If you find yourself intimidated by the ever-rising price of higher education, then a 529 plan might be a key component in saving for a college education. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged way to save for college and pay for education expenses. Unlike some other savings vehicles, a 529 plan may allow you to make sizeable contributions. The funds may generally be used for any qualified college or education expense, including tuition, room, board, fees, books, supplies, and equipment. Tax benefits may be subject to certain restrictions.
Money in a 529 plan grows tax deferred. And you may be able to withdraw the money without having to pay federal and state income taxes-depending on the plan and where you live-as long as it's used to pay for qualified, education expenses.1 If the money from 529 plans is used for other purposes, the earnings portion of a withdrawal is subject to ordinary federal income tax, an additional 10% federal tax, and any applicable state income taxes. 529 plans may also affect a student's eligibility for financial aid.
Types of 529 PlansAlthough many details of 529 plans vary by state, they generally come in two forms:
College savings plansAllow you to invest your money in an account to pay for the student's education expenses. Students can use the funds for qualified expenses at accredited institutions in the U.S. and abroad.
Prepaid tuition plansAllow you to lock in tuition rates at eligible colleges or universities with a lump-sum investment or monthly payments. In other words, since you are paying in advance, you may be avoiding potential tuition inflation down the road.
Gift Tax and Estate Tax BenefitsUnder the gift tax exclusion, you can gift up to $15,0000 ($30,000 for married couples) annually2 per beneficiary, or gift up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples) over a five-year period, without triggering the gift tax.3 Keep in mind that your gifts are excluded from your estate, so investing in a 529 Plan can be a smart strategy to help reduce your estate tax.
Scholarship WithdrawalsFunds may be withdrawn without penalty if the beneficiary receives a scholarship (withdrawals can be made up to the scholarship amount), or in the event of the death or disability of the beneficiary. Ordinary federal and state income taxes would be owed on any investment earnings included in gross income.
Types of 529 Plans
Although many details of 529 plans vary by state, they generally come in two forms: