Plan your 529 account withdrawals

January is the start of a new college semester, and parents and grandparents may want a refresher course on 529 college savings plan withdrawals. Here are two things to consider.

  • Qualified withdrawals are tax-free. “Qualified” withdrawals are those you use to pay for college education expenses such as tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment. Be aware that some withdrawals may be taxable, such as when the account beneficiary receives a scholarship or other tax-free assistance. In addition, you must coordinate 529 withdrawals with Hope and lifetime learning credits, as well as distributions from Coverdell education savings accounts. These rules prevent the use of the same expenses to obtain multiple tax benefits.
  • Non-tax implications may affect timing of withdrawals. Financial aid may play a role in when you take money from your 529 account. For example, when grandparents own a 529 plan, withdrawals to pay for a student-grandchild’s college costs may affect the amount of income the grandchild must report on a federal financial aid form.

    Planning for this generally means waiting to use grandparent-owned 529 funds in the student’s last year or two, or transferring ownership of the account to the student’s parents. A recent change to financial aid rules may also help. Starting with the 2017-2018 school year, the federal financial aid form will use income data from an earlier tax year than is used under the present rules. This change means some financial gifts — such as distributions from grandparent-owned 529 plans — may be made earlier.

If you have questions or need help calculating 529 plan withdrawals, please contact Dye and Whitcomb