Financial planning
Jun 26
min read

What is a 529 plan?

Learn what a 529 plan is and how to create one.
Mitchell Kotheimer, CFP®
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What is a 529 Plan? 

If you're looking for a tax-advantaged way to save for your child's college education, a 529 plan is an excellent choice. These investment accounts are specifically designed to help families save for future educational expenses. In this guide, we'll explore the ins and outs of 529 plans, from their benefits to the various types available.

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment account that allows you to save for qualified education expenses. The funds invested in a 529 plan can be used for tuition, room and board, books, and other qualified education expenses at eligible educational institutions. In addition, many states allow up to $10,000 per year distribution to be used for private K-12 tuition or student loan repayment per beneficiary.

Benefits of a 529 Plan

A 529 plan offers several key benefits for savers:

Tax Advantages: : The money you invest in a 529 plan grows tax-deferred, meaning you won't owe taxes on the investment gains each year. In addition, withdrawals from the plan used for qualified higher education expenses are tax-free.  This can result in significant savings over time.

Flexible contribution levels and options: 529 plans have high contribution limits, allowing you to save a substantial amount for your child's education. Unlike several other college savings tools, 529 plans do not have income limits that prevent high earners from contributing to an account for their child. Additionally, many plans offer various investment options, giving you the flexibility to choose an investment strategy that aligns with your risk tolerance and financial goals.

Favorable Financial Aid Treatment: 529 plans are reported as parental assets, and therefore have a minimal effect on financial aid eligibility for the student. Distributions from parent and student-owned accounts are not considered income on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Opening and utilizing a 529 Plan

To open a 529 plan, start by researching the different 529 plans available in your state or other states. You are not limited to choosing the plan offered in your state, however there are often additional tax credits available by using a plan that is offered in your state of residence. It is important to compare  the investment options, fees, and any state-specific benefits they offer.

Anyone can open and fund a 529 plan: a parent, grandparent, or other friends and relatives. All 529 plans have an adult owner and a beneficiary. The owner of the account has legal control of the assets and maintains the right to change the beneficiary at any time. The owner is responsible for instructing the plan when a distribution is needed. 

Contributions to a 529 plan are made after-tax, meaning they will not be deductible on your federal tax return. Maximum contribution limits vary from state to state, although they are typically high. Another key benefit of 529 accounts is that anyone can make a contribution.

It is important to note that distributions not used for qualified education expenses will be subject to a 10% penalty on earnings withdrawn, plus income tax. Exceptions to these penalties are available if the beneficiary receives a scholarship, attends a U.S. Military Academy, dies or becomes disabled.

Types of 529 plans

Prepaid tuition plans

A 529 prepaid tuition plan allows you to pay in advance for future college tuition fees at the current rate. The credits are guaranteed to cover the cost of tuition at that specific institution once installments are paid off. This type of plan may be beneficial if you have a conservative risk tolerance, since returns are guaranteed by your state rather than tied to the stock market.

529 prepaid tuition plans have similar tax benefits to 529 savings plans. However, certain limitations apply. Prepaid tuition plans have state residency requirements, limitations on eligible expenses, and specific enrollment periods. 

529 savings plans

529 savings plans offer more flexibility for coverage of expenses such as supplies and boarding. They may be  a more reasonable option if you are not sure whether your child will attend an in-state school. While returns are dependent on the stock market, there is no guarantee that the plan will cover the entire cost of tuition.  A financial professional can help you decide which type of plan may be best for you.

How to contribute to a 529 plan

Contributing to a 529 plan is relatively simple.

After-tax contributions: Contributions to a 529 plan are made with after-tax dollars. This means that you won't receive a federal tax deduction for your contributions. However, it's important to note that some states offer tax deductions or credits for 529 plan contributions, so be sure to check the rules specific to your state.

Maximum contribution limits: Each 529 plan has a maximum contribution limit, which varies by plan. These limits are typically quite high, often reaching several hundred thousand dollars. However, it's essential to consider your own financial situation and contribution goals when deciding how much to contribute.

Gifting contributions: One advantage of 529 plans is that other family members and friends can contribute to the account as well. This can be a great way to involve loved ones in saving for your child's education and help boost the account balance over time.


529 plans are a powerful, tax-advantaged tool for saving for college expenses. Remember, saving for your child's education requires long-term planning and commitment. By starting early and consistently contributing to a 529 plan, you can help ensure that your child has the financial resources needed to pursue their educational dreams.

At Domain Money, we understand the importance of saving for your child's education. Our team of dedicated advisors can help you navigate the complexities of 529 plans and create a personalized financial plan that includes education savings. Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist you in achieving your college savings goals.

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