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Published on April 17, 2020 | LPL Financial
529 savings plans are tax-advantaged education savings vehicles and one of the most popular ways to save for college today. They can also be used to save for K-12 tuition. Much like the way 401(k) plans changed the world of retirement savings a few decades ago, 529 savings plans have changed the world of education savings.
529 savings plans offer a unique combination of features that no other education savings vehicle can match:
Although 529 savings plans are a creature of federal law, their implementation is left to the states. Currently, there are over 50 different savings plans available because many states offer more than one plan.
You can join any state’s 529 savings plan, but this variety may create confusion when it comes time to select a plan. Each plan has its own rules and restrictions, which can change at any time. To make the process easier, it helps to consider a few key features:
Your state’s tax benefits: A majority of states offer some type of income tax break for 529 savings plan participants, such as a deduction for contributions or tax-free earnings on qualified withdrawals. However, some states limit their tax deduction to contributions made to the in-state 529 plan only. So make sure to understand your state’s rules.
With so many plans available, it may be helpful to consult an experienced financial professional who can help you select a plan and pick your plan investments. In fact, some 529 savings plans are advisor-sold only, meaning that you’re required to go through a designated financial advisor to open an account.
Once you’ve selected a plan, opening an account is easy. You’ll need to fill out an application, where you’ll name a beneficiary and select one or more of the plan’s investment portfolios to which your contributions will be allocated. Also, you’ll typically be required to make an initial minimum contribution, which must be made in cash or a cash alternative.
Thereafter, most plans will allow you to contribute as often as you like. This gives you the flexibility to tailor the frequency of your contributions to your own needs and budget, as well as to systematically invest your contributions by setting up automatic monthly transfers from your bank account.
As for investment changes, beware that under federal law you are allowed to exchange your existing plan investments for new investments only twice per year. In other words, if your existing plan funds are currently invested in plan portfolios A & B but you want to change them to plan portfolios C & D, you can do this only twice per calendar year. However, you generally have unlimited say in how your future contributions will be invested.
You will also be able to change the beneficiary of your 529 savings account to a qualified family member with no income tax or penalty implications
There are actually two types of 529 plans – savings plans and prepaid tuition plans. The tax advantages of each are the same, but the account features are very different. A prepaid tuition plan lets you prepay tuition at participating colleges, typically in-state public colleges, at today’s prices for use by the beneficiary in the future. 529 prepaid tuition plans are generally limited to state residents, whereas 529 savings plans are open to residents of any state. Prepaid tuition plans are much less common than savings plans.
Note: Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with 529 plans before investing; specific plan information is available in each issuer’s official statement. There is the risk that investments may not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated. Also, before investing, consider whether your state offers any favorable state tax benefits for 529 plan participation, and whether these benefits are contingent on joining the in-state 529 plan. Other state benefits may include financial aid, scholarship funds, and protection from creditors
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and cannot be invested into directly.
The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax planning or legal advice. We suggest that you consult with a qualified tax or legal advisor.
LPL Financial Representatives offer access to Trust Services through The Private Trust Company N.A., an affiliate of LPL Financial.
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