A Closer Look at the 529 Plan
Saving now for your child’s future education.
As the cost of a college education sky rockets year after year, many parents find themselves asking how they will pay for their child’s college education. If you fall into this category, you may want to consider the 529 Plan, a tax-advantaged way to save for college. Here’s what you need to know to decide if a 529 Plan is right for your family:
529 Prepaid Plan vs. 529 Savings Plan
There are two different types of 529 Plans: prepaid and savings plans. The 529 Prepaid Plan allows you to purchase future tuition credits at today’s tuition rates. Think of it as the Forever Stamp of college costs! This type of 529 Plan is available at only a limited number of educational institutions, and has restrictions on who may participate and how funds may be used. Because 529 Plans are governed at a state level, it can be difficult to transfer these prepaid tuition blocks to another state. So, if your child chooses to go to college in a state other than the one in which you opened the plan, you may not receive the full value of your savings when it comes time to pay for college expenses.
The 529 Savings Plan has a little more flexibility. Set-up along the lines of an IRA, it allows you to invest money into a tax-deferred account which will later be used to pay for your child’s college education. This type 529 Plan does not have the same state-specific restrictions; you can to use the entire value of your account at any accredited college or university. More good news: you’ll earn interest on your investment.
Finding the Perfect State
529 Plans vary from state to state and it’s a buyer’s market! You’re not limited to your home state’s plan, but can shop around for the 529 Plan that best fits your family’s needs. With 529 Plans there are no residency restrictions; they’re a great option for families whose children wish to attend out-of-state colleges.
If you are looking to compare 529 Plans, CollegeSavings.org has a great comparison tool to let you do side-by-side comparisons of states that offer 529 Plans. Can’t find “the one?” Don’t worry, there are no limits to how many 529 Savings Plans you are allowed to open in different states.
Your Money, Your Account
One of the major benefits of the 529 Plan is that you, the owner, have complete control over the account. The beneficiary will never be able to access the account, regardless of age.
Anyone is allowed to open a 529 Plan; it does not matter if it is for your child, grandchild or maybe even yourself. And, multiple accounts can be opened for the same beneficiary! So, Mom, Dad, Grandma, and Grandpa can all contribute to college savings.
What happens if your child chooses not to attend college, or, better yet, gets a full ride? If you don’t use the funds in your 529 Plan, there are a number of options available to you. A few possibilities that can be considered include:
- Transferring the funds to another beneficiary’s account
- Rolling over the funds into another type of investment, or
- Withdrawing them for personal use.
Do Your Homework
Finding the 529 Plan that works best for you may seem like a tedious job, but it’s important to research all of your options. A good place to start is your own state’s 529 Plan. See what tax exemptions they may have to offer. Also, look to see if there are any beneficiary age requirements or other limitations prior to opening a 529 Plan. You may want to consider researching the state’s fees, as some 529 Plans charge enrollment, maintenance and or withdrawal fees. In the end, doing your own research or meeting with a financial adviser may help you determine which 529 Plan is right for you.