NEH parents learn about Availa Kares program

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Teresa Wood
Availa Bank personnel Rachael Otteros and Jessica Bishop joined bank vice president Jeff Kluver and Darcy Swon of Enhance Hamilton County on Friday at Northeast Hamilton Elementary School to roll-out the Availa Kares college savings plan for Kindergarten students. NEH Kindergarten students presented the life-size thank you to the group.

BLAIRSBURG — Hamilton County Kindergarten students have an opportunity to get a head start on college finances, thanks to a program rolled-out Friday at Northeast Hamilton Elementary School.

Availa Bank introduced the Availa Kares program which is a cooperative effort with the Financial Literacy Council of Greater Hamilton County, Enhance Hamilton County Foundation and the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors.

Beginning this year, the Availa Kares program will establish an Iowa 529 plan for every 2018-2019 Kindergarten student in Hamilton County who enrolls in the program.  

To be eligible, a child must be a Kindergarten student in a Hamilton County school on the last day of this school year and parents must enroll the child in the program.

An Iowa 529 plan is a tax-exempt investment savings plan when used for post high school education.  It can be used for tuition, books, room and board and other college related costs.

Availa Bank Vice President Jeff Kluver was enthusiastic about the program.

“We are pleased to be a part of this community and our bank is very community oriented,” said Kluver.  “This is an investment in our youth.”

At Friday’s roll-out, Kluver was joined by bank employees Rachael Otteros, universal banker, Jessica Bishop, personal banker and Darcy Swon, Development Director of the Financial Literacy Council of Greater Hamilton County.

Swon introduced the program to the parents after giving each Kindergarten student a cuddle bear stuffed toy.  

Swon explained to parents that this 2018-2019 Kindergarten class is the first group of students eligible to participate.  The program is elective and is not mandatory, but parents must enroll their children in order to be eligible.  

For the first two years of the program, Availa Bank will contribute $75 for each student and the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors will chip in $25 per student, bringing the total in the account to $100.

The Board of Supervisors became a partner in the initiative last September when it voted to use Local Option Sales Tax funds to help finance the project.

While the Availa Kares 529 plan is owned by Enhance Hamilton County, the student is the beneficiary, explained Swon.  Since Enhance Hamilton County is the owner of the Availa Kares plan, parents are not able to donate funds directly to the account and cannot transfer funds to any of their other children.

Parents may establish their own Iowa 529 plan where they can contribute additional funds.  They also have the option of making a donation to the non-profit Enhance Hamilton County and earmark that contribution for the Availa Kares plan. Those funds would then be distributed to all participants, explained Swon.

The plan grows through the years and funding is added when students earn incentives such as perfect attendance or having their parents attend Parent/Teacher conferences.  Swon estimated an Availa Kares account could total between $1,000 – $2,500 after 12 years.

An added benefit of the plan is that if a family moves from Hamilton County, the account follows the child.  While they will not be able to add incentives after a move outside of Hamilton County, they will be able to keep the same balance in the account at the time they left.

Following graduation from high school, a student has ten years to use their Availa Kares account, explained Swon.  This gives a student flexibility after high school.  It accommodates students who choose to serve in the military or those who delay their college career.

The Financial Literacy Council of Greater Hamilton County was created to help teach financial literacy and this program helps people learn that lesson at a young age, explained Swon.  She cited statistics that only 56 percent of college-bound students save for post high school education.  

Saving for college is also a motivator that tends to keep a child on the college path, said Swon.  When a family establishes a college fund, that child is three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate.

The innovative program puts Hamilton County on the cutting edge of helping students address college costs, she said.

“We are part of an elite group,” explained Swon.

Enhance Hamilton County is only one of four non-profit organizations in the nation that is funding a post secondary savings plan and it is the only one that is seeded by private funds, said Swon.

“What a wonderful program,” said Swon.  “It’s good for students to know that there’s a community behind them that supports them.  It gives them a chance to dream and hopefully return to Hamilton County.”

Presentations of the Availa Kare program are also scheduled at the Webster City and Stratford schools.

Availa Kares enrollment applications are available at Hamilton County schools and online at financialliteracycouncil.com