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College Savings Plan 101

A 529 plan is a type of investment account designed to help families save for college. It is named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code and is also referred to as a "qualified tuition plan." The idea behind a 529 plan is to offer tax incentives for families who are saving for higher education expenses.

How 529 Plans Work

529 plans are sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions. They are managed by financial institutions and operate similarly to a traditional investment account. An individual can open a 529 plan, make contributions to the account, and select investments based on the investment options offered by the plan. The account owner retains control of the funds and can use them for qualified higher education expenses, including tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

529 plans offer a variety of investment options, including mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Some plans also offer age-based portfolios, which automatically adjust the investment mix as the beneficiary gets closer to college age.

Tax Benefits of 529 Plans

One of the main advantages of a 529 plan is the tax benefits it offers. Contributions to a 529 plan are not deductible on the federal tax return, but the earnings in the account grow tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free as long as the funds are used for qualified higher education expenses. Some states also offer a state tax deduction for contributions made to the state's 529 plan.

Limits on Contributions to 529 Plans

The maximum contribution limit for a 529 plan is set by the individual state, but most states have a limit of $300,000 or more. Additionally, there is no annual contribution limit, but there are gift tax implications for contributions over $15,000 per year per beneficiary.

Withdrawals from 529 Plans

Withdrawals from a 529 plan can be used to pay for qualified higher education expenses, including tuition, fees, books, and room and board. Withdrawals for non-qualified expenses are subject to income tax and a 10% penalty on the earnings portion of the withdrawal.

One of the benefits of a 529 plan is that the account owner retains control of the funds and can change the beneficiary to another member of the family if the original beneficiary does not need the funds or decides not to pursue higher education.


A 529 plan is a great way for families to save for higher education expenses and take advantage of tax benefits. With a variety of investment options and the ability to change the beneficiary, a 529 plan is a flexible and valuable tool for saving for college. It is important to do research and compare different plans to find the one that is right for your family's needs and goals. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind the contribution limits and tax implications of withdrawals for non-qualified expenses.

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