What is a 529 plan?
A 529 college savings plan is a great way to give the gift of college savings. Understanding the ins and outs of a 529 college savings plan may help you make the most of your gift.
Put simply, a 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment account designed specifically to make the most of your educational savings account. Federal tax free growth potential, flexibility, and ease of use make saving with a 529 plan a smart way to help fund a college education. 529 plans are sponsored by states and managed by professional financial organizations like TIAA-CREF. To give the gift of education, you can open a new 529 college savings plan or make a contribution to an existing account.
529 plan funds can be used to meet qualified expenses at most accredited colleges, universities, and vocational and technical schools nationwide.
You can open a 529 college savings plan for anyone.
As the account owner, you designate the beneficiary – be it a child or grandchild, a niece or nephew, or even yourself! As the account owner you retain complete control over the funds in the account, including distribution, and you can change the beneficiary whenever you choose. Anyone with a valid social security number or tax payer ID can open and/or be the beneficiary of a 529 college savings plan.
Once you set up a 529 college savings plan, other family members and friends can also contribute. This is a great way for families to come together to help give the gift of a college education.
Any state, any plan, any school
No matter where you live or go to college, you can open a 529 plan offered by almost any state.
Regardless of where you or your student lives or plans to go to school—or however those situations happen to change – all states have 529 college savings plans available to you.
Plan funds can be used for qualified educational expenses at most accredited colleges, universities, vocational and technical schools nationwide – there are even some eligible international universities! This means culinary, cosmetic, and massage students can potentially use 529 plan funds.
The 529 Plans provided by Louisiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota, South Carolina, Washington, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia are only available to their current residents. However, residents of these states remain eligible to enroll in the 529 Plan of their choice anywhere in the country.
For more than just tuition
Books, school supplies, and living expenses all add to college costs. Fortunately, 529 plans cover those as well.
There are many factors that contribute to the cost of college.
529 plan funds can be used for all qualified educational expenses including tuition, computers, books, and relevant equipment. Even living expenses such as housing and food can be covered as long as the student is attending college at least half time.
This means no matter what you are able to contribute your gift can make a significant impact in defraying college costs.
Grow your account tax free
One of the primary benefits of 529 plans is that all growth from your savings investments will remain federal tax-free when used for qualified expenses.
The longer your money is invested in a 529 plan, the more time it has to grow federal tax-free. Any earnings from your initial gift are automatically re-invested into your account, meaning early investments and longer savings times allow you to maximize the potential growth of your contribution.
Individuals can contribute up to $14,000 a year ($28,000 for couples) to any single 529 account. However, 529 plans allow donors to contribute up to 5 years of yearly maximum donations at once ($70,000) without incurring a gift tax.
Front-loading your contribution not only has the potential to maximize the tax free, compounding growth of your savings over a longer period of time, but it can also be a useful strategy towards lowering the value of your estate.
A flexible savings strategy
A college education is part of the American dream – but that doesn’t have to look the same for everyone.
People’s financial situations differ and college plans change. Fortunately 529 plans were created understanding this reality. You can open an account with the entirety of your gift or choose to contribute monthly if you wish. And while starting early is great, there is no minimum investment time, so even if your student will be starting college soon you can still use a 529 savings plan to grow your gift.
Initial contribution requirements can be as low as $25, and most 529 Plans do not require regular contributions. However, individuals can contribute up to $14,000 a year ($28,000 for couples) to any single 529 account without incurring a gift tax. Consult your tax adviser. Total contributions to a 529 plan over time can be as high as $350,000.
529 plans are flexible for changing situations.
529 plans are also adaptable to changing life situations. You can change beneficiaries if your student decides not to go to college, or keep the funds in the account to continue to grow if they decide to go back at a later date. If your beneficiary receives a scholarship, you can withdraw up to the total amount of the scholarship without incurring a penalty, though you will have to pay taxes on the earnings.
As the account owner you also retain control of your funds, including distribution amounts and timing, even if you move to another state. And, if you decide to change 529 plans entirely, you can transfer funds for the same beneficiary once per 12-month period without triggering federal or state income tax on growth. Be aware that some plans may have fees for these types of major, one-time plan changes.
Impact on financial aid.
Rules applied in determining a student’s eligibility and amount of Financial Aid vary depending on who is making the payment: parents, or others, including grandparents. Depending on the circumstances, there can be impact, but this impact can be minimized or eliminated with effective planning. Colleges vary in their treatment of 529 plan assets when calculating financial aid, so be sure to check with your schools of interest.
College savings and TIAA-CREF
AARP College Savings Solutions from TIAA-CREF makes it easy for AARP members—or anyone who is planning for the cost of college— to learn about and give the gift of education to their loved ones, through tax-beneficial 529 college savings plans.
Whether you’re a grandparent who wants to help pay for room and board, a loved one helping to subsidize the cost of books, or a parent carrying the larger financial responsibility, 529 college savings plans are a great way to contribute as much or as little as you can towards your loved one’s education.
The landscape of 529 savings plans can be complicated. That’s why TIAA-CREF is bringing you this website: as a one-stop destination to learn all about 529 plans and to help you find the 529 plan that’s right for you.
Learn more about TIAA-CREF
Picking a plan
With the information and tools from AARP College Savings Solutions from TIAA-CREF, finding a 529 plan that is best for you is easy.
No matter how much or how little you’re looking to save, there’s a 529 Plan that can meet your needs and help make the dream of a college education a reality for the student in your life.
Select your plan provider
Pick your investment option
You can speak with a TIAA-CREF education specialist at 866.717.9452 or you can pick a plan online. We know there’s a lot to consider, but that’s why we’re here to help!
Explore 529 plans