Introduction to 529 Education Savings Plans

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The key to being prepared is to learn about stuff before you need them and learning about 529, for me, certainly falls into that category! A 529 plan is an educational savings plan named after the section of the federal tax code that outlines the rules for them. Basically there are two types of 529 plans, prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans, but they are generally designed to help you save towards college for your children.

Prepaid Tuition Plans
Essentially what you do is prepay tuition at an in-state institution at current rates, regardless of when the beneficiary could potentially go to that institution. Lastly, if your child decides they don’t want to go to that school, you can still use the money for out of state schools but it may be adjusted.

College Savings Plans
The other type of plan, the College Savings Plan, is a little more involved and has more rules but it basically sets up an investment account that grows tax free, as long as you use the money for education, in state, out of state, undergraduate, graduate, it doesn’t matter as long as the university or college is accredited. The account is handled by an investment company, which in Maryland is T. Rowe Price, just like any other investment account. What you’re allowed to invest in will depend on the rules for your state but in general you can invest in a variety of managed investments (so not individual stocks, which kind of sucks for you but is probably a boon for brokerages).

So, as I mentioned before, the growth is tax free as long as it’s spent on eligible education expenses but there are more benefits. While there is no limit, contributions are considered gifts so you’re subject to the reporting and tax limit of $12,000 per year (if you give under $12k, you don’t need to report it) and $200,000 over your lifetime. You also retain control of the account, despite the beneficiery being your child, which is different from other accounts like Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. Lastly, contributions may be state tax deductible.

Whew… it’s scary to think about, especially for me, but it’s good information to know.

{ 5 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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5 Responses to “Introduction to 529 Education Savings Plans”

  1. Dustin says:

    What benefits would a College Savings Plan get me that a Roth IRA would not? Both are tax deferred. Roths only have withdraw penalties if the amount is taken out before the 59.5 year date and then it is only on interest earned. And it is understood that you would take out not interest first. And CSP restrict what I can invest in. And then there is the issue of if the kid does not actually go to college. If that is the case, the money still has to go to somebody in the family for education purposes otherwise it is heavily tax (similar to early withdrawal of IRAs).

    Why not just do an IRA?

  2. jim says:

    The two accounts are for vastly different things, this isn’t an account for you to save for another reason, it’s purposely for education. The reason why you wouldn’t do an IRA is because you can’t withdraw from it early for education, which these plans let you do.

  3. Tim says:

    I have the same thoughts as Dustin. With the Roth you have the flexibility of using it for retirement if the college aid is not needed. If it is needed for college, then you can pull out an amount less than or equal to your principal without penalty for educational purposes.

  4. MossySF says:

    1) Just the principle from your Roth IRA may not be enough to pay for college. Especially if you have multiple kids.

    2) Roth IRA limits are just so puny.

    3) Who says someone contributing to a 529 isn’t maxing out their Roth IRA already? (E.g. point number 2 — the puny limit.)

  5. William says:

    What about private school K-12. Can a 529 savings plan be used for those expenses? If not, then I think its cheaper to roll the dice on private school in hopes that you won’t have to pay for college.

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