College Savings Choices

You have several choices when you are determining your college savings strategy. This page highlights the most popular choices and the tax advantages of each.

  529 College Savings Coverdell UGMA / UTMA Mutual Fund Roth IRA U.S. Savings Bond Certificate of Deposit
How used? Qualified college tuition and fees Higher education Any expense that benefits the child Any purpose Retirement investment Any purpose Any purpose
Are contributions state tax deductible? Varies by state No No No No No No
How are withdrawals treated for federal tax purposes? Withdrawals for qualified higher education expenses are federal income tax free. Non-qualified withdrawals are taxable as ordinary income to the extent of earnings and may also be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Such withdrawals may have state income tax implications. Withdrawals for qualified higher education expenses are federal income tax free. Non-qualified withdrawals are taxable as ordinary income to the extent of earnings and may also be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Such withdrawals may have state income tax implications. Unearned income above $2,100 will be taxed at rates that apply to trusts and estates. If mutual fund is in the name of the parent or child, taxed on earnings when income received. If mutual fund is in name of child, unearned income is taxed at the rate of trusts and estates. Early distributions before the age of 59.5 are subject to federal income tax on the earnings, but the 10% penalty tax may be waived if distribution is used for qualified higher education expenses Taxed on earnings when income is received Taxed on earnings when income is received
Are there state taxes on earnings? Varies by state Varies by state Varies by state Varies by state Varies by state No Varies by state
Are there federal taxes on earnings? No, if used for qualified expenses No, if used for qualified expenses Varies Yes Yes No, if used for qualified educational expenses, the bonds are in the parent's name and subject to certain other requirements Yes
  529 College Savings Coverdell UGMA / UTMA Mutual Fund Roth IRA U.S. Savings Bond Certificate of Deposit
Are there income limitations? No Yes No No Yes No No
What are the investment options? Individual
Investment Options along with Age-Based and Static Portfolios of varying risk
Variety of securities Variety of securities Funds consisting of variety of securities Variety of securities Funds consisting of variety of securities CDs with various terms and amounts
Who controls the assets? Account owner Account owner Custodian until the beneficiary is age of majority Account owner Account owner Account owner Account owner
How does the product impact financial aid eligibility? Considered an asset of the account owner Considered an asset of parent, if account owner Considered an asset of the child Considered an asset of the account owner Considered an asset of the account owner Considered an asset of the account owner Considered an asset of the account owner
Are there contribution limits?1 Varies by state. SMART529 is $400,0002 per beneficiary Yes, $2,000 per year Not applicable Not applicable Not applicable Not applicable No

 

1The contribution limits do not reflect gift tax limitations, if any.
2$400,000 limit effective August 1, 2018

 

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Savings Plans Definitions:

 

529 College Savings Plan: A tax-advantaged college savings program.

Coverdell Education Savings (ESA): A trust or custodial account set up solely for the purpose of paying qualified education expenses. The designated beneficiary receives tax free distributions to pay qualified education expenses.

UGMA/UTMA Account: Uniform Gifts to Minors Act/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act – Legislation that permits a gift of money or securities to be given to a minor and held in a custodial account that is managed by an adult for the minor’s benefit. By transferring income and capital gains to a minor’s name, they may be taxed at a lower rate.

Mutual Fund: A professionally managed investment fund that pools money from many people and invests it in stocks, bonds or other assets. Each investor in the fund owns shares, which represent a part of these holdings.

Roth IRA: An individual retirement account where contributions are not tax deductable, but qualified distributions are tax free. There are income maximums and maximum annual contributions.

Savings Bonds: A registered, non-callable, non-transferable bond issued by the U.S. Government.  They cannot be bought and sold after they are purchased from the government; therefore, there is no secondary market.  Face values range from $50 to $10,000.

Certificates of Deposit: A deposit made with a bank, credit union, or savings and loan. It is a specified amount that is deposited for a certain period of time and a set interest rate.