Who should be the owner of the 529 plan account?
Do you hope to help your grandchildren pay for college someday? As college costs continue to increase, more and more students are depending on 529 college saving plans, as well as expecting to qualify for federal financial aid. For those students fortunate enough to have family members that are able to help contribute to a 529 plan account, the question often arises as to who should own the 529 account – a grandparent, a parent, or the child themselves? Who should be the owner of the 529 plan account
Parent owned – If the 529 plan account is owned by the parent, then it is considered a parental asset for financial aid purposes. (5.64% of the value of the account is annually considered to be counted towards the Expected family contribution (EFC) and is considered on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Although qualified tax free distributions are not counted as income for the EFC calculation.
Student owned – In this scenario, the student is considered the account owner and beneficiary. As long as the student is a dependent of the parent, the account is also considered to be an asset of the parent and would have the same EFC impact on the FAFSA. Qualified, tax free distributions are not counted as income for the EFC calculation.
Grandparent owned– Many have resulted to opening 529 plans that are owned and controlled by the grandparent. This is done as a 529 plan account that is owned by the grandparent, is not considered an asset of the student. The balance of the account does not require an EFC calculation, although qualified, tax free distributions are considered income. This would be the recommended option for a situation that involves a younger child who has many years until college. Here, the contributions grow tax deferred and the grandparent is able to reduce their taxable estate through gifts. If possible, funds from the grandparent owned 529 plan should be accessed and used the last two years of college. (Due to the “prior prior rule”).
If the grandchild is older and ready to attend college, it is most beneficial to have the grandparent make the direct tuition payment to the college institution. This reduces their own taxable estate, does not count towards their annual gift tax exclusion (currently $14,000), and does not impact qualifying for financial aid.
Do you want to change the ownership structure of existing 529 plans? Each state sponsored plan has different restrictions, but generally speaking, you should be able to change the account owner. The best way to find out is to call the administrator of the plan. If you want help setting up 529 plans, please give me a call.
-William Pugh , CFP®, AAMS, Wealth Manager
About the Author
Jeff has been the CEO of Senior.com for 12 years. Senior.com has grown under Jeff’s leadership, in fact when the website was first launched, the member base grew form Zero to over 700,000 in less the 3 years. Current, has over 1,600,000 registered members.
Jeff received his MBA degree in Managerial Finance and Investor Relations from the University of Phoenix and his Bachelor of Arts degree in Corporate Finance and Accounting from California State University, Fullerton.View All Articles