Friday, April 15, 2011

A 529 - my best MBA savings friend

It's tax time again and while I, like everyone else, hate paying up today I'm looking on the bright side.  I'm am currently singing the praises of my 529 account.  What's that and why are you so damn happy about it, you ask? Let me explain.

529 Accounts

A 529 account is designed to be a tax-advantaged savings plan.  These accounts are set up by states or education institutions to help families (or individuals!) save money for higher education expenses.  They're named for the IRS Code section which set them up.  Every state offers at least one 529 plan now but not all 529 plans are created equal. Like a 401k, 529 plans have limited investment choices that vary by plan.  Some state 529 plans have an array of low-cost Vanguard index funds while others have meager choices and high fees.

Tax Advantages

The big advantage of these accounts is that although your contributions are not Federal tax deductible, the growth is tax deferred and tax free if used for educational expenses.  That's a big deal if you start saving for your child's college education 18 years down the road, lots of time for growth to compound.  It's not as big of a deal if you're me and only started saving in a 529 for grad school three years ago but it is nice.

However, there is an additional perk.  Some states sweeten the deal by offering state income tax deductions or credits based on your contribution to their 529 plans.  So you'd have to be filing income taxes in that state and you'd have to contribute to that state's 529 plan.  But the payoff can be big.  Check out Pennsylvania.  In 2009 they offered a dollar for dollar income tax deduction for up to $13,000 in contributions to 529 plans per beneficiary. So if you have two kids and two parents the parents could deduct up to $52,000 on their state tax return.  That's pretty huge.  

Not all states offer tax benefits for their 529 plans.  You can find a comprehensive list and check for your state at If your state doesn't have an income tax or doesn't offer tax benefits for 529 contributions you may want to compare your state's plans with other available plans to look for low fees and better investments.

So basically today I'm getting a nice chunk of change off of my state taxes while knowing that the money I've invested is growing tax free for my MBA.  It makes me pretty happy.

Do you have a 529 plan?

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  1. shoooot. I did not know about 529 plans. I just googled the details right now. Wish I started one a few years ago...

  2. Paul - You might still get some advantages from starting one if your state plan offers benefits and allows you to withdraw same year contributions. But it definitely pays to start early which is hard when you're thinking about professional school, but easy when it's your kid's undergrad.

  3. Honestly, I don't have any 529 plans yet. Thanks for discussing this. I think I have to get one pretty soon.

  4. However, due to the difficult economic times that we are currently going through as a whole, the average standard savings account is currently offering a higher yield than the average money market account - a fact that has only recently come into light.

  5. If I had known about this before, I would have made my own parents get a 529 plan. Maybe then I would have gotten the math tutor I had begged for. Thank goodness I can start doing this now, for my own kids.