529 plans, tax-advantaged college savings, are a highly useful investment tool for paying for your or your child's education all the way through graduate school. But what should you know about them? iGrad asked Betty Lochner, national chair of the college savings plans network about what everyone should know but doesn't about these plans.
- Most 529 plan accounts can be used at any accredited institution. Many people do not know that your 529 plan can be used at any accredited institution and not just the state in which you hold your account. This means that your child is not, in most cases, limited to where he or she can attend school.
- There is no 10% federal tax penalty if funds are withdrawn because of a scholarship. Federal law imposes a 10% penalty on earnings for non-qualified distributions; however, you can qualify for an exception to the penalty if you withdraw funds that are not needed for college if, for instance, the beneficiary has received a scholarship.
- Some states offer an income tax deduction for contributions to their 529 plan. When choosing a 529 plan, you should always consider your home state plan first even if you end up going with an alternative. States often offer tax benefits for residents, and sometimes also offer other benefits such as matching grants that would not be available by investing in another state's 529 plan.
- Need help? You don't have to go it alone. 529 plans can be opened directly through the plan manager or through a financial advisor. With so many options available, it is no surprise that many families have a difficult time selecting the right 529 plan. There are many 529 plan options available through your investment advisor and they can provide assistance based on your financial goals.
- Most 529 savings plans never expire. If your beneficiary decides to put college on hold or decides college is not for him/her, it is important to be aware that most plans do not have time limits or expiration dates. Also, any remaining funds in your account can be used for qualified higher education expenses at any time.
- 529 plan savings do NOT have a significant adverse impact on financial aid eligibility. This is a common misconception when in fact, 529 plans are treated favorably for financial aid purposes. While every $10,000 in a 529 college savings plan may reduce need-based aid eligibility by up to $564, that still leaves you with at least $9,436 more available to pay for college than if you hadn't saved.
- You may change the beneficiary at any time. You may change the beneficiary to a family member of the original beneficiary at any time. This includes parents and step-parents (and even children and step-children) of the original beneficiary along with siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
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This information is provided for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal, tax or financial advice. Consult with your tax, legal or financial adviser before taking any action.