The tax reform act of 2017 expanded 529 education savings plans to include K-12 expenses.
Beginning this year, annual withdrawals of up to $10,000 per student can be made from a 529 college savings plan account for tuition expenses in connection with enrollment at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school. (Home-schooling is excluded.)
Withdrawals for elementary and secondary school expenses are now tax-free at the federal level.
At the state level, roughly 20 states and the District of Columbia automatically update their state legislation to align with federal 529 legislation, but the remaining states will need to take legislative action to include K-12 expenses as a qualified education expense and, if applicable, extend other state tax benefits to K-12 expenses; for example a deduction for K-12 contributions.
529 account owners who are interested in making K-12 contributions or withdrawals should understand their state’s rules regarding how K-12 funds will be treated for tax purposes. In addition, account owners should check with the 529 plan administrator to determine whether a K-12 withdrawal request should be made payable to the account owner, the beneficiary, or the K-12 institution. It’s likely that 529 plans will further refine their rules to accommodate the K-12 expansion and communicate these rules to existing account owners.
The expansion of 529 plans to allow K-12 expenses will likely impact Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Coverdell ESAs let families save up to $2,000 per year tax-free for K-12 and college expenses. Up until now, they were the only game in town for tax-advantaged K-12 savings. Now the use of Coverdell ESAs may decline as parents are likely to prefer the much higher lifetime contribution limits of 529 plans — generally $350,000 and up — compared to the relatively paltry $2,000 annual contribution limit for Coverdell accounts.
Coverdell ESAs do have one important advantage over 529 plans, though — investment flexibility. Coverdell owners have a lot of flexibility in terms of what investments they hold in their account, and they may generally change investments as often as they wish. By contrast, 529 account owners can invest only in the investment portfolios offered by the plan, and they can exchange their existing plan investments for new plan investments only twice per year.
A list of 529 plans offered, by state, and a comparison tool are available at collegesavings.org.
If you have any questions, please contact your advisor.
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