Illinois
  First Steps - Bright Start and Bright Directions

Illinois First Steps:

$50 to Help You Start Saving for College

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.

Open a Bright Start account to claim your $50 seed deposit and add your own contributions.

Get Started with BrightStart

If you work with a financial advisor contact them to establish a Bright Directions account to claim your $50 seed deposit.

Learn more about Bright Directions

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.)

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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.

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.

The Illinois 529 college savings plans are Bright Start (for individuals who manage their own account) and Bright Directions (for account owners who work with a financial advisor).

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?

Open a Bright Start account to claim your $50 seed deposit and add your own contributions.

Get Started with BrightStart

If you work with a financial advisor contact them to establish a Bright Directions account to claim your $50 seed deposit.

Learn more about Bright Directions

Illinois First Steps Annual Report

Read the most recent Illinois First Steps annual report here

Annual Report annual report