Facts about 529 Plans

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Should I use a 529 plan to save for college?

Getting the Facts Straight about 529 Plans

As many of us are sending our children back to school this month, I thought it would be a good time to clear up some misconceptions about 529 savings plans. A 529 savings plan is an investment program offered by each state. It offers tax-free growth on money invested to pay for education expenses. Here are some common questions that arise regarding these savings plans:

Do I lose the money if my child doesn’t go to college? You will always have access access to the money in your 529 account. If withdrawn for anything other than qualified expenses, you will be subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty on the earnings. The account is funded with after-tax money, so the principal isn’t subject to taxes or the penalty. For example, let’s say you withdraw $10,000 from your plan and $8,000 is principal and $2,000 is earnings. If the money is used for anything other than an educational expense, $2000 is subject to taxes and penalty. If your child doesn’t need the money for education, you can also change the beneficiary to another family member or fund your own continuing education. There are no tax consequences or penalty to change the beneficiary.

What qualifies for an educational expense? A qualifying expense doesn’t have to be tuition or fees to a 4-year college. It could also be used for community college, graduate school, eligible vocational or trade schools, or adult continuing education classes. Funds can also be used for off campus housing, books and supplies, and computers. This year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has expanded qualified expenses to distribute up to $10,000 per student to cover elementary or secondary schools.

What if my child gets a scholarship? You will be exempt from the 10% penalty on withdrawals up to the amount of the scholarship. You will still be subject to income taxes on the earnings. An exemption of the penalty is also applied if the beneficiary dies or becomes disabled, or decides to attend a U.S. Military Academy.

Do I have to use my home state’s plan or choose a school in my home state? You are not limited to using your home state’s plan, but there may be tax advantages. Some states offer a state tax deductions for 529 contributions if you make them to a plan in your home state. Your child can attend any eligible school regardless of where the plan is set up.

Will a 529 plan affect my child’s chances of receiving financial aid? Financial aid eligibility can vary depending on the institution, but it will have some impact. Since the account will be considered assets of the owner of the account and not the child, the impact will be small. An asset of a parent will reduce your eligibility by up to 5.64% of the value of the account. If the account were in the child’s name, it would be reduced by 20% of the value of the account. Also, the distributions will not be counted as income to your child for financial aid purposes.

With education expenses continuing to outpace inflation, a 529 plan can be a valuable tool to help cover the costs. A great resource for researching the different plans available is www.savingforcollege.com. If you are still unsure, reach out and I can help you determine the best way to save for your family’s education expenses.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual, nor intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific tax issues with a qualified tax advisor.

 Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member of FINRA/SIPC and investment advice offered through Stratos Wealth Partners Ltd., a Registered Investment Advisor. Stratos Wealth Partners, Ltd. and Lob Planning Group are separate entities from LPL Financial.

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