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How Many 529 Plans is too Many?
Helping you save for your child’s education is one of our core planning services. It’s encouraging when parents come to us and want to start their first 529 plan, but confusion often arises if a second or third child comes into the picture.
Should we continue making contributions to our current 529 plan and divide the savings among all the kids? Or should we have a unique 529 for each kid and make separate contributions?
This is one of the most common questions I receive—and for good reason. The simplicity of maintaining a single 529 sounds like a decent option, but take a closer look and you’ll see having a separate 529 plan for each of your children is almost always more beneficial in the long run.
Let’s explore why.
Customized Investment Options
With one 529 plan, you’re confined to a single investment strategy for multiple kids. However, opening a 529 plan for each child enables you to fine-tune your asset mix to fit their individual needs.
For example: When saving for college, a 16-year-old might typically have a more conservative allocation than his three-year-old brother as funds are to be used sooner.
More Paperwork Down the Road
When you open a 529 account, you can only name one beneficiary. So what happens when you have two kids?
Let’s say your kids are two years apart. Typically, you’d tap into your 529 account when your eldest child heads off to college. But once the younger child starts college two years later, you’d have to change the name of the beneficiary…and back again if you want to allocate funds to your older child.
Bottom line: This name-changing can turn into a logistical nightmare. Separate 529 plans alleviate the headache and the extra paperwork.
Contributions to a 529 account that exceed $15,000 per year (or $30,000 for couples “sharing” gifts) won’t count against your lifetime exclusion and must be reported on a gift tax return. However, you can double your potential annual limit by opening a 529 account for each individual child.
Another advantage, depending on your state of legal residence, is that some plans offer state tax deductions for 529 contributions. Accordingly, multiple 529 plans may compound these tax advantages. We recommend that you consult a tax professional in order to maximize the benefit.
I get it: doing a cost-benefit analysis of 529 plans isn’t the most exciting way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Optimizing 529 plan structure is crucial for maximizing the value of your contributions—and setting your children up for success.
If you have any questions about 529 plans or other planning ideas, just drop me a line.
Should You Use Your 529 Plan To Pay K-12 Costs?
Among the many reforms found in the new tax law, one last-minute change allows families to begin using their 529 Plan savings to pay for their children’s K-12 tuition (up to $10,000 per beneficiary, per year). Until now, 529 Plans could only be used to pay for qualified higher education costs.
Since private schooling is expensive, you may be tempted to tap into this new, tax-sheltered funding source as soon as you’re able.
But should you?
The answer is: It depends.
What’s the highest, best use of your 529 plan assets?
The main reason you squirrel away money in a 529 plan is to protect your investments against taxes, and the debilitating effect they have on your end returns. With their tax-preferential treatment, your 529 plan savings are expected to grow bigger and faster than if you held that same money in a taxable account.
Thus it stands to reason, the longer you keep your money invested in a 529 account, the better you’re leveraging its tax-sheltering benefits.
In this context, among the best applications for a 529 plan remains the same as before: to start setting aside money when your kids are in diapers, in anticipation of that bittersweet day they head off to college.
That said, life doesn’t always go as expected. The new K-12 spending allowance may be ideal if you end up with “extra” funds in a 529 plan. For example, what if your firstborn decides to attend an in-state university instead of Harvard? Or what if she earns a full scholarship to her first-choice institution! It may make sense to use up the leftover 529 money on her younger brother’s high school tuition, especially if he already has a fully funded 529 plan of his own.
Where do you live?
There’s an added wrinkle to consider before taking money from a 529 plan for K-12 tuition. As this Forbes article describes, qualified 529 plan withdrawals for K-12 tuition may now be tax- and penalty-free on your Federal tax return (thanks to the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act). But your state tax laws may differ.
Which brings me back to my initial answer. Should you spend your 529 plan assets on K-12 costs? It depends.