around

Nearly 35,000 walruses were discovered this month on a northwest Alaskan shore as result of being unable to find sea ice to rest upon, a problem aggravated by climate change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

The unusually massive walrus gatherings were first spotted on Sept. 13 when NOAA conducted its annual arctic marine mammal aerial survey, a spokeswoman told the Associated Press.

The marine mammals use sea ice as diving platforms to hunt for food in shallow areas, or as resting points to avoid long, exhausting swims. While it is normal for sea ice to recede into deeper parts of the Arctic Ocean as temperatures warm in the summer, in recent years the ice has moved even further.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the accelerated loss of sea ice is associated with climate change, in which open water absorbs more heat and speeds up the melting process. WWF estimated that Arctic ice loss was 3.5 to 4.1% each decade between 1979 and 2012.

The habitat destruction has contributed to large groups of walruses arriving on shore. Walrus gatherings were first spotted near Alaskan shores in 2007, and they returned in 2009 and 2011, experts at the NOAA said.

“The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic,” Margaret Williams, managing director at the WWF, told AP. “And that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”

 

TIME viral

Reporter Quits On Live TV After Revealing That She Owns a Marijuana Club

The announcement left her fellow anchors dazed and confused

A local news segment went up in smoke when a reporter quit her job on air after making a rather surprising announcement Sunday night. Charlo Greene, a reporter for KTVA-TV in Anchorage, Alaska, revealed that she’s the owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club, a business that connects medical marijuana cardholders in need of ganj with medical marijuana cardholders in possession of ganj.

In the above clip (which contains a bit of NSFW language) Greene says she will be dedicating all her energy toward “fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska.” Then she adds, “And as for this job, well, not that I have a choice, but f–k it. I quit.”

The station soon apologized on Facebook:

Dear Viewers,

We sincerely apologize for the inappropriate language used by a KTVA reporter during her live presentation on the air tonight. The employee has been terminated.

Bert Rudman

News Director – KTVA 11 News

Now we’re left with just one question: can someone really be “terminated” after saying “F–k it, I quit?”

Greene herself also took to social media on Monday to explain herself. She shared the following video on the Alaska Cannabis Club’s YouTube page to offer more insight into her decision to quit, to debunk myths about marijuana legalization and to share her passion for the cause:

Greene also created an IndieGogo page to raise money for marijuana reform and advocacy. She’s already raised around $1,500 toward her total goal of $5,000.

Updated at 12:05 p.m. to include Greene’s response.

TIME 2014 Election

Dan Sullivan Wins Alaska’s GOP Senate Primary

And it didn't take long for general election fight to begin in earnest

Former Alaska Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan won a nasty—and with nearly $10 million spent, costly—GOP primary Tuesday to take on Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat vying for a second term — and it didn’t take long for the two campaigns to start slinging attacks at each other.

With 98.6% of precincts reporting, Sullivan garnered 40% of the vote to Tea Partier Joe Miller’s surprisingly strong 32% and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s embarrassing 23%. Though Miller had once threatened to run as an independent spoiler should he lose the primary, he said in recent weeks that he’d back the nominee. With the Republican Party finally united after an eight-month primary battle, Sullivan and Democrats quickly turned to the general election fight.

Labeling Sullivan an “Outsider” within minutes of the results, Democrats launched what will surely be the first of many attacks on what they call Sullivan’s carpetbagger status. Sullivan grew up in Ohio before joining the Marines. When he left the Corps in 1997, he moved to Alaska where he practiced law for five years before moving to Washington DC to join the Bush Administration in 2002. He returned to Alaska in 2007 to serve as then Gov. Sarah Palin’s attorney general and then director of the National Resources Commission.

“Alaska’s bitter and divisive Republican primary exposed that Dan Sullivan does not look out for what’s in the best interests of Alaskans,” said Matt Canter, deputy director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the Senate. “After carrying water for Sarah Palin and trying to restrict access to public lands for hunters and fishers, Sullivan is now hoping to do the Koch brothers’ bidding in the U.S. Senate.”

Republicans, meanwhile, worked to tie Begich, a former Anchorage mayor, to President Obama, who is disliked by six out of 10 Alaskan voters. “Mark Begich has championed the Obama agenda, and served on [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid’s leadership team that has brought the Senate to a grinding halt,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate. “Even though Senator Begich has failed to pass even a single amendment during his five years in Washington, he has voted for the Obama agenda a staggering 97% of the time – including costly energy taxes, spending increases, and of course, ObamaCare.”

Alaska remains one of the most hard fought Senate races and the battle between Begich and Sullivan—and their outside groups— is only just ramping up. If Alaskans were hoping for a respite in the biting television ads and dirty mailers, it’s going to be another two and a half months yet.

TIME 2014 midterm elections

Alaska Voters Get Ready for the Polar Primary

Alaska Senate Republicans
From left, U.S. Senate Republican candidates Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell take part in a debate in Eagle River, Alaska on Aug. 4, 2014. Mark Thiessen—AP

Alaskans vote to pick which Republican will take on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich

Alaskans go to the polls Tuesday to decide the match up for the last big Senate race of the 2014 cycle. Voters there will pick which Republican will challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, a former Anchorage mayor seeking a second Senate term.

The GOP primary has already been messy. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell entered the race as the establishment favorite and 11 points up in at least one poll a year ago. However, Treadwell faltered on fundraising and organization, giving a window to Dan Sullivan, the former Natural Resources commissioner under once-governor Sarah Palin. Sullivan quickly cemented himself as the frontrunner, garnering the support of the likes of Karl Rove, and has lead in polls since.

That said, don’t discount the 49th state’s ability to surprise politically. The third candidate on the ballot is a living example of that: Joe Miller, a Tea Partier who beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2010 but lost the general election to Murkowski, who waged a rare write-in campaign. Sullivan generally garners 30-40% in polls, with Treadwell pulling 20-25% and Miller coming in with 15%-20%. Polls, though, are notoriously unreliable in this state.

The nasty primary, replete with one Miller mailer depicting illegal aliens as gang thugs, has been expensive for Republicans, with Sullivan spending more than $3 million of the $4 million he raised by the end of July. Treadwell spent more than $1 million and Miller nearly $600,000. Begich enters the general election with more than $2 million cash on hand, having spent a whopping $5.2 million in ads promoting himself or attacking his would-be rivals, mostly focusing his fire on Sullivan.

And what Alaska primary would be complete without a bit of confusion? There’s also a Dan Sullivan running for lieutenant governor, which could addle some voters unsure of which Sullivan to vote for in which race.

Begich, who has carefully tended to Alaska’s needs anticipating a tough reelection, enters the general election slightly ahead of Treadwell and Sullivan in hypothetical head-to-head match ups and with a commanding lead over Miller. He will also likely benefit from a spate of third party candidates already on the ballot, including two Libertarians likely to draw votes from the GOP candidate.

The national winds run against Begich these midterms. Six in ten Alaskan voters disapprove of President Barack Obama, to whom Republicans are tying Begich. “Mark Begich has been a champion for [Obama’s] agenda in the Senate, voting with him a staggering 97% of the time leaving even Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders—94% of the time—in the dust,” says Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate. “Think about that, Mark Begich votes with President Obama more than socialist Bernie Sanders no matter the issue—costly energy taxes, spending increases, and of course, Obamacare.”

Every race is local, though, and given GOP infighting and Begich’s surprising polling resilience, most independent observers rate this seat as lean Democratic.

TIME animals

This Guy Went to Alaska and Caught a 482-Pound Halibut

An old man and the sea

After a 40-minute struggle, 76-year-old Californian Jack McGuire recently caught the world’s largest halibut, the Associated Press reports.

McGuire’s monster fish weighed a whopping 482 pounds and was 95 inches long, smashing the previous record set in 1996 (a very respectable 459lbs). Unfortunately his catch will go unrecognized by the International Game Fish Association, because McGuire’s boat captain shot the fish before it was brought onboard to keep it from flopping about and hurting someone.

According to the AP, McGuire “applauded the decision” to kill the fish despite his disqualification from record-holder status.

TIME States

Alaska to Put Free Pregnancy Tests in Bar Restrooms

The program will help combat the state's high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome

The University of Alaska is leading a state-funded program to put free pregnancy tests in the bathrooms of 20 bars and restaurants across the state starting this December.

The two-year, $400,000 program is designed to combat Alaska’s rate of fetal alcohol syndrome, which is the highest of any state in the country, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Women of child-bearing age in Alaska are 20 percent more likely to binge drink in comparison to the national average.

“This is not a strategy for the chronic alcoholic who is drinking regardless of whatever message they see,” said Jody Allen Crowe, who founded a Minnesota organization that leads a similar program and is helping with the project. “This is really focused on the 50 percent of unexpected pregnancies, to find out they are pregnant as early as possible.”

Republican Senator Pete Kelly, who has said before that birth control is for women who “who don’t want to act responsibly,” first proposed the program.

[Anchorage Daily News]

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