Planning for College & Tax Implications

With the year-end approaching many clients have been asking about college savings and its effect on taxation. I thought I would write a brief overview that may help in your planning.

If you are anything like me, you stay up at night worrying about college saving. I have 5 children and I can definitely use any tax benefits I can to get that clan through college. If you have a family with young children, you should also consider the cost of higher education well in advance. Two educational savings vehicles allow individuals to save for education on a tax-favored basis: a qualified tuition program and a Coverdell education savings account. Also, you may be able to exclude from income a limited amount of bond interest received from qualified U.S. savings bonds in the year you pay higher education expenses. Parents may also use funds from an individual retirement account or a traditional form of savings to pay tuition costs. Generally, the payment of higher education costs is supplemented with scholarships, loans and grants. However, having a viable plan as early as possible in a child’s life will make maximum use of a family’s financial resources and may provide some tax benefit.

Section 529 plans. The Tax Code allows states and some educational institutions to offer so-called “529″ plans (known for the section of the Tax Code that governs them). They are also sometimes called qualified tuition programs (QTPs). They allow you to either prepay or contribute to an account for paying a student’s post-secondary education expenses. An eligible educational institution generally includes colleges, universities, vocational schools or other post-secondary educational institutions. In addition, distributions from state programs, even to the extent of earnings, are now entirely tax-free to the extent used for qualified higher education expenses. This tax-free treatment also has been available for distributions from private college and university programs. Moreover, if you live in Illinois and contribute to Illinois’ “Bright Start” program you may be entitled to a state income tax deduction.

Coverdell education savings accounts. Coverdell education savings accounts (also sometimes called education IRAs) are similar to IRAs. You can save today for future educational expenses, not just higher educational expenses. Funds in a Coverdell ESA can also be used for K-12 and related expenses. The maximum annual Coverdell ESA contribution is $2,000 per beneficiary. Contributions are not deductible by the donor and distributions are not included in the beneficiary’s income as long as they are used to pay for qualified education expenses. Earnings accumulate tax-free. Contributions generally must stop when the beneficiary turns age 18, except for individuals with special needs. Parents can maximize benefits, however, by transferring older siblings’ accounts for use by a younger brother, sister or first cousin, thereby maximizing the tax-free growth period. Excess contributions are subject to an excise tax.

Although the amounts of adjusted gross income allowed for a contributor to a Coverdell ESA are subject to phase-out, the limits are generous. The annual contribution starts to phase out for married couples filing jointly with modified AGI at or above $190,000 and less than $220,000 and at or above $95,000 and less than $110,000 for single individuals.

Undoubtedly, some of these provisions will be more important to you than others, depending upon your personal circumstances. If you would like to explore how these opportunities can work for you and have us fully evaluate your situation, please do not hesitate to call to schedule an appointment. Now get some sleep!