When saving for a child’s education there are a few options available. Every family has different needs and a different situation so it is important to research what is best for you given the age of your child, your financial means and needs. A very popular option is the college savings plan which was created for the purpose of education costs savings plans. There are many benefits to this type of plan (i.e.; tax advantages, parental controls) but there are some drawbacks and pitfalls to college savings plans that aren’t always discussed. Here’s a closer look at some of these advantages and disadvantages:
Most people are attracted to college savings plans because of their tax benefits. There are definitely tax benefits which include earnings grow on the tax-deferred basis and qualifying educational expenses are tax-free, but it is important that you are careful. If you do withdrawal earnings it is important that they are being used for qualified expenses at a qualified institution. If you don’t do this than the earnings are taxable plus a 10% penalty is applied. This can lead to some hefty bills, so it is imperative that you keep track and are following the rules on qualified expenses for your plan.
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College Savings Plans are not very flexible when it comes to changes in your investment. The frequency of changes to your selections are often limited. Sometimes an additional charge may be applied or you may be forced to change plans.
Since college savings plans are very beneficial for saving for college, there are many particulars when it comes to certain aspects of the plans that can lead to mistakes. There are often rules about what are eligible expense, rules regarding gifting, rollovers to family, financial aid and tax quirks that are unique to these type of plans. As with the tax benefits, it is important to stay on top of these particulars.
You may find that diversifying your educational savings is the way to go. Use the 529 for their benefits, but also use the other instruments to save as well. By spreading your savings around, you’ll give yourself the most financial flexibility for that day when your kid becomes a university freshman.
Consider the items mentioned above to make sure you are making the best decisions about your college and educational savings.