What is a 529 Plan?
A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged investment plan designed to encourage saving for the future higher education expenses of a designated beneficiary (typically one's child or grandchild). The plans are named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code and are administered by state agencies and organizations.
All withdrawals from 529 plans for qualified education expenses will remain free from federal income tax! Many states mirror the federal tax advantages for 529 plans by offering state tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals for qualified higher education expenses.
Why State Plans Differ
Each state that offers a 529 plan determines how its plan is structured and which investment options are offered. While most plans allow investors from out of state, there can be significant state tax advantages and other benefits, such as a state tax deduction, a matching grant, and scholarship opportunities, protection from creditors and exemption from state financial aid calculations, for investors who invest in 529 plans offered by their state of residence. Click here to Compare 529 Plans by State.
Types of 529 Plans
There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and savings plans. There are currently 13 Prepaid Tuition Plans (sometimes called guaranteed savings plans) offered by 12 states and one not-for-profit organization, which allow for the pre-purchase of tuition based on today's rates and then paid out at the future cost when the beneficiary is in college. Performance is often based upon tuition inflation. Prepaid plans may be administered by states or higher education institutions.
Savings Plans are different in that your account earnings are based upon the market performance of the underlying investments, which typically consist of mutual funds. Savings plans may only be administered by states. 49 states and Washington, D.C. offer a savings plan. Most 529 savings plans offer a variety of age-based investment options where the underlying investments become more conservative as the beneficiary gets closer to college-age. They also offer risk-based investment options where the underlying investments remain in the same fund or combination of funds regardless of the age of the beneficiary. In addition, many savings plans offer an FDIC/NCUA insured, money market or guaranteed option designed to protect an investor's principal while providing for some investment growth, while others offer investments in certificates of deposit.