The 529 Plan and Financial Aid

A new grandchild often inspires us to do something to help with future education costs.  And Most  people automatically think about a 529 plan.  That’s understandable. There aren’t many types of accounts which allow for TAX FREE growth.

But before you open that new account, you should be aware of a couple of “traps.”  We’ll talk about it on today’s episode of Monday Morning Money.

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529 plans were created in 1996. They allow for Tax Free growth when used for qualified education expenses. On the surface, they seem like the perfect tool to help save for the future costs of college.

But there are a few traps. Most of those issues center around how this account impacts financial aid.

The Hidden Financial Aid Trap for a 529 Plan

A 529 plant owned by a parent impacts the financial aid formula. But, an account owned by a grandparent doesn’t count in the expected family contribution. At first thought, you might think grandparents should own the account.

And here is where you find the hidden problem.

A distribution from a 529 plan owned by a grandparent counts as income to the student on the financial aid form. And, the distribution can reduce the financial aid package by 50% of the distribution.

This means, if your grandchild was to get $10,000 of aid, a $10,000 distribution could reduce their aid by $5,000.

Having the parent own the account might be a better option.

Parent owned assets do count towards the expected family contribution. But, their impact may not be as great as the distributions from the grandparent owned account.

Only 5.64% of the value of a parent owned account counts against a financial aid award. In number terms, a $10,000 account will only reduce the aid award by $564. On top of that, distributions from a parent owned 529 plan won’t count as income either.

If you, as the grandparent, own the 529 account, you need to plan the timing of the distributions. This means, the distributions should happen in the final two years of college.

Other Financial Aid Traps

This also brings up a couple of other things which could impact a financial aid award.

Sizable Gifts from a grandparent also get treated as income to the student on the FAFSA form.

Parents who tap into a Roth IRA to help their kids pay for college can also cause a problem with financial aid. Those tax free distributions count as income on the FAFSA.

Those items could reduce the amount of the financial aid award by 50% of the distribution or gift.

Helping your grandchildren save for college is a tremendous gift. The future costs will be staggering for certain. But it is worth looking at the big picture before you open an account.

 

529 Plan