There's no denying the benefits of a college education: the ability to compete in today's competitive job market, increased earning power, and expanded horizons. But these advantages come at a price—college is expensive. And yet, year after year, thousands of students graduate from college. So, how do they do it?
College savings options
You're ready to start saving, but where should you put your money? There are several college savings options, but to come out ahead in the college savings game, you should opt for tax-advantaged strategies whenever possible.
- 529 plans
529 plans are one of the most popular tax-advantaged college savings options. They include both college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans. With either type of plan, your contributions grow tax deferred and earnings are tax free at the federal level if the money is used for qualified college expenses. States may also offer their own tax advantages.
- Coverdell education savings accounts
A Coverdell education savings account is a tax-advantaged education savings vehicle that lets you contribute up to $2,000 per year. Your contributions grow tax deferred and earnings are tax free at the federal level (and most states follow the federal tax treatment) if the money is used for the beneficiary's qualified elementary, secondary, or college expenses. You have complete control over the investments you hold in the account, but there are income restrictions on who can participate.
- U.S. savings bonds
The interest earned on Series EE and Series I saving bonds is exempt from federal income tax if the bond proceeds are used for qualified college expenses. These bonds earn a guaranteed, modest rate of return, and they are easily purchased at most financial institutions or online at www.treasurydirect.gov. However, to qualify for tax-free interest, you must meet income limits and other criteria.
- UTMA/UGMA custodial accounts
An UTMA/UGMA custodial account is a way for your child to hold assets in his or her own name with you (or another individual) acting as custodian. Assets in the account can then be used to pay for college. All contributions to the account are irrevocable, and your child will gain control of the account when he or she turns 18 or 21 (depending on state rules). Earnings and capital gains generated by assets in the account are taxed to the child each year.
Under the kiddie tax rules, for children under age 19, and for full-time students under age 24 who don't earn more than one-half of their support, the first $1,050 of earned income is tax free, the next $1,050 is taxed at the child's rate, and anything over $2,100 is taxed at your rate.