The Rzepka Family Story
“It Is Up to You and Your Family to Give the Next Generation a Bright Start”
The Rzepkas have turned saving for college into a family affair with multiple generations working together to give the gift of higher education.
Before his grandchildren were even born, Jerry Rzepka had high hopes for what they would be when they grew up. The proud grandfather dreamed of all the opportunities waiting for them and imagined how he could help them along the way. When his daughter, Amy Krass, was pregnant with her first child, Jerry turned his thoughts into actions and began researching college savings plans. It didn’t take long for him to find Illinois’ Bright Start 529 College Savings Plan and encourage his daughter to open an account.
“I compared them to other 529 plans across the country, and Bright Start stood out,” he said. “If there is something better out there than Bright Start, believe me, we would be pursuing it. I’ve done my research and I haven’t found anything as comprehensively good as Bright Start.”
Today, his grandkids, Benjamin (8) and Samantha (6), each have their own Bright Start account and the support of their entire family helping them save. While the grandkids aren’t sure yet if they want to be teachers, video game creators, or even work at the zoo, they do know they have a college savings fund ready to help them achieve their dream.
Getting the Whole Family Involved
For many parents, saving for college can feel like a burden they need to take on themselves. Jerry never wanted his daughters to feel that way and has always encouraged the entire family to help save when they can. For holidays, Benjamin and Samantha still get toys from their aunts, uncles, and grandparents, but the present also comes with a contribution to their Bright Start accounts.
“We’ve all committed ourselves to the next generation’s future — me, my wife, and my daughters,” Jerry said. “I almost see this as my new vocation. Besides just being a grandpa and having fun with them, I’m also helping instill the value of learning and education in our kids. There’s no greater gift than that.”
For Amy, the support of her family is more than just the savings. It’s also reassured her that she made the right decision to save for college.
“When you have people supporting you and getting behind an idea, it helps remove any doubt,” she said. “Clearly this is a good thing, but I think practically speaking, everyone’s busy and pulled in a lot of directions and have things they could be setting aside money for. So when your family or friends are thinking along the same line and supporting you, it takes that question mark away.”
Besides just being a grandpa and having fun with them, I’m also helping instill the value of learning and education in our kids. There’s no greater gift than that.
Saving in a Highly Rated Plan
As a retired college professor, Jerry values research and data. When he began looking into college savings options, he turned to Morningstar, Inc. as a guide. Each year, Morningstar independently evaluates and rates college savings plans. Since 2017, Bright Start has received a Gold rating, placing the plan among the best in the nation.
“The Morningstar ratings were really impressive,” Jerry said. “I genuinely think Bright Start is one of the best programs in the country. Of course, Morningstar certainly agreed and that puts me at ease.”
Getting Started and Continuing to Save is Easy
Once her children had Social Security numbers, Amy opened Bright Start accounts for Benjamin and Samantha. Even while adjusting to life with a newborn, Amy said opening an account was easy, and she didn’t need to invest a large sum to get started. Since then, she’s been able to keep up with their savings by taking advantage of Bright Start’s automatic monthly contribution feature and by checking the college savings calculator to make sure she’s on track. The best part: Amy’s been able to do it all from her computer without having to put in extra time.
“It truly has been easy to use since setting up the account,” she said. “From the administrative pieces like logging in, all the way through to being able to quickly see — in an easy-to-interpret way — the performance of the account and all of that key information. Once you get it set up, it will all flow. Being a busy parent, that’s really valuable.”
Most importantly, Amy and Jerry have both been impressed with how their contributions have started to add up over the years. Thanks to the full family effort, they’re hopeful the kids will be able to attend college with little to no student loan debt. As he reflects on the success of their strategy, Jerry says he would encourage others to get started, too.
“This is one way to give your child more direction toward a brighter future,” he said. “It’s one of the best things you can give your kids or grandkids. Give them a head start on their future.”