Open an Account

Enroll online. It’s fast, easy, and secure. Or, if you prefer, call 877.432.7444, and we will be happy to send you an enrollment packet. You may also download an enrollment kit that can be sent via regular mail once completed.

Account Owner - Beneficiary - Successor Account Owner

An Account may be established by an individual, certain legal entities, a custodian under a State’s UGMA or UTMA statute, or the trustee of a trust. The Account Owner must be at least 18 years of age with a valid Social Security number or a taxpayer identification number. The Account Owner must also have a valid, permanent address in the U.S. (not a P.O. Box). There are no income limitations for the Account Owner to participate in, or benefit from, the Program. There may be only one Account Owner per Account (joint ownership is not allowed).
An individual with a valid Social Security number or a taxpayer identification number, including the Account Owner, can be a Beneficiary. A Beneficiary can be of any age and need not be a resident of Illinois. Each Account may have only one Beneficiary, but different Account Owners may establish different Accounts for the same Beneficiary, provided that the total balances in such Accounts, and all other accounts in other Illinois Section 529 Programs, do not exceed the Maximum Account Balance. An Account Owner may name himself or herself as the Beneficiary.

Yes, the Account Owner may change the Beneficiary at any time without adverse federal income tax consequences if the new Beneficiary is a Member of the Family of the current Beneficiary. The Account Owner may also change the Portfolios in which the Account is invested when changing the Beneficiary. If the new Beneficiary is not a Member of the Family of the current Beneficiary, then the change is treated as a Federal Nonqualified Withdrawal that is subject to federal and Illinois state taxes, a federal tax penalty, and may be subject to recapture of Illinois state tax benefits.

A Member of the Family is anyone who is related to the current Beneficiary in one of the following ways:

  • A son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, adopted child, or a descendant of any of them;
  • A brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister;
  • The father or mother, or an ancestor of either;
  • A stepfather or stepmother;
  • A son or daughter of a brother or sister;
  • A brother or sister of the father or mother;
  • A son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law;
  • The spouse of the Beneficiary or the spouse of any of the foregoing individuals; or
  • A first cousin of the Beneficiary.

For purposes of determining who is a Member of the Family, a legally adopted child of an individual is treated as the child of such individual by blood. The terms brother and sister include a half-brother or half-sister.

A change of the Beneficiary of an Account or a transfer to an Account for another Beneficiary may have federal gift tax or generation-skipping transfer tax consequences. You should consult your tax or legal advisor before making such change.

Changing the beneficiary will result in a new account being created with the same account owner but different beneficiary and new account number.

To request a beneficiary change for your account, please complete and submit the Change of Designated Beneficiary Form.

If you do not use all the funds in your account, you have a number of options.

  1. You can leave the funds in the account in the event your beneficiary (or another member of the beneficiary’s family) can use the funds for college expenses at a later date.
  2. You can change the beneficiary to another member of the beneficiary’s family and use funds for their college expenses.
  3. You can withdraw the funds as a nonqualified withdrawal. The earnings portion (not the amount you contributed) is subject to federal and state income taxes and a 10% federal penalty tax.

Illinois tax filers: The amount of any deduction previously taken for Illinois income tax purposes is subject to recapture in the event an account owner takes a nonqualified withdrawal from an account or if such assets are rolled over to a non-Illinois 529 plan. Please consult with your tax professional.

It is encouraged that the Account Owner designate a successor Account Owner to take ownership of the Account in the event of the Account Owner’s death or legal incompetency.

Contributions and Rollovers

The plan is very flexible. You can contribute by:

  • Sending a check.
  • Establishing an automatic investment plan.
  • One-time electronic contribution.
  • Rolling over funds from another 529 plan.
  • Wire Transfer
  • Invite family and friends to make a contribution to your account through Bright Start GiftED.
  • Establishing a payroll deduction at work (check with employer for availability).
  • Transferring reward dollars earned with a Bright Start 529 VISA Rewards Card.

Yes, an account owner in another 529 qualified tuition program may roll over or transfer funds from another 529 qualified tuition program to Bright Start. Before requesting a rollover, please consult your tax professional.

Such a rollover transaction will be treated as an income tax-free Federal Qualified Rollover Distribution provided it has been more than twelve (12) months since any previous rollover for that Beneficiary or if the Beneficiary of the Account is changed to a Member of the Family of the current Beneficiary. The program from which you are transferring funds may impose fees or other restrictions on such a transfer, so you should investigate this option thoroughly before requesting a transfer.

The Illinois Administrative Code provides that in the case of a rollover from a non-Illinois qualified tuition program, the amount of the rollover that constituted investment in the prior qualified tuition program for federal income tax purposes (but not the earnings portion of the rollover) is eligible for the deduction for Illinois individual income tax purposes, subject to the deduction limits of $10,000 per tax return ($20,000 if married filing jointly). You should consult your tax or legal advisor about the availability of such deduction.

A minimum Contribution is not required, nor do you have to contribute to your Account every year. The Program has no minimum initial or ongoing required Contributions to an Account.

The aggregate Maximum Account Balance limit for Accounts for a Beneficiary in the Program and in other Illinois Section 529 Programs is $500,000.

Accounts that have reached the Maximum Account Balance may continue to accrue earnings, but additional Contributions will not be accepted.

Effective January 1, 2024, Bright Start 529 assets can be rolled over directly into a Roth IRA.

IMPORTANT: The following limitations and restrictions apply:

  • The Bright Start 529 Account must have been maintained at least 15 years.
  • Only contributions (and any earnings attributable thereto) made to the Bright Start Account more than five years prior can be rolled over.
  • The Roth IRA rollover must be made in a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer to a Roth IRA account maintained for the benefit of the Bright Start Beneficiary.
  • Rollover contributions cannot exceed the IRA contribution limit for that tax year ($7,000 in 2024) and is reduced by any “regular” traditional or Roth IRA contributions made by the beneficiary in that year.
  • The aggregate amount for all years of Roth IRA Rollovers for the same Beneficiary from all 529 qualified tuition programs may not exceed $35,000 per beneficiary over their lifetime.
  • Under current Illinois law, a Roth IRA Rollover would be an Illinois Nonqualified Withdrawal, subject to recapture of Illinois state tax benefits.

Account Owners should consult their own tax and financial professionals before making a Roth IRA Rollover.

Gift Contributions (gifts by others)

Yes, a person other than the Account Owner may make contributions to an Account.

However, the Account Owner maintains control over the Account including the investment and distribution of any Contributions. In addition, under current law, the gift and generation-skipping transfer tax consequences of a Contribution by someone other than the Account Owner are unclear. Accordingly, if a person other than an Account Owner intends to contribute to an Account, he or she should consult with his or her legal or tax advisor before doing so.

The Illinois Department of Revenue has stated (in a nonbinding general information letter) that the state income tax deduction is available to individuals other than the Account Owner who contribute to an Account.

Bright Start GiftED is easy. The account owner sends an email invitation to you. The email includes a link and instructions on how to contribute. You can contribute directly from your bank account or print a contribution coupon and mail it with your check. Or if easier – you can print a contribution coupon from the Bright Start site and send with your check.

With Bright Start GiftED, our online gift-giving site, you, your family, and your friends can give the perfect gift to a child or grandchild—a college education. It’s quick, easy, and great for any special occasion.

As an existing account owner, you’ll find everything you need when you log into your account and select “Bright Start GiftED” for simple, step-by-step instructions.

Here are instructions for family and friends:

  1. Request a Bright Start GiftED evite from the account owner.
  2. Receive the GiftED evite and:
    1. Contribute online directly from your bank account; or
    2. Print a personalized deposit slip to mail with your check to Bright Start.

Gift contributions will be invested according to your current account allocation at the time the contribution is invested. Only the named Account Owner can authorize transaction instructions or obtain information about an account. A contributor has no control over contributions made to an account they do not own.

A gift contribution from a non-account owner is eligible for the Illinois state income tax deduction.

The person making the gift contribution may report it on their Illinois 1040 - Schedule M. You will need the Bright Start account number (you will need to request from the Bright Start Account Owner) or a copy of the cancelled check.

Tax Advantages

An individual who files an individual Illinois state income tax return may deduct up to $10,000 ($20,000 if married filing a joint return) of total, combined Contributions to the Program, to the Bright Directions College Savings Program, and to College Illinois! during the tax year.

December 31 deadline for contributions. For Illinois taxpayers, contributions to Bright Start are tax deductible. Contributions are deductible up to $10,000 per year ($20,000 if married filing jointly). You can also deduct the contribution portion (but not the earnings portion) of a rollover from another state’s 529 plan.

To be deductible for a calendar year you must make the contribution before the end of that given calendar year. Contributions postmarked on or before December 31, should be treated as having been made in the year in which it was sent.

Federal income taxes are deferred while in an account, and such earnings are free from federal and Illinois state income tax if they are distributed as part of a Federal Qualified Withdrawal. Contributions are not deductible for federal income tax purposes.

Withdrawals for College

Any postsecondary educational institution that meets accreditation criteria and is eligible to participate in Federal Student Aid programs is generally eligible. This includes institutions nationwide (not just in Illinois) such as public and private colleges and universities; vocational, trade, technical, and professional institutions; and even some foreign schools. Check out a listing of eligible schools at:

FAFSA - School Search

Federal Qualified Higher Education Expenses under Section 529 of the Code include:

  • tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance of a Beneficiary at an eligible educational institution;
  • certain room and board expenses incurred by students who are enrolled at least half-time. The expense for room and board qualifies only to the extent that it is not more than the greater of the following two amounts:
    1. The allowance for room and board, as determined by the school, that was included in the cost of attendance (for federal financial aid purposes) for a particular academic period and living arrangement of the student;
    2. The actual amount charged if the student is residing in housing owned or operated by the school;
  • expenses for special needs services incurred in connection with a special needs Beneficiary’s enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution;
  • expenses for the purchase of computer or certain peripheral equipment, computer software, or Internet access and related services, if it’s to be used primarily by the Beneficiary during any of the years the Beneficiary is enrolled at an eligible educational institution. This does not include expenses for computer software for sports, games, or hobbies unless the software is predominately educational in nature;
  • expenses for tuition in connection with the Beneficiary’s enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school. The amount of cash distributions for such expenses from all 529 qualified tuition programs with respect to a Beneficiary shall, in the aggregate, not exceed $10,000 during the taxable year;
  • tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the designated Beneficiary’s participation in an Apprenticeship Program;
  • payments on Qualified Education Loans of the Beneficiary or a sibling of the Beneficiary provided that the total amounts of distributions from all 529 qualified tuition programs to such individual after December 31, 2018 for loan repayment do not exceed $10,000.

Illinois Qualified Expenses does not include expenses for tuition in connection with the Beneficiary’s enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private or religious school.

If a withdrawal is made for such purposes it may be a Federal Qualified Withdrawal and not be included in income for federal and Illinois purposes, but if an Illinois income tax deduction was previously claimed for Contributions to the Account all or part of that deduction may be added back to income for Illinois income tax purposes. Please consult your tax professional for further information and advice.

Money from a Bright Start account can be paid directly to the account owner, directly to the beneficiary, to the account owner’s bank account, or to an eligible educational institution.

Payments to account owners, beneficiaries, and bank accounts

An account owner or custodian (under a state UGMA/UTMA) may request a withdrawal online or by downloading and submitting the Withdrawal Request Form. Be sure to plan ahead when requesting a withdrawal. Generally, if a request is received in good order on a business day prior to the close of the markets (typically 3 p.m. Central time), the investments will be sold at that day’s closing prices, and a check will be mailed the following business day. Please plan ahead and allow sufficient mail time. For withdrawals payable to the account owner’s bank account, please allow several business days for your bank to process the payment and credit your account.

Payments to eligible institutions

Bright Start can also make payments directly to a college or university. Please allow the institution three to seven business days to post the payment. Please allow sufficient time for mail time and processing by the school.

For more information about withdrawals from an account, please visit the Use of Funds page.

If you receive a refund from an eligible educational institution for qualified higher education expenses that were paid from money withdrawn from your account, you can:

  1. Pay for other qualified higher education expenses – you can use the funds to pay other qualified higher education expenses incurred by that beneficiary in the same calendar year.
  2. Recontribute refunded amounts to a 529 account – if a student receives a refund of qualified higher education expenses that were treated as paid by a 529 distribution, the student can recontribute these amounts into any 529 account for which they are the beneficiary within 60 days after the date of the refund. The amount recontributed cannot exceed the amount of the refund.

You should consult with your financial, tax or other advisor regarding your individual situation.

There are several general rules of thumb when investing in a 529 plan. We recommend that you review with your own advisors as well as the college admissions office and your high school guidance counselor for information regarding your own situation.

If a parent is the account owner of a Bright Start account, up to 5.64% of the value of the account may be included in the expected family contribution calculation for federal financial aid purposes. A custodial 529 account (i.e.: UTMA 529 or UGMA 529 account) is typically treated as a parental asset (up to 5.64% of the value included) for purposes of the federal aid application.

Withdrawals from a 529 may also receive favorable treatment. Generally, withdrawals from a parent-owned 529 account are not includible in the income portion of the financial aid calculation. Beginning in December 2023 for the 2024-25 academic year, FAFSA will no longer report distributions from a grandparent’s 529 plan as untaxed student income, which previously had the potential to drastically reduce a student’s aid eligibility and cash support.

Financial aid rules may change at any time. Visit studentaid.gov for details and specifics regarding 529’s and their financial aid treatment.


Bright Start has the following Portfolios available:

  • 3 Index Age-Based Options (Aggressive, Moderate, Conservative)
  • 3 Multi-Firm Age-Based Options (Aggressive, Moderate, Conservative)
  • 3 Index Target Portfolios
  • 3 Multi-Firm Target Portfolios
  • 17 Individual Fund Portfolios

Review more detailed information under Investment Portfolios

The Account Owner may change the Portfolio or Portfolios in which his or her Account is invested twice per calendar year, or upon a change in Beneficiary. If an Account Owner has multiple accounts in the Program for the same Beneficiary, or multiple accounts in the Program and other Illinois Section 529 Programs, the Account Owner may change the Portfolios in all such accounts without tax consequences, so long as the changes to all of the accounts are made at the same time and no more frequently than twice per calendar year or upon a change of Beneficiary.
The Portfolios, except for the Vanguard Federal Money Market 529 Portfolio and Bank Savings 529 Portfolio, do not make distributions of their income, including dividends, interest and capital gains. The dividends and capital gains distributions of the Underlying Investments received by the Portfolios are not distributed by the Portfolios as earnings (except for the Vanguard Federal Money Market 529 Portfolio and Bank Savings 529 Portfolio); such dividends and distributions are reinvested in the applicable Underlying Investment(s) and are reflected in the NAV.
For more information, please read Bright Start’s official Investment Policy Statement.

Plan Costs and Information

There is no annual account fee.

The Portfolios have a 0.07% program management fee and 0.025% state fee, plus each Portfolio also indirectly bears its pro rata share of the fees and expenses of each of the Underlying Investments.

More detailed information about fees is available in the Bright Start Program Disclosure Statement.

Yes. Each year an independent public accountant selected by the program manager will audit the program. The treasurer and the Illinois auditor general may also conduct audits of the program and pool.

You can download a copy of the latest audits here: