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.

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