In a recent letter to SEC Chairman William Donaldson, House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) urged the chief securities regulator to consider revamping the structure of 529 plans. Oxley said he is particularly concerned with "the lack of consistent transparency of fees and performance, the oversight of the plans and reports that high fees may effectively eliminate the plans' tax benefits."

Exacerbating his concerns are reports that the director of one the nation's top-ranked 529 plans, the Utah Educational Savings Plan Trust, embezzled money from the plan's administrative funds. The director, Dale Hatch, was fired earlier this month after an internal audit uncovered "questionable transactions." The audit was prompted after several employees raised concerns two weeks prior to his dismissal. Mark Spencer, the authority's acting executive director, has assumed responsibility for the plan in the interim.

In February, Donaldson established a special task force to address these concerns and formulated a series of guidelines for plan sponsors to adhere to following a hearing before the Capital Markets Subcommittee. While Oxley applauded Donaldson's efforts, he further urged the Commission staff to ensure that investors actually benefit from the improvements proposed by these guidelines.

He stressed the importance of revamping the fee structure to include a standardized methodology for calculating fees and performance along with a detailed description of fees and performance in both dollar amounts and percentages.

Oxley also called for the elimination of discrimination against investors who choose out-of-state plans by not providing tax exemptions for contributions and withdrawals.

Copyright 2004 Thomson Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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