Assets in Section 529 college savings plans rose to an estimated $55.4 billion at the end of the first quarter, according to data released by the nonprofit College Savings Foundation. The quarterly asset total was up 6 percent from an estimated $52.3 billion at the end of 2004, and up 38.6 percent from the first quarter 2004 total of $40.0 billion.

The popular savings plans, which are offered on a state-by-state basis, give federal-income-tax-free treatment to earnings and distributions made from plan accounts when used for qualified expenditures covering college costs.

Estimated net sales (net new contributions) of 529 savings plans for 2005's first quarter were $3.9 billion, compared with $4.6 billion in 2004's fourth quarter and $4.1 billion in 2004's first quarter, according to research firm FRC, which compiled the data.

The CSF also released its first quarter 2005 report on asset types in 529 college savings plans, based on data from CSF members representing $18.2 billion in 529 assets, or 33 percent of total 529 assets.

Age-based portfolios represented 68.8 percent of first quarter assets, followed by static, or fixed, portfolios, at 24.3 percent. Individual fund portfolios represent just 6.9 percent of assets. The CSF said that age-based portfolios have experienced the greatest year-to-date percentage gain in assets, at 10.5 percent, followed by static portfolios, at 5.6 percent.

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