Monday, July 21, 2014
Many grandparents want to help their grandchildren pay for college, but do not know the best way of going about it. According to a Fidelity Investments study, nearly half of grandparents expect to contribute to their grandkids’ college savings, with more than a third expecting to give $50,000 or more. While very generous and thoughtful in nature, these contributions can also have significant tax and estate planning benefits for grandparents.
A 529 plan is a college savings investment account that provides tax-free growth as long as the money is put toward tuition and most types of college expenses such as fees and books. Grandparents can use 529 accounts to procure tax deductions or diminish the value of their taxable estates.
One way to showcase 529 accounts is to highlight their advantages over other savings strategies. For example, grandchildren who receive Series EE bonds as gifts can later be inundated with federal income taxes on the interest if they do not use funds for college. Contrastingly, a 529 plan provides for tax-free distribution. It also allows grandparents to give the funds to another grandchild if the intended recipient does not go to college.
One of the caveats of a 529 plan is that it could make a grandchild ineligible for financial age. This is because once the money is withdrawn for the beneficiary, it will count as income that schools use to determine financial aid awards. However, grandparents can avoid this problem by waiting until their grandchild’s junior or senior year to distribute the money.
See Robyn Post, Your Practice—Selling Grandparents on the Perks of 529 College Savings Plans, Reuters, July 18, 2014.