Got Kids? Open a 529 College Savings Account!

by Debbie D. on 2008-05-1916

Along with saving for retirement, one other financial challenge you’ll probably face as a parent is saving for your children’s college education. Count this as one of the bigger financial concerns that parents of young children have: the need to figure out how much college will actually set them back. How much do you worry about (or dread) the time when you’ll face a whole slew of expenses once the kids leave high school and enter the “real world” of college? There are calculators available online that help you get an estimate for college education, but the fact remains: whether your child ends up going to a state school or a private university, the costs seem astronomical.

General Benefits of 529 College Savings Plans

There are many options for parents to save for their kids’ college education. You could certainly funnel your child’s college funds into a savings account or a CD, but there aren’t any educational tax credits for using these personal savings vehicles. You could also consider using an educational IRA account (e.g. a Coverdell Education Savings Account) — which offers a few tax benefits for college savings.

But there’s one other great option that’s quite popular these days, which is a 529 college savings plan. It’s an awesome choice as it offers more benefits than most other college savings options, including:

  • No taxes paid on the earnings of the account.
  • Your child (or 529 beneficiary) doesn’t control or access the account, you do.
  • Anyone can add money to the account.
  • Most states do not have age restrictions for using the money.
  • If your child (or beneficiary) earns a scholarship, the unused 529 account money can be withdrawn without paying penalties (you just need to pay tax).
  • The money can be rolled over to another family member if the 529 beneficiary decides not to attend college.
529 college savings plan, 529 account

Tax Benefits of 529 College Savings Plans

Along with funding our retirement accounts, we’re also highly encouraged by financial experts to save for our kids’ college expenses as it is also another financial goal that happens to employ many built-in tax benefits. Some of the tax benefits of saving with 529 plans include:

  • Receiving an exemption from federal taxes when the funds are withdrawn for qualified education expenses. In most states, the earnings are also tax-deferred. Note however, that you will pay taxes on the 529 account earnings if you use the money for something other than college expenses.
  • Allowing you to deduct a portion of your contributions to a 529 College Savings plan from your state taxes, in some states.

Eligible Uses of 529 College Savings Funds

The good news is that you’ve got a wide range of options available for your 529 college money. The “eligible” uses for the money you save in a 529 plan are fairly flexible, which makes this a good savings choice for a large number of families.

  • Most states do not place an age or time limit for when money from a 529 account should be used. If your child decides to tour Europe for 8 years after high school, you have no worries if you’ve got a 529 in place. Your child can still attend college and fund it with their 529 account upon their return!
  • If the original beneficiary of the account decides to nix college, the money can be rolled over into a different beneficiary’s 529 account — provided that the beneficiary is considered “family”. You can pretty much cast a wide net to cover most family members here. Who’s eligible? The original beneficiary’s spouse or any one of their children, sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, first cousins, and even spouses of any of these people.
  • Any degree-granting, accredited university qualifies as a recipient for your 529 funds. Even some international schools are considered eligible to receive such funds.
  • Most states include tuition, room, board, computers, transportation and books as qualified educational costs that can be paid for by 529 plans.

How To Start Funding a 529 Account

If you’re ready to begin saving for college, check out your state’s 529 account offerings as well as those offered through other states. Plus here’s a quick tip: look into as a way of jumpstarting your 529 savings program.

College Savings Tip: Upromise often holds regular promotions for its members, in the form of scholarships and giveaways. If you’re already a Upromise member, you’re automatically entered. But if you aren’t yet, then you can enter and take part in any giveaway by joining the Upromise savings program at

So what are we waiting for? Our children will be off to college in a blink of an eye, so there’s no better time than NOW…to begin saving for that event.

Guest post by Debbie D.

Copyright © 2008 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay @ Personal Finance May 19, 2008 at 8:49 pm

I opened a 529 plan for my son just a few days ago. The whole process took about 5 minutes. While we probably won’t be able to save enough to completely fund his college education, we’ll definitely be able to save a large pile of cash in the next 15 years.

Frugal Dad May 20, 2008 at 6:03 am

We’ve opened our kid’s 529 accounts, but have a hard time actually contributing to them while paying off outstanding debt, etc. Thanks for bringing this back to my attention so I can get on track with at least some small contributions, initially.

Scott May 20, 2008 at 10:33 am

We have a 529 setup for our daughter but have yet to set one up for our son. He’s already 2 and we are behind with him. Our financial advisor would like us to setup a separate one for him. I’m thinking of opening one on my own and avoiding some brokerage fees. One of my projects is trying to consolidate accounts.
Great advice!


J.D. Fournier May 21, 2008 at 8:14 am

529 plans are great for those who have something to contribute. What makes them a little confusing is that practically every state has there own, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to use the one from your own state. There is a actually a lot of research to do before opening one and every state has its own laws. Anyone seriously considering this should go to Some states are great and charge no state income taxes on contributions, such as in Virginia and NY. Other states have no tax breaks. In those cases, it makes sense to shop around for the best plan. Things to look for are: 1) wide array of low cost funds, 2) minimum contributions, 3) account costs. Personally, I am planning to use Nevada’s plan, although I live in NJ. The plan is run directly through Vanguard and have a lot of good options. I would suggest sinking as much money into whatever plan you choose in the first years, instead of contributing a fixed amount for 18 years. Even forego other investments such as saving for a house (not 401k). This will give the money more time to grow. My personal goal is to contribute $70k over the first 2-3 years and then basically do nothing.

Jeff Frese May 22, 2008 at 6:31 am

I started a company that lets anybody in your circle of friends and family gift directly into your child’s 529 plan. So instead of another Barbie Doll or shirt from the Gap people can gift into your child’s plan. It’s a simple site and concept that helps people save for college and give meaningful gifts. The site is

jim May 27, 2008 at 6:58 am

I opened one up last year but failed to contribute :(, but I will this year!

Ken Clark, CFP May 27, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Great write up! The really cool thing is the states that actually match some portion of your contirbution (Colorado, Arkansas, etc.).

Keith Lauren May 28, 2008 at 10:50 am

Thanks for the rundown. My ex has one of these for our son and I was just thinking I needed to start my own as the CDs just aren’t cutting it.

Shennan T. September 14, 2010 at 10:48 am

I guess now is a good a time (my oldest is 6 yrs) as any to start saving for my kid’s college education.

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