529 Education Savings Plans

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Between normal, day-to-day expenses and long-term goals like retirement, figuring out how – and how much – to save for your child's education can be challenging.

One financial strategy you might consider? Setting up a 529 plan, which is a tax-advantaged way to put aside money for future college costs. Your Edward Jones financial advisor can help you determine how a 529 plan might work with your overall financial strategy, as well as think through specific questions you might have:

  • Is a 529 a good fit for you?
  • What is your family's education savings goal?
  • What investments might make sense for you and your education goals?

How they work

Anyone – at any age – who plans to attend elementary, secondary school and/or college can be the beneficiary of a 529 plan. The account owner, not the beneficiary, controls the account and makes all the investment decisions. And if the beneficiary decides not to attend college, the owner can generally change the beneficiary to another eligible family member.

Grandmas, grandpas, family friends, parents … anyone can contribute to a 529 plan, regardless of income. Contribution limits depend on the state's plan but are typically more than $200,000.The federal gift tax exclusion allows a contributor to give up to $15,000 per year per beneficiary, or $30,000 if you're giving as a married couple.

You could also choose to give up to five years of gifts in one year, and that amount is not considered to be a part of your estate for federal estate tax purposes. However, if an electing contributor dies during the five-year period after the contribution, amounts of the contributions allocable to years after death are included in the contributor's gross estate.

The 529's earnings accumulate tax-free, and withdrawals are federally income tax-free and penalty-free as long as they are used at an eligible educational institution for qualified education expenses. Some examples of qualified post-secondary education expenses include:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Books
  • Required school supplies
  • Room and board – if the beneficiary is considered at least a half-time student (including off-campus housing – the equivalent of what it costs to live on campus)
  • Computers and related equipment (such as printers), Internet access, and educational computer software used primarily by the 529 plan beneficiary

Distributions used for nonqualified educational expenses are subject to ordinary income tax plus a 10% penalty on the earnings.

What schools?

There's a common misconception that state-sponsored 529 plans are only geared to families who plan on sending their children to a state school, but that's not true. Regardless of the state in which the 529 plan was set up, the distributions can be used at an eligible educational institution in any state. “Eligible educational institutions” are any accredited postsecondary schools that offer classes toward an associate's, bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree. Many vocational institutions and foreign schools are eligible, too.

Qualified Elementary and Secondary School Expenses

In some states, qualified withdrawals for federal tax purposes have been expanded to include up to $10,000 in tuition, per year, per beneficiary, in connection with enrollment or attendance at public, private, or religious elementary or secondary schools. Check with your financial advisor about your state's specific withdrawal guidelines for 529 plans. 

State taxes

Some states provide benefits including state tax incentives to residents who invest in their home state's 529 plan. And six states – Pennsylvania, Arizona, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana and Kansas – provide for state tax parity, which means contributions to any state plan are eligible for that state's income tax deduction.

Financial aid

Education savings plans can impact a student's financial aid. Regardless of whether the 529 plan is owned by the parent or the student, it is considered a parental asset, which generally has little impact on financial aid. For more information on your specific state financial aid considerations, talk to your financial advisor.

Financial aid is a complex subject and a financial aid officer should be consulted.

Helpful resources

How we can help

With so many variables affecting your education savings strategy, you should talk to your local financial advisor to gain his or her insight on your situation, your state's 529 plan as well as other education savings options. Remember, the sooner you start saving, the better – when time is still on your side.

Important Information:

1If you live in a state that does not recognize the expanded use of 529 plan funds for elementary and secondary school tuition expenses and will be required to adopted additional legislation regarding its 529 plan and state income tax incentives, and you withdraw funds before those states recognize the use of 529 plan funds for elementary or secondary school tuition, you may risk having to repay a state tax deduction you've already received, may face state taxes on the investment gains in the account and/or may incur additional penalties. We recommend you consult a qualified tax advisor regarding your situation.

Withdrawals used for expenses other than qualified education expenses may be subject to federal and state taxes, plus a 10% penalty on the earnings. State tax incentives and additional benefits may be available to in-state residents who invest in their home state’s 529 plans. Student and parental assets and income are considered when applying for financial aid. Generally, a 529 plan is considered an asset of the parent, which may be an advantage over savings in the student’s name. Make sure you discuss the potential financial aid impacts with a financial aid professional. Tax issues for 529 plans can be complex.

Please consult your tax advisor about your situation. Edward Jones, its financial advisors and employees cannot provide tax or legal advice.

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