Today is Friday, May 29 which means it’s “529 Day” or “National 529 College Savings Plan Day”. Each year, National 529 College Savings Plan Day draws awareness to the tax-advantaged way of putting money away for education costs. To help ease the burden of student loans, some parents put money aside each year for their children’s education. 529 plans have grown in popularity over the years, however many people still remain unaware that 529 plans are even an option for education savings.
So, what exactly is a 529 plan? 529 plans, also referred to as “qualified tuition plans,” are tax-advantaged savings plans sponsored by states, state agencies or educational institutions. Earnings are federally tax-exempt and most states exempt earnings from state income tax.
There are two types of 529 plans: Prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans. Both can be used as a way to save for a child or beneficiary’s education, but differ in their methods.
Prepaid tuition plans allow people to purchase units or credits at higher education institutions at current prices to be used in the future by the beneficiary. The credits are purchased for participating colleges or universities, which are usually public and in-state. However, it may be able to be used for an equal payment to private or out-of-state institutions.
The second type of plan is an education savings plan. It serves as an investment account that can be used for future qualified higher education expenses. Similar to a Roth401(k) or Roth IRA, plans offer several investment options and funds will rise and fall based on the investment’s performance. Generally, the accumulated funds can be used at any participating college or university, regardless of its location. You can also use up to $10,000 to pay tuition at elementary or secondary schools.
The ways you can spend this saved money differs based on the plan. Prepaid tuition plans can be used for tuition and mandatory fees, but not room and board. Education savings plans, however, can be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment, computers and sometimes room and board. Technically, a person can use the funds accumulated in an education savings plan for any expense they choose, but if the funds are used for a non-qualified distribution, they are subject to income tax, a 10 percent penalty and any additional state penalties. If a beneficiary doesn’t need the funds, they can be withdrawn with the payment of income tax and penalties, although there are exceptions to the penalty fees.
529 Day is a great time to review your college savings progress and if you haven’t started saving for college yet, it’s not too late! Some states currently have different contests and incentives to try to boost interest and participation in their 529 savings programs. Click here to see what your state might have to offer. If you have any questions about 529 plans or would like us to help set up a plan for your beneficiaries, please contact us – we’re here to help!