6 Basic Facts You Need to Know About 529 College Savings Plans

If you have had a child (and I’m guessing you do to be reading anything on this site) you know that there are many daunting feelings that come with parenthood. However, one that seems more and more daunting as the years go by is the rising cost of a college education.

My husband and I decided before we had kids that we would like to pay for their college education. We knew that meant that:

  1. We couldn’t have a gaggle of children or we’d go broke.
  2. We would have to figure out how to save in a way that would be impactful by the time our kids attend college.

Our daughter was born in 2012, which means she will be attending college in 2030 when the annual, average cost is expect to be around $45,000 per year according to the United States Department of Education. She and our son will both be in school at the same time for at least one year too.

We have been looking into better options for saving versus just the run of the mill savings account and recently heard about 529 Plans. I wanted to share some of my findings with you on what I discovered about 529 Plans as I imagine you are also panicked about either paying for college or sending your child off to school with loans that will amount to around $200,000 by the time they graduate. So here are the basic facts about 529 Plans that you need to know.

What is a 529 Plan?

A 529 Plan is a college savings plan operated by states or by educational institutions in an effort to help families safe for the cost of college. Its name comes from the 529 section of the Internal Revenue Code, which created the plans in 1996 to help families with the mounting cost of tuition.

More than 30 states provide tax deductions or tax credits for contributions to a 529 Plan. However, contributions do not reduce your taxable income.

There are two main types of plans – a Savings Plan and a Pre-Paid Tuition Plan.

What’s the difference between the two types of plans?

Savings Plans are only offered by states and are similar to IRAs in that they are a way to invest money in education long-term. Plan holders can generally invest in a range of mutual funds, which will attempt to reduce risk exposure as the date of freshman year approaches. The amount that is available for eligible education expenses will be impacted by the rate of return on investments.

Prepaid Tuition Plans are offered by states and education institutions to allow the plan holder to prepay for one or more semesters at designated colleges and universities AT CURRENT PRICES for a fixed period of time or a fixed number of credits. This helps to shield people from the cost of inflation, which has been about 6.5% per year according to the USDE, and the program bears the risk of investments.

These plans will often have caps or residency requirements and are generally stricter about what expenses they will cover. Text books and room and board may not be included in what the plan will cover.

What do the plans cover?

The earnings of a 529 Plan can be used towards all qualifying educational expenses, which includes tuition, books and room and board. Unless you have a Pre-Paid Tuition Plan that limits these expenses to a select few.

Do you need to pay taxes on the money withdrawn?

A 529 Plan is an investment plan and is not subject to federal and (generally) state tax when earnings are used for qualified educational expenses for the beneficiaries. Meaning, when you withdraw the money to use for school you will not have to pay taxes on that withdrawal.

Withdrawals that are not used to pay for qualifying educational expenses are subject to taxes and a 10 percent fee unless there has been a death or disability.

How do you become eligible?

Everyone is eligible for a 529 Plan. There are no income limits, age limits or annual contribution limits. There are lifetime contribution limits that vary by plan.

How is the account managed?

The accounts are typically low maintenance. You can enroll through a website or by contacting your financial adviser. Most plans allow automatic payroll deductions or withdrawals from your bank account. Ongoing management is usually handled by an outside investment firm hired to act as program managers.

Find more ways to save for college here, and find out about common mistakes parents make when saving for college here.

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  • robin rue January 17, 2018 07.17 pm

    My husband is an accountant and set up the college savings plans for our boys. Hopefully it will mean their student loans will be a little less 🙂

  • Glenda Decasa January 17, 2018 07.24 pm

    nice post! it’s great to start planning ahead and having a college fund set up for your kids! My mom set one up for me and it def helped!

  • Sarah Belanger January 17, 2018 07.35 pm

    This is such great information! As a military family, we’re going to be going a different route for our son, but if we weren’t military we would definitely need some help with a 529 for sure!

  • Lori | Choosing Wisdom January 17, 2018 07.52 pm

    I love this complete and informative way of looking at 529’s. I wish I had known this information when we had kids still at home. Now they are all off at school – good info to pass along!

  • nicoe January 17, 2018 09.09 pm

    It is never too early to start planning. My husband and I are up to our eyeballs in student loans from his medical school education. I would love to have some money set aside if our kids wanted to follow in his footsteps to help reduce the burden on them after they graduate.

  • Laura @ MommyDearest January 17, 2018 09.29 pm

    This is a great post. It is never too early to start saving for secondary education. Student loans are not fun to pay off. Helping alleviate that is something that most families are able to do. We have similar education savings plans here. We need to open one for our youngest still, as we are a little slow in the game this time around.

  • Joanna @ Everyday Made Fresh January 17, 2018 10.22 pm

    My daughter went to her first semester on grants from the state. It’s crazy how much she was able to get through those, and you don’t have to pay them back!

  • Kansas Bonanno January 17, 2018 10.25 pm

    This is great, we are always looking for ways to save for our kiddos college. With four little ones we need all the saving, we can get. Thanks for sharing.

  • Krystal Butherus January 17, 2018 10.49 pm

    Awesome post! Our son is still young, so it’s probably in our best interest to start planning.

  • Raquel ⎪One Bad Madre January 17, 2018 11.19 pm

    This was very informative! A lot of the information provided, I had no clue about. Thanks for sharing!

  • Rosie January 18, 2018 03.08 am

    This is a great read! Defiantly for something I was looking for. It’s so hard to decide what accounts are best but this made it easy 🙂

  • Alyssa Dawson January 18, 2018 04.09 am

    Great read! I need to start planning for my girls’ future! I like the idea of having savings for them to help when they are older!

  • Britney Kaufman January 18, 2018 04.31 am

    I’ve been planning to do this for my boys for a long time. My parents had college funds for my brother and I, and it was amazing! This is a great post for parents!!!!

  • Angela Tolsma January 18, 2018 03.36 pm

    This is so fascinating me. My husband and I plan on helping out with our nephews and nieces college education (as we aren’t having children) but we haven’t had a clue on how to start. This is something I can take to my sisters and chat about.

  • AnnMarie John January 18, 2018 04.02 pm

    It’s really important to consider these things the moment you think about starting a family. There’s nothing better than planning for a good future for your kids! I think this post is very informative.

  • Jessica Joachim January 18, 2018 06.23 pm

    These plans are super great It is never too early to save for college! My parents got a FL prepaid college plan for me, and I plan on doing the same for my daughter and son.

  • kimberly lewis January 18, 2018 08.54 pm

    this is really good information for parents. A lot of times parents are frustrated because they don’t know where to start

  • Melissa Chapman January 18, 2018 09.27 pm

    My husband has plans for our two kids and we are hoping they won’t need any loans. It is good to start early and be consistent.

  • Maya January 18, 2018 09.44 pm

    This is actually really helpful! Thanks so much for a great post!

  • Diana V January 19, 2018 01.36 pm

    My daughter is only 7 ,but we already started saving for college as well since last year

  • Shoshana Sue January 19, 2018 03.54 pm

    Your elaboration on the savings plans is really rich. I have learned so much, thank you. The savings plan is the way to go definitely, the pros outweigh those for the prepaid plan.

  • Jeanine January 19, 2018 09.22 pm

    We’ve already started saving for all of our 7 little ones and their future. It’s oh so important and I think it’s a great idea to look into plans like these!

  • Heather January 19, 2018 11.57 pm

    I really like that this plan allows you to use your funds on things outside of just tuition. College costs so much but when you have a plan for only tuition you forget about all those other big expenses.

  • shandy kaye January 20, 2018 05.14 am

    Going to college is so expensive, better to plan as soon as possible, thanks for the tips!

  • Brittany January 21, 2018 02.20 am

    I’m definitely saving this! I have three kids that will all go to college within 4 years of each other.


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