Friday, July 6, 2012

Helping Your Grandchildren with College Expenses

Although most of us don’t have enough financial freedom to completely finance the college education of our grandchildren, there are still ways we can invest some money for their future schooling.

If you are interested in setting aside money for your grandchildren’s education, be careful to consider all the options available to you (savings and investment plans and tax-free gifting). One plan may be perfect for one person but not the best choice for you, so make sure you understand how every option works before making any decisions.

There are three options in particular that many grandparents find beneficial for their savings goals; 529 plans, savings bonds and tax-free monetary gifts.

529 Plans

With a 529, grandparents can put away money for their grandchildren’s education through either a prepaid plan or a savings plan. Prepaid plans allow you to purchase tuition credits. These credits match today’s inflation rates, so their performance is based on how much the cost of tuition rises by the time your grandchild goes to college. Not all states offer the prepaid plan. With a savings plan, all growth is based on the performance of (usually) mutual fund investments. As the beneficiary gets older, the investments in a savings plan become more conservative, just like a retirement savings account.

Distributions from 529 plans to pay for qualified college expenses are exempt from the federal income tax. Investors who contribute to a 529 plan in their state of residence also often receive state tax advantages, exemption from state financial aid calculations and other benefits. Donors maintain control of the account, and most plans allow benefactors to reclaim the funds for any reason, at any time with no penalties. However, if a non-qualified withdrawal is made, the earnings will be subjected to an income tax and an additional 10% penalty tax.

Savings Bonds

Government savings bonds can be given to your grandchildren as birthday or Christmas gifts when they are very young. This gives the bonds plenty of time to mature before they are cashed in for college. The most common type of bond purchased to fund education is the T-note. It earns a fixed rate of interest every six months and is issued in terms of two, three, five, seven and 10 years. This means that you can’t cash in your purchased bonds until they have reach those terms, but the longer you allow them to sit, the more interest they will earn. The minimum purchase amount is $100.The income earned from interest is subject to a federal income tax but exempt from any state or local income taxes.

Tax-Free Monetary Gifts

If you are interested in giving a larger sum of money to a grandchild who will be attending college very soon, you may want to choose the tax-free monetary gift route. Most monetary gifts are subject to a tax, but grandparents can avoid that tax by giving their gift directly to the educational institution their grandchild plans on going to. Donors must make sure that the beneficiary is serious about graduating from that school, though, because there aren’t any hard rules that require schools to return the money if the child drops out. However, if the student has serious plans to graduate, a tax-free gift is the best way to transfer wealth and know that it will be used for its intended purpose.

For more information on college savings plans for your grandchildren, contact your local licensed financial advisor.

Nadia Jones is an education blogger for onlinecollege.org. She enjoys writing on topics of education reform, education news and online learning platforms. Outside of the blogging world, Nadia volunteers her time at an after school program for a local middle school and plays pitcher for a local club softball team. She welcomes your comments and questions at nadia.jones5@gmail.com.

1 comment:

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