529 College Savings Plans

Given the high cost of higher education, it is advisable to start saving for it when your child is still learning their ABCs rather than when they are preparing for their SATs. Some excellent financial incentives are provided by 529 plans.

What is 529 Plans ?

One of the most crucial things you can do as a parent is to invest in your child's education. That can be done quickly and with some tax benefits by using a 529 plan.

A tax-advantaged savings plan called a 529 is intended to promote saving for future educational expenses. Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code permits 529 plans, often known as "qualified tuition plans," which are sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions.

Tax-free investment growth and withdrawals are available through a 529 plan for eligible educational costs. These tax benefits, as well as compounded returns and a tax deduction on contributions, are available to parents who start saving in a 529 account when their children are small.

A type of savings and investment account known as a 529 plan allows money to grow tax-free as long as withdrawals are used for approved educational costs.

A state-sponsored investment program is a 529 college savings plan. Almost every kind of college expense can be paid for using money that you can withdraw tax-free. Additional state or federal tax advantages could be provided by 529 programs. There are no unforeseen charges or penalties if the money you are withdrawing is for educational costs. This is the most adaptable and cost-effective savings option for the majority of families.

529 plans, which were initially designed for post secondary education, can now be used for K–12 schooling expenses. Since the SECURE Act's enactment in December 2019, they can also be used to pay down student loans. Education savings plans and prepaid tuition plans are the two main categories of 529 plans. A beneficiary of a 529 account can be anyone, however they are often opened by parents or grandparents on behalf of a kid or grandchild. The person who funds the account can be qualified for a state tax deduction in some states for their contributions.

Key Facts of 529 College Savings Plans

  • You can save for college tax-advantageously with a 529 plan. These programs are provided by the states, some of which also provide additional tax advantages.
  • Qualified tuition programs and Section 529 plans are other names for 529 plans.
  • Tax-free investment growth and withdrawals are available through 529 plans for eligible educational costs.
  • The 529 plan in your home state can be the greatest option for investing, especially if you'll benefit from a tax advantage.
  • A 529 plan can be opened directly from the plan, through a broker, or with the help of another financial advisor.
  • The District of Columbia, together with the 50 states, sponsor and manage 529 schemes.
  • States may have different 529 plan regulations and costs.

How Does the 529 Plans Works ?

When Congress passed the Small Business Job Protection Act in 1996, everything was altered. This act included a provision that led to the creation of Section 529 college accounts. With these accounts, parents can save money for college while receiving alluring tax benefits, and they can continue to have permanent control over the assets.

On the allowance of tax or other credits for donations, these 529 plans will differ by state. Some states, like Kansas and Missouri, will allow a tax deduction for contributions made to any 529 plan, regardless of location, although they may have a cap on the overall amount of the deduction. The amount of donations made to other states' 529 programs is deductible, including Colorado and South Carolina.

Although there are numerous advantages to these plans, there are some important considerations when looking into 529 plans to help with college savings.

Until it is withdrawn, the money in a 529 plan grows tax-deferred. Furthermore, the withdrawals are not subject to state or federal taxes as long as they are spent for eligible educational costs as defined by the IRS. Additionally, contributions may be tax deductible in some states.

For K–12 students, the annual maximum for tax-free withdrawals is $10,000. You should carefully review the terms of any 529 plan to understand the exact tax benefits to which you may or may not be entitled because tax benefits differ by state.

Prepaid tuition programs and education savings plans are the two categories of 529 plans. At least one form of 529 plan is sponsored by each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia. A prepaid tuition program is being run by a number of private colleges and institutions.

Who is Eligible for 529 College Savings Plans ?

In contrast to other savings options like Roth IRAs, Section 529 plans have significantly more lenient eligibility requirements. Regardless of income, anyone can donate to a Section 529 plan, but, they should be mindful of U.S. gift tax restrictions and understand how bigger gifts may impact their ultimate estate taxation.

A 529 plan can be used to save for education by people of any age. In actuality, you could be the account beneficiary. Even if you're not enrolled full-time, you can utilize 529 assets to cover tuition costs if your preferred school is eligible.

There are no income limitations on accounts in 529 plans. You must be a US resident, at least 18 years old, have a legal and mailing address in the US, as well as a Social Security number or Tax ID, in order to open the 529 plans account.

529 Plans Distributions

The parent or account owner must choose a beneficiary when starting a Section 529 account. Typically, the student who will eventually attend college is the "designated beneficiary."

There is no tax on the growth of the initial investment when distributions are paid from the account for this beneficiary's eligible educational costs. Tuition, fees, books, materials, and equipment that the educational institution demands for enrollment are some examples of educational expenses.

The growth of the dispersed investments will be subject to federal income tax and may also be subject to a 10% penalty if any distributions from the account are determined to be non-qualified, i.e., the funds were used for non-educational purposes.

529 Plans Ownership Flexibility

The parent or account owner has the option to change the beneficiary if the intended recipient does not enroll in college or if funds are left unused. Any immediate family member or the descendants of the original beneficiary may be named as the beneficiary under the highly lenient IRS regulations.

Transferability Rules for 529 Plans

The federal tax code specifies transfer-ability regulations for 529 programs (Section 529).

If a beneficiary changes, the owner (usually you) can only move to a different 529 plan once a year. To change beneficiaries, you do not have to alter your plans. Another family member who meets the following criteria is eligible to receive the plan:
  • Son, stepchild, daughter, adopted child, foster child or a descendant of any of them.
  • Sister, brother, stepbrother or stepsister.
  • Father, mother or ancestor of either.
  • Stepmother or Stepfather.
  • Daughter or son of a brother or sister.
  • Brother or sister of father or mother.
  • Daughter-in-law, Son-in-law,, father-in-law, brother-in-law, mother-in-law or sister-in-law.
  • The spouse of any individual listed above.
  • First cousin.
Although you are not required to invest in the 529 plan offered by your state, doing so could result in tax benefits. Check out that strategy first, please.

Effects on Financial Aid Eligibility

Since a Section 529 plan is typically regarded as a parent's asset, 5.6% of its value is anticipated to be spent for college expenses. Compared to UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts, which demand that 20% of the assets be used for college, this offers a considerable advantage.

Section 529 Providers

The 529 plans offered by the various states vary slightly, and many of them employ various investment managers to handle the assets of the funds. Your available investment alternatives are typically restricted to the mutual funds provided by each distinct plan. Even while you can often utilize any plan to attend college in any state, you should find out if any state income tax benefits might be available to you.

What are the Types of 529 Plans ?

The two main types of 529 plans have some significant differences.

1) Education Savings Plans :
The most prevalent kind are 529 college savings programs. Education savings plans grow tax-deferred, and if withdrawals are utilized for qualified educational costs, they are tax-free. Investments can be used to cover costs associated with higher education, such as tuition, room and board, and necessary textbooks, and they can also grow tax-free.

2) Prepaid Tuition Plans :
You can prepay all or a portion of an in-state public tuition through 529 prepaid plans, which locks in the price at the time of payment. The owner of a prepaid tuition plan is able to pay the current tuition rates for future enrollment at specific schools and institutions. This implies that you may probably lock in a reduced cost of attending college.

What Are Qualified Expenses for 529 Plan ?

A 529 plan is a type of investment account that provides tax advantages when used to cover the costs of a designated beneficiary's eligible higher education. A 529 plan can be used to pay for apprenticeship programs, college, K-12 tuition, and student debt repayment. Savings from 529 plans could previously only be applied to eligible educational costs at institutes of higher education. The following are qualified costs for a 529 plan :
  • College, graduate or vocational school tuition and fees
  • Elementary or secondary school (K-12) tuition and fees
  • Books and school supplies
  • Campus food and meal plans
  • Student loan payments
  • Off-campus housing
  • Special needs and accessibility equipment for students
  • Computers, Internet, and software used for schoolwork (student attendance required)

How Much is the 529 College Savings Plans ?

Up to $10,000 in distributions from a 529 plan may be used by the recipient to pay down qualifying student loans. For each beneficiary's sibling's eligible student loans, an extra $10,000 may be applied. The $10,000 lifetime cap does not apply to annual limits.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act expanded the usage of 529 plans to include up to $10,000 per student each year for private K–12 education.

But as of 2021, not all American states had adapted to the new tax regulations. You risk incurring tax penalties if you use the money for private K–12 education if your state hasn't allowed 529 accounts to be used for this purpose.

How Much Does a 529 Plan Cost?

A one-time account establishment fee is frequently levied by states for 529 plans. The least expensive of them has cost as little as $25 (in Florida) and as much as $964 (in West Virginia). Furthermore, if you purchased your 529 plan through a broker or advisor, you may have to pay them a fee of up to 5% or more on the assets they manage.

There may be recurring fees for the various investments and funds you have in your 529. To keep management fees down, look for inexpensive mutual funds and ETFs.

529 Plan Contribution Limits

According to the IRS, "contributions cannot exceed the amount necessary to compensate for the beneficiary's eligible educational expenses." As a result, unlike other tax-advantaged funds like Roth and regular IRAs, 529 plans do not have predetermined contribution limits that must be adhered to by participants. Most states do set restrictions ranging from $235,000 to $529,000 per year.

If you designate more than the gift tax exclusion ($16,000 for 2022) for any one beneficiary in a tax year, contributions may result in gift tax implications. Since they are unlikely to need to contribute so much annually to reach their savings goals, the vast majority of people do not need to be concerned about this.

529 College Savings Calculator

This 529 college savings calculator and a calculator for estimating college costs are combined in this tool. Enter your child's age, the kind of college you're saving for, and your household income into this college and 529 plan calculator to get a tailored prediction of your future college expenditures.

This 529 college savings plan calculator can help you determine how much money you should set aside for education. You can change the monthly contribution to see how much your savings will pay overall college expenditures and how much your monthly contributions will grow over time.

529 Plans Rules

1) Although 529 plans are sponsored by states, you can choose one from any state :
Every state has at least one 529 plan available. Your plan's sponsoring state has no bearing on where your child can attend school; students may utilize the funds to attend an accredited institution in any state. The exception to this rule is a certain category of 529 plan known as a prepaid plan, which, as its name suggests, allows you to prepay tuition at an in-state, public college, locking in the cost in today's currency and at current tuition rates.

2) The funds in the account remains its owner's property :
Contrary to custodial accounts and other college savings options, 529 plans permit the funds to stay in the account owner's possession, allowing for unlimited withdrawals. Even when they reach the age of majority, which varies by state and ranges from 18 to 21, the beneficiary has no control over the money in the account.

3) Strict restrictions apply to qualified distribution :
A 529 plan is especially designed for eligible school expenses, but that category also covers fees, room and board, textbooks, laptops, and "peripheral equipment" in addition to tuition. Private or religious elementary, middle, and high school tuition can also be covered by a 529 plan. Withdrawals made for unlawful motives shall be penalized, Ordinary income taxes plus a 10% penalty are applied to earnings that are withheld for non-qualified expenses. The principal is not subject to any penalties.
529 plans will be the obvious choice for college savings for many families. The majority of programs provide age-specific investing options that automatically re-balance, taking on greater risk when your child is young and less as they get closer to college age. You can open a 529 plan on your state's website directly, through some internet brokers, or both.

Tax Benefits of 529 Plans

Federal and state income taxes are not applied to withdrawals from a 529 plan as long as the funds are used for eligible educational costs.

With the exception of withdrawals made in specified situations, such death or disability, which are not subject to taxes and a 10% penalty.

You cannot deduct your contributions to a 529 plan from your federal income taxes. However, more than 30 states offer tax breaks or credits for contributions to 529 plans in various amounts.

Generally speaking, if you desire a state tax credit or deduction, you must contribute to the plan in your home state. Some states will enable you to invest in their plans as a nonresident if you're ready to give up a tax incentive.

How to Open a 529 Plan ?

Direct accounts with states can be opened for 529 plans. As an alternative, numerous brokers and financial consultants provide 529 plans. They can assist you in selecting a plan from a variety offered around the nation.

It's simple to start a college savings plan. A direct-sold 529 plan can be opened by filling out an application on the plan's website. Compared to advisor-sold plans, direct-sold plans have cheaper fees, but the account owner must choose the investments. 529 programs sold by advisors are only accessible through regulated financial advisors.

Finding assistance with a 529 plan is something you can do in a few different ways.

Consider reasonable prices, outstanding benefits, and a proven track record of investment performance while searching for the best plans. Here are a few of the top 529 plans on the market.

If you choose to invest directly with a state plan, you will be responsible for overseeing every step of the process, including registration, investment research, and plan monitoring. However, a broker who can set you up with one of numerous state plans can also help you start a 529 plan. With this approach, you could also be able to consult a financial expert who can help you set up the plan and manage it over time.

Finally, you may always seek the advice of a trained financial advisor, who can help you select the finest investments and the state plan that best suits your goals. Find a planner with expertise in 529 plans particularly, especially one who is a fee-only advisor.

There are other odd ways to save money, some of which may even result in tax benefits, aside from a 529 plan, which is not the only way to pay for college.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a 529 Plan, Exactly?
A tax-advantaged savings program called a 529 plan is intended to help with education costs. It was initially only intended to cover post secondary education expenditures, but in 2017 and 2019 it was also made available for K–12 education and apprenticeship programs. Savings plans and prepaid tuition plans are the two main categories of 529 plans.

Which states have 529 college savings plans available?
Except for Wyoming, every state provides a 529 college savings plan.

Are You Limited to Using the 529 Plan in Your State?
You are not required to use the 529 savings alternatives offered by your home state. States are the only entities that provide prepaid tuition programs, however eligible 529 savings plans are provided by private financial institutions and college alliances.

Can I invest outside of my state in 529 plans?
Any 529 plan from any state is available for investment. However, check to see if the plan provides any additional in-state benefits for the state where you or your beneficiary reside before making an investment.

Can a 529 plan be used at schools outside of my plan’s state?
Assets from the plan may be used at any institution that is eligible for financial help, both domestically and overseas. K–12, two- and four-year colleges, graduate programs (such as law and medicine), and vocational and technical schools are all included.

Is there an earnings limit to investing in a 529 plan?
A 529 plan has no income restrictions. In fact, an account owner can use up to five years of yearly gift tax exclusion from a single lump sum payment in a single year through "accelerated gifting" without paying gift tax. 1 Contribution funding restrictions, however, are unique to each plan and are set by them.

Are 529 plans just for children?
A 529 plan can be used to save for education by people of any age. In actuality, you could be the account beneficiary. Even if you're not enrolled full-time, you can utilize 529 assets to cover tuition costs if your preferred school is qualified.

If my child doesn't enroll in college, will I still be able to access the funds I've put into my 529 plan?

No, there is never a third party who controls a 529 account. If your child decides against attending college, you can:
  • Select another family member who qualifies to receive benefits (subject to plan rules).
  • Use the money for your own, legally required education costs.
  • Unqualified withdrawals should be made.

Will I lose the money I've put into my 529 plan if my child earns a scholarship?
If a beneficiary is awarded a scholarship, assets from a 529 plan may be returned to the account owner up to the scholarship's full value. Despite the fact that this is considered a non-qualified withdrawal, the 10% federal penalty won't apply in this case. However, all federal, state, and local income taxes will be due on earnings. Alternately, you can switch the beneficiary to a different eligible family member.

Who is qualify to buy a 529 plan account?
There aren't any restrictions on who can be the account owner or beneficiary of a 529 plan, with a few exceptions.
3 Almost anyone can own an account, including parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and acquaintances. Account owners may also include trusts, corporations, and custodial accounts with legitimate Tax ID numbers.

Who may make contributions to a 529 plan?
Most 529 plans allow for contributions from anybody. Each account may only have one owner, however other members of the family or even friends may make contributions.

Who Retains Ownership of a 529 Plan?
Technically speaking, a 529 plan is a custodial account. Therefore, the money will be managed by an adult custodian for the benefit of a juvenile. Once the recipient reaches the age of 18, they can take management of the 529. The money must still be utilized for acceptable educational costs, though.

How Should I Pick a 529 Plan?
There is at least one 529 plan accessible in almost every state, but you are not required to use the one in your home state. Depending on the account owner's risk appetite and time horizon, each 529 plan offers investment portfolios. Depending on how well the investment option you choose performs, the value of your account could increase or decrease. Prior to making an investment, it's crucial to think about your investment goals and weigh your possibilities.

Can I pay my rent with a 529 plan?
If a student is enrolled at least half-time, which most colleges and universities define as at least six credit hours per term, room and board are indeed regarded as eligible expenses. Qualified room and board costs for on-campus residents are limited to what the college charges for room and board. The amount of eligible room and board costs for students living off-campus is capped at the college's "cost of attendance" statistics. For additional information, get in touch with your financial aid office.

Who may receive 529 plan benefits?
A beneficiary can be any person, regardless of age, who has a Social Security or Tax ID number. Even the individual who creates the account might serve as the beneficiary.

Which advantages come with a 529 plan?
Several significant ways that a 529 college savings plan can aid with the cost of a college education include:
  • You can use it to save money for college costs.
  • You can withdraw money tax-free to cover certain expenses.
  • The minimum donation is little.