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The ins and outs of 529 college savings plans

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By Jason Alderman

For many people, their biggest expenses in life are funding retirement, buying a home and paying for their children’s college education — or a portion of it, anyway. Setting aside money for these and other financial goals is difficult, especially when you’re trying to save for them all simultaneously and from a young age.
One of the more popular college savings vehicles is the 529 College Savings Plan. Every state and Washington, D.C. offers at least one 529 plan option, although most offer several. Key features include:
• You make contributions using after-tax dollars; their investment earnings grow tax-free.
• Withdrawals aren’t taxed if they’re used to pay for qualified higher-education expenses (e.g., tuition, room and board, fees, books, supplies and equipment).
• If you withdraw the money for non-qualified expenses, you’ll have to pay income tax and a 10 percent penalty tax on the earnings portion of the withdrawal — plus possible state penalties, depending on where you live.
• Many states that have a state income tax give accountholders a full or partial tax deduction for contributions made to their own state’s plan. Three states (Indiana, Utah and Vermont) also offer tax credits for contributions.


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