Washington's GET program continues to help families pay for college

SEATTLE -- With the cost of higher education continuing to rise, a program offered by the state hopes to help you pay for those expenses. It’s  called the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program. We talked with a family to see how it has benefited them.

When you think about paying for college, does it make you stressed out? If it does, experts say you need to take action now.

For Graydun Andrus, the moment when he realized he needed to save money came in 2001, when he said his son Galen was about 5 years old. Graydun found out about Washington's GET program.

“I’m totally glad I did. It’s one of the smarter things I’ve done. I’m not the best investor from a retirement point of view. But I think this turned out to be a great investment,” said Andrus.

GET is a state-backed college tuition program that helps families save for higher ed.

You put money in, and the state guarantees that it keeps pace with tuition in the state’s highest priced public university, a 529 plan that will grow tax free.

“Families can choose to use lump sum amounts over time. They can choose a large amount if you have some windfall, or they can choose small amounts if they have money available or for holidays. Or you can set monthly payments. It can come out of your paycheck as payroll deduction,” said Luke Minor, WA 529 director.

For Galen Andrus, he used the money to pay for tuition, books, and camera equipment at Seattle Central's two-year photography program. He now works for Zulily.

“I don’t think it set in until I started hearing from all my friends who had all this debt, " said Galen. “I felt very thankful for having that support.”

The GET program has been around now for 20 years, helping thousands of people pay for college, not just in our state.

“We've now had 53,000 students use over a billion dollars in benefits to cover higher education costs in the state's and states all over the country,” said Minor.

The GET plan is extremely flexible. Students can use it for almost all school related expenses.

“It can be tuition. It can be room and board. It can be books. A family gets to decide how they want to use those funds,” said Minor.

And it can be used in public, private, community or technical schools nationwide.

“We always say yesterday was the best day to start. But for families juggling priorities, raising kids that can come at any time. But obviously, the earlier the better,” said Minor.

According to Minor,  student debt is reaching $24,000 dollars on average for recent graduates.

So the time to get ahead is now.

“It’s nice to get rid of that burden, especially when you hear how large the debt is for so many people who graduate,” said Graydun.

The deadline to register for Washington's 529 plan, or GET program, is May 31. For more information, you can log onto www.get.wa.gov.