Saving money for college expenses is a goal I hear many young parents express, and one of the best ways to build tax-advantaged savings for college is the 529 plan. A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs. 529 plans, legally known as ?qualified tuition plans,? are sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions and are authorized by Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code. Changes in the tax code were made in 2006 making permanent the provision that earnings in a 529 plan are tax free upon withdrawal when used for education expenses. This has resulted in eliminating any change in status for earnings for the 529 plan and made it the premier savings vehicle for college savers.
There are two types of 529 plans: pre-paid tuition plans and college savings plans. All fifty states and the District of Columbia sponsor at least one type of 529 plan. In addition, a group of private colleges and universities sponsor a pre-paid tuition plan. There are differences between pre-paid tuition plans and college savings plans, and each individual family needs to determine which plan may be right for their needs. Pre-paid tuition plans generally allow college savers to purchase units or credits at participating colleges and universities for future tuition and, in some cases, room and board. Most prepaid tuition plans are sponsored by state governments and have residency requirements. Many state governments guarantee investments in pre-paid tuition plans that they sponsor.
College savings plans generally permit a college saver (also called the ?account holder?) to establish an account for a student (the ?beneficiary?) for the purpose of paying the beneficiary?s eligible college expenses. An account holder may typically choose among several investment options for his or her contributions, which the college savings plan invests on behalf of the account holder. Investment options often include stock mutual funds, bond mutual funds, and money market funds, as well as, age-based portfolios that automatically shift toward more conservative investments as the beneficiary gets closer to college age. Withdrawals from college savings plans can generally be used at any college or university. Investments in college savings plans that invest in mutual funds are not guaranteed by state governments and are not federally insured.