Illinois First Steps:
$50 to Help You Start Saving for College

As education costs continue to rise, it’s critical to begin saving early for your child’s future. Spark their college savings with a $50 seed deposit from Illinois First Steps. Children born or adopted on or after January 1, 2023, with parents who are residents of Illinois can receive the seed deposit through Bright Start or Bright Directions for their future college, technical, or apprenticeship education.

New Account Owners: Open Your Account & Claim Here

  • Sign up for a Bright Start account for your eligible child
  • Claim your $50 First Steps seed deposit
  • Start contributing to build additional funds in your Bright Start account
Open an Account

Existing Account Owners: Claim Here

  • Have an existing Bright Start account for your eligible child? (2023 newborn)
  • Click below to claim their $50 seed deposit
  • Keep contributing to your Bright Start account to build additional funds
Submit Claim

Who Is Eligible?

To qualify for a $50 seed deposit from Illinois First Steps, you must:

Live in Illinois

The parent or legal guardian must be a resident of Illinois at the time of birth or adoption.

Have a New Child in 2023

The child listed as the beneficiary of the Bright Start (or Bright Directions) account must be born or adopted on or after January 1, 2023.

Open a Bright Start 529 Account

To claim the funds, the parent or legal guardian of the 2023 newborn or adopted child must have a 529 college savings account with Bright Start or Bright Directions. (Visit with your financial advisor to open a Bright Directions 529 account.)

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Claim Today

Parents or legal guardians must claim the $50 seed deposit from Illinois First Steps before the child’s 10th birthday.

Learn More About Illinois First Steps

  • The cost of college keeps climbing: Over the last 20 years, college costs have risen over 134%.1 Saving early gives you more time to set aside money and help set up your child for success. Studies have shown that the act of saving can motivate a student. Having any amount saved in a dedicated college savings account increases the likelihood of a child pursuing education after high school.2 Higher education still matters and impacts your child’s future earning ability. The more advanced degree a student earns after high school, the more money they’re likely to earn based on median weekly earnings data.3
  • Illinois First Steps is a program designed to jump start college savings for new parents of an eligible child. The key features include:

    • The State of Illinois will provide a seed deposit of $50 for an eligible child, born or adopted on or after January 1, 2023, to a parent who is a resident of Illinois at the time of birth or adoption.
    • One Illinois First Steps $50 seed deposit may be claimed per eligible child.
    • The parent or legal guardian of the eligible child must claim the funds for the beneficiary before the beneficiary’s 10th birthday.
  • It’s easy — the parent or guardian of the eligible child would follow these simple steps:

    1. Open a Bright Start 529 college savings account.
    2. Name the eligible child as beneficiary of the account.
    3. Complete the simple claim form included in the new account set up process.
    4. That’s it! Illinois First Steps will then review and verify the information submitted to validate the claim.

    If you work with a financial advisor, they can assist you with opening an account and the claim process using the Illinois advisor-guided Bright Directions 529 Plan.

  • Bright Start account owners who meet the Illinois First Steps eligibility requirements can claim the $50 seed deposit for their new child by submitting the CLAIM FORM.
  • The State of Illinois will provide a seed deposit of $50 for every eligible child, born or adopted on or after January 1, 2023. The seed deposits can be claimed for all eligible children of parents residing in Illinois at the time of the child’s birth or adoption. Children born to Illinois resident parents who give birth to a child outside Illinois (such as a family residing in Metro East who elects to give birth at a hospital in Saint Louis, Missouri) will be eligible for the program. Only one Illinois First Steps $50 seed deposit may be claimed per eligible child.
  • Once a parent submits a claim for the seed deposit, the information will be verified against birth records and information from the Illinois Department of Public Health and Illinois Department of Revenue records. If the claim is verified, the seed deposit will be made within 60-90 days following the current quarter end. The funds will be held in an omnibus account owned and administered by the Illinois State Treasurer.
  • Absolutely. Illinois First Steps is designed as a pledge to help you get started. After the $50 seed deposit, the rest of your college savings contributions to your Bright Start account are up to you. You can make contributions at any time or set up an automatic investing plan for recurring deposits or even invite family and friends to make contributions to your Bright Start account.
  • The beneficiary will be able to spend their seed funds — including any potential net earnings and interest — on qualified higher education expenses4 as identified by Illinois (does not include K-12 expenses) once they complete high school or turn 18 years of age. To use the funds, they must be a resident of Illinois but may use the funds at qualified colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs anywhere in the United States and at some institutions abroad.
  • Bright Directions account owners who meet the Illinois First Steps eligibility requirements can claim the $50 seed deposit for their new child. Contact your advisor to establish an account and make your claim.
  • You can open a Bright Start account and start saving. Any adult age 18+ with a U.S. address and a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) can open a Bright Start 529 College Savings account or can work with a financial advisor to establish a Bright Directions account. Bright Start and Bright Directions offer tax advantages for Illinois taxpayers looking to save for college. Bright Start and Bright Directions have consistently earned high ratings in their respective categories. With low costs, solid investment funds, and plan design flexibility, the plans have attracted investors from across the nation.
See All FAQs

1 Kerr, E. & Wood, S. (2022, September). Look at College Tuition Growth Over 20 Years (U.S. News and World Report).

2 Elliott, W., III, Song, H-a., & Nam, I. (2013, March). Relationships between college savings and enrollment, graduation, and student loan debt (CSD Research Brief No. 13-09). St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.

3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Economic News Release (3rd Quarter 2022 Averages — October 18, 2022).

4 Withdrawals used to pay for Illinois Qualified Expenses are free from federal and Illinois state income tax. Illinois Qualified Expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance; certain room and board expenses incurred by students who are enrolled at least half-time; the purchase of computer or peripheral equipment, computer software, or Internet access and related services, if used primarily by the beneficiary during any of the years the beneficiary is enrolled at an eligible educational institution; certain expenses for special needs services needed by a special needs beneficiary; apprenticeship program expenses; and, repayment of up to $10,000 of qualified education loans.

Bright Start Resources

529 Plan Basics

Learn the ins and outs of a 529 college savings account, proven over time to be an effective way of saving for future education.

Benefits of a 529 Plan

Explore how low fees, flexible contributions and quality investment options make saving with Bright Start an easy choice.

How Much Do I Need to Save?

See how planning ahead and saving over the long haul can help you set your student up for success.