The 529 College Savings Plan allows you to make annual contributions up to the annual gifting exclusion limit (currently $15,000) per student. If you feel inclined to make a large contribution all at once then the one-time limit is five years’ worth of contributions ($75,000). The funds inside the 529 Plan account can be invested in mutual funds. There is no tax on the growth or dividends while the funds are inside the 529 Plan account.
The custodian of the 529 Plan determines which funds can be selected for investment. Usually there are two options:
a) You can choose from the list of funds made available by the plan provider
b) Select a pre-made portfolio that will automatically rebalance each year to an increasingly more conservative style every anniversary.
When the student is ready to post-secondary education (after high school), it’s time to arrange for necessary withdrawals from the account. As long as the funds are used for “qualified” expenses, the withdrawals from the plan balance will not be subject to taxation. The IRS publishes a list of what college expenses qualify for tax-free treatment.
Generally they include:
To prevent abuse of this generous tax benefit, the IRS places limits on how much can be withdrawn free of tax. Each educational institution publishes a list of the estimated cost of attending their school. The IRS allows the withdrawals from the 529 Plan account to be counted as tax-free withdrawals as long as your actual educational costs do not exceed the amount published by the institution.
If your student does not use all of the funds in the 529 Plan account, you can withdraw the excess For example, here is a recent total cost estimate provided by Arizona State University. Withdrawals that exceed the cost limits will be subject to normal income tax.
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