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College savings: beyond the 529

Plus: Answers to reader mail on diversifying your investments, getting your credit score and reporting structural damages.

By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK ( -- QUESTION: We have some money set aside for our 18-month old son which we would like to invest for him. Other than a 529 plan, what other investments would you suggest? - Lynn, CA

Aside from 529 plans (which have their own pros and cons), you may also consider an education savings account that will let you sock away money tax-free. While the annual contribution limit is low - at $2,000 a year - you can use the money for other expenses, like private school or books.

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You can also open a custodial account for your child, putting money into a UTMA, says Doug Flynn of Flynn Zito Capital Management. That stands for a Uniform Transfer to Minors Act. The money can be used in any way that is for the well-being for the child.

Since the money will be in little Johnny's name, you'll have to pay a kiddie tax. And once your child is old enough, they can do whatever they want with it...but until then, you can decide how the funds are handled. You can open up an Education Savings Account or a custodial account at any bank or mutual fund company.

QUESTION: I requested a copy of my credit report to assure there are no errors in it and I didn't see my credit score on it. How do I get my actual credit score? - S. Brown, Charlotte, NC

The credit bureaus don't post your actual credit score on your report. You're gonna have to pony up some cash for that privilege.

Your best bet will be to go to Equifax to get your FICO score for about $7.95. You can call 1-877-score-11. Or go to, and click on the learning center.

While Experian and Transunion will sell you your score, they generally use different scoring models than FICO. But hey - if you're not looking to be THAT precise, get an estimate of your FICO score at Click on Calculators and find the link to your score.

QUESTION: My town home is built on a slab of concrete, and there is a low spot on the floor, which means the slab is cracked. If I bring this to the attention of the assessor, and get a lower tax bill, will this affect anything when I go to sell the place? Would the potential buyer be able to see that I reported a cracked foundation? --Sean, Illinois

Yes. By law in most states, major structural defects have to be disclosed in early stages of home buying, according to Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union. Since you have to report this kind of structural damage when you sell the house anyway, you may as well lower your tax payments while you're living there.

Since a cracked foundation is a very serious problem, you could get hundreds of dollars off your tax bill. Of course, you want to make sure it IS a cracked foundation before you go raising any flags. That is a big deal.

QUESTION: Is it a good idea to diversify your money/investments between multiple institutions? For instance, should you open an IRA, annuity and brokerage account in different institutions? How safe is it if you put all your money into one place? - Lily

It's safe. First, Congress created the Securities Investment Protection Corporation to protect your assets if your brokerage fails or files chapter 11. Plus, if you have an advisor you like, you'll want one person to have a sense of your whole financial pictures, says Flynn.

Having your investments spread out may mean more paperwork and more that you have to keep track of. However, just because there's no risk in keeping your money in one institution, that doesn't mean you're getting the best deals on your investments either, says Greg McBride of

You may find a lower cost brokerage service online. Perhaps you think the best place for your annuity is a particular insurance provider. Sometimes diversifying can help you find the best price for each product.


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Gerri's Mailbox: Got questions about your money? We want to hear them! Send e-mails to or click here - each week, we'll answer questions on CNN, Headline News and

Are you paying off major debts? Or have you already paid off loans that loomed large over your household? If you'd like to share your story for an upcoming article, e-mail George Mannes at  Top of page

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