Saving with 529 Qualified Tuition Plans Section 529 plans, also known as Qualified Tuition Programs, are the best choice for many families.
Every state now has a program allowing persons to prepay for future higher education, with tax relief. There are two basic plan types, with many variations:
1.) The Prepaid Education Arrangement. You essentially buy future education at today's costs, by buying education credits or certificates. This is the older type of program, and it tends to limit the student's choice of schools within the state.
2.) Education Savings Accounts. You contribute to an account earmarked for future higher education.
Tip: When approaching state programs, one must distinguish between what the federal tax law allows and what an individual state's program may impose.
You may open a Section 529 plan in any state. But when buying prepaid tuition credits (less popular than savings accounts), you often need to apply the credits to a specific college or group of colleges.
Unlike certain other tax-favored higher education programs, such as the Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits, federal tax law doesn't limit the benefit only to tuition. Room, board, lab fees, books, and supplies can be purchased with funds from your 529 Savings Account. (Individual state programs could be narrower.)
The key parties to the program are the Designated Beneficiary, the student-to-be, and the Account Owner, who is entitled to choose and change the beneficiary and who is normally the principal contributor to the program.
There are no income limits on who may be an account owner. There's only one designated beneficiary per account. Thus, a parent with three college-bound children might set up three accounts. (Some state programs don't allow the same person to be both beneficiary and account owner.)
Gary M. DellaPosta is a CPA located in Falmouth. He has been in practice for over 30 years. Stay tuned next week to read about tax implications regarding 529 plans.
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