Learning about 529 plans

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Over the last week or so, I have started reading up on 529 plans. For those of you who don’t know, 529s are tax advantaged accounts for college savings. There are lots of details available, but essentially it is the college savings equivalent of the Roth IRA. You contribute after-tax dollars into the account and, when used for qualified expenses, you can withdraw the principal and interest tax-free. Additionally, many states offer a state tax deduction to residents who contribute to their state’s sponsored plan.

In addition to the tax benefits, another attractive feature of the plans is that the account is considered the property of the account owner, not the beneficiary. There is some comfort if you are a parent in knowing that in the case that your child is fiscally irresponsible, they will not have unrestricted access the money you have saved over the years. Another advantage to this arrangement is that when applying for financial aid the student’s assets are weighted much more heavily than the parents’ assets when calculating the expected family contribution.

Even with the advantages, there were still some unanswered questions in my mind, but research has put my mind at ease:

  1. What if my child doesn’t go to college? If the child doesn’t go to college, the funds can be withdrawn as a non-qualified distribution in which the earnings would be subject to income tax as well as a 10% penalty. However, you are allowed to change the named beneficiary on the account in hopes another child will be able to use the funds.
  2. What if my child gets a scholarship? If your child gets a scholarship, you are allowed to make a withdrawal from the account up to the amount of the scholarship without penalty. However, the earnings are still subject to income tax.
  3. So what are “qualified expenses”? Qualified expenses generally include:
    • tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the enrollment or attendance of a designated beneficiary at an eligible educational institution;
    • room and board for students who are at least half-time; reasonable costs incurred for room and board while attending an eligible educational institution not to exceed the allowance for room and board included in the cost of attendance as determined by the eligible educational institution or, if greater, the actual invoice amount the student residing in housing owned or operated by the eligible educational institution is charged for room and board costs; and
    • expenses for special needs services in the case of a special needs beneficiary
    • which are incurred in connection with such enrollment or attendance.
  4. Where can I get more information on 529 plans? Try these links:

June 4, 2007 - Posted by | College Savings

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