529 Plans: Saving for your Child’s Education

Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP® Nick Defenthaler

Doesn’t it always seem like you blink and summer is over? For some reason, this glorious season seems to go by especially fast when you live in the state of Michigan! Hopefully you all took advantage of the hot and sunny weather and had a chance to explore all of the great things our state has to offer with your family. 

If you have children, your focus has probably shifted from weekend getaways to getting back into a more structured routine now that school is back in session.  Since school is top of mind for many, I felt it was a good time to touch on education planning and saving for college. 

Below is a brief refresher of the 529 plan, a popular type of account you can save into for future college expenses.  Many people refer to the 529 plan as the “education IRA” but there are some caveats:

Advantages:

  • State tax deduction on contributions up to certain annual limits
  • Tax-deferred growth
  • No taxation upon withdrawal if funds are used for qualified educational expenses (such as tuition, books, room and board, computers, etc.)
  • Parents have control over the account and can transfer the account to another child
  • Not subject to kiddie tax rules, unlike UGMA accounts (Uniform Gift of Minors Act) and UTMA accounts (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act)

Disadvantages:

  • No guaranteed rate of return – subject to market risk
  • Certain taxes and penalties will apply if funds are withdrawn for non-qualified expenses

Items to be aware of:

  • Keep records of how money was spent that was withdrawn from the 529 account in case of an audit
  • Review the asset allocation/risk profile of the account on an annual basis – typically, the closer the child is to entering college, the more conservative the account should become 

Just like saving for retirement, the sooner you can start saving for college the better. With that being said, if your children are only a few years out from college and your savings isn’t where you’d like it to be, there is still hope. Chances are you still have options and this is where good financial planning can come into play. There are also nuances with financial aid and completing the FAFSA that you want to be aware of—check out our webinar on the topic! If we could provide guidance in this area, don’t hesitate to reach out, we would be happy to help!

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Nick is a member of The Center’s financial planning department and also works closely with Center clients. In addition, Nick is a frequent contributor to the firm’s blogs.


The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete, it is not a statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision, and it does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Nick Defenthaler and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. As with other investments, there are generally fees and expenses associated with participation in a 529 plan. There is also a risk that these plans may lose money or not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated. Most states offer their own 529 programs, which may provide advantages and benefits exclusively for their residents. The tax implications can vary significantly from state to state. Asset allocation does not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss.