Illinois First Steps is a college savings starter program established in 2023 that provides a one-time $50 seed deposit into the 529 college savings account of children born or adopted to Illinois residents.
Illinois First Steps is administered by the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer and was established by the Illinois General Assembly to help Illinois families start saving for the rising costs of higher education and training.
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
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 child born or adopted on or after January 1, 2023, 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.)
Parents or legal guardians must claim the $50 seed deposit from Illinois First Steps before the child’s 10th birthday.
How does it work?
The State of Illinois will provide a seed deposit of $50 to a Bright Start or Bright Directions 529 College Savings account for every eligible child, born or adopted on or after January 1, 2023, to a parent who was an Illinois resident at the time of birth. There is no minimum deposit required to open a Bright Start or Bright Directions 529 account.
Only one Illinois First Steps $50 seed deposit may be claimed per eligible child.
How do I get started?
It’s easy — the parent or guardian of the eligible child needs to open an Illinois-sponsored 529 college savings account with Bright Start or Bright Directions (see below for more information) and submit a claim for the $50 seed deposit during the enrollment process.
That’s it! Illinois First Steps will then review and verify the information submitted to validate the claim. You can expect to see the $50 seed deposit in your Bright Start or Bright Directions account 60-90 days after the end of the quarter in which a claim was made.
Once opened, you can use your Bright Start and Bright Directions account to save what you can, when you can for future education. Friends and family can also contribute to the account.
What is a 529 account?
A 529 college savings plan is a state-sponsored, tax-advantaged investment plan that enables you to save money for a beneficiary’s future education expenses. Funds can be used to cover a wide range of qualified education expenses at universities, community colleges, trade schools and apprenticeships nationwide.
What are the differences between Bright Start and Bright Directions?
Bright Start and Bright Directions are both Illinois-sponsored 529 college savings plans.
A Bright Start account can be opened by individual investors.
A Bright Directions account can only be opened through a financial advisor.
Both Bright Start and Bright Directions offer low cost, high-quality investment options and both enjoy attractive Illinois and federal income tax benefits.
Ready to learn more or get started?
Illinois First Steps Annual Report
Read the most recent Illinois First Steps annual report hereAnnual Report annual report
The Bright Start Direct-Sold College Savings Program and Bright Directions Advisor-Guided College Savings Program are sponsored by the State of Illinois and administered by the Illinois State Treasurer, as Trustee. Union Bank and Trust Company serves as Program Manager, and Northern Trust Securities, Inc. serves as Distributor for Bright Directions. Balances in your Bright Start and Bright Directions accounts are not guaranteed or insured by the Programs, the State of Illinois, the Illinois State Treasurer, any other state or federal agency, Union Bank and Trust Company or any of its affiliates, Northern Trust Securities, Inc. or any of its affiliates, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (except as provided in the Program Disclosure Statements solely with respect to the FDIC-insured Bank Savings Underlying Investment), or any other entity.
An investor should consider the investment objectives, risks, and charges and expenses before investing. This and other important information is contained in the Program Disclosure Statements which can be obtained online and should be read carefully before investing. You can lose money by investing in a portfolio. Each of the portfolios involves investment risks, which are described in the Program Disclosure Statements. Before you invest, consider whether your or the beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other benefits such as financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors that are only available for investments in that state’s 529 plan.