Sure to Help Families as College Decision Deadlines Near
By Patricia Roberts, Chief Operating Officer of Gift of College, Inc.
April 19, 2022
It’s the time of year when higher education options are being carefully considered and compared by high school seniors and their parents. What may have initially been thought of as an easy decision to make may now be more challenging as the deadline to commit to a particular institution nears.
For some, admissions decisions may not have turned out as planned. The location or size of a once-desired school may now be under reconsideration as the reality of attendance sets in, and/or the financial aid offers and net costs of various options are taking center stage as much-needed consideration is being given to how to cover the cost of the desired degree and whether and to what extent to take on student loan debt.
What’s important to remember at the juncture is that there’s no one path to a fulfilling future. In fact, a change in direction may lead to a much-more rewarding educational experience than the path envisioned initially or desired. As various academic options are considered in these final days before decisions need to be made, families who have 529 college savings accounts can be comforted in recognizing just how much flexibility is built into these plans.
529 college savings plans are incredibly flexible with respect to:
1. Type of Institution
Whether considering a community college, a trade or vocational school, a 4-year institution, or some other form of higher education, you can count on your 529 plan to cover the cost of tuition and other required expenses at any eligible post-secondary educational institution. These include most accredited public, nonprofit and privately-owned–for-profit postsecondary institutions eligible to participate in a student aid program run by the U.S. Department of Education. To see which U.S. and international schools have Federal School Codes—an identification number used with federal financial aid program-eligible schools—check the U.S. Department of Education’s website or contact a particular school directly to determine if it qualifies as an eligible educational institution.
2. Location of Institution
Whether deciding to remain in-state or to study out of state, to travel across the country or the world to pursue a degree, you can count on your 529 college savings plan to cover expenses required for attendance at eligible institutions regardless of location.
3. Living Arrangements
Whether planning to live and dine on campus or off-campus, 529 plans can be used to cover room and board expenses when attending an eligible school at least half-time. In addition to the cost of living on campus and utilizing campus food services, costs associated with living off-campus and at home are covered expenses as well, up to their actual cost or the institution’s published cost of attendance allowance for room and board, whichever is less.
4. Other Costs
Whether planning to rent or buy new or used books, equipment, tools, or other supplies required for a particular course of study, 529 plans are there to help. Beyond this, 529 plans can even cover the cost of a computer or peripheral equipment along with computer software or internet access, if mainly used by the account beneficiary while enrolled at an eligible institution. Lastly, 529 plans can cover expenses required for participating in specific registered apprenticeship programs.
5. Timeframe for the Use of Funds
Whether planning to hit the pause button and defer admissions to pursue a gap year experience, to work to save up some additional funds, or for some other reason, you can count on your 529 college savings plan to be there for use when the time is right. There are generally no time limits on how long funds can remain invested in a 529 college savings account.
The final days and weeks leading up to college decision deadlines can be stressful for students and their families. Take a moment to celebrate how far you’ve come in the college planning process, and be sure to check with your 529 plan about the process and timing for withdrawals so that deposits can arrive on time at your institution of choice. No matter which higher education path a student ultimately pursues, the flexibility built into 529 college savings plans can provide peace of mind that their account will help cover many associated costs.
About the author:
Patricia Roberts is the Chief Operating Officer of Gift of College, Inc. and the Author of Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans.