Giving children and grandchildren the opportunity of a lifetime

Saving for College

Whether your children or grandchildren are toddlers or teenagers, it’s only a matter of a time before they leave the family home, probably as they head off to college. The cost of sending just one child to college for four years can be staggering, and tuition and fee hikes regularly outpace inflation. Rather than sending your children or grandchildren into the world with the burden of student-loan debt, you can save to help cover at least a portion, if not all, of their higher-education expenses.

The College Board Advocacy and Policy Center reported that over the past decade college tuition and fees have rapidly increased. The table to the left demonstrates how average college costs would continue to increase at national average annual inflation rates.

Fortunately, parents who intend to cover or contribute to their children’s education costs have more choices today than they’ve ever had. If you’ve not yet looked into an education savings plan, your Financial Advisor can help you choose among a variety of savings vehicles, including 529 plans, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), and custodial accounts.

Tax-advantaged options

With both 529 plans and ESAs, earnings may be tax-free as long as withdrawals are used to pay for qualified education expenses.

529 savings plans

Most states and the District of Columbia offer 529 college-savings plans. Most are national plans and are available to residents of any state, although roughly half of the states’ plans offer in-state residents additional state-income-tax benefits. If considering an out-of-state 529 plan, be sure to weigh the tax implications.

529 plans allow annual tax deferrals on account earnings. As with ESAs, earnings withdrawn from the account may be federal-tax-free if they’re used to pay for qualified higher-education expenses.

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act expanded the federal definition of qualified expenses to include up to $10,000 annually per beneficiary for tuition at an elementary or secondary private, public, or religious school. Unfortunately, not all states have conformed to this new law so it will be important to discuss any distributions with your tax advisor to avoid any surprises on your state tax bill.

529 plans offer no guarantees on investment returns, but—like a 401(k)—they let you choose an investment strategy from a particular plan’s options. At times, an out-of-state plan may offer advantages—such as better investment performance, plan features, or flexibility—that could outweigh the tax benefits of participating in your state’s plan.

For more information about 529 savings plans, including the unique gifting and estate-tax benefits they entail, please ask your Financial Advisor for a copy of our detailed 529 plan report.



An ESA allows for after-tax contributions of up to $2,000 each year on behalf of the child named in the account. You may be able to forego federal income taxes when you withdraw funds to pay for qualified education expenses at an eligible elementary or secondary school or a postsecondary educational institution. For a list of qualified expenses, refer to IRS Publication 970 at or talk with your Financial Advisor. Consult your tax advisor regarding state and local taxation of qualified ESA distributions.

Please consider the investment objectives, risk, charges, and expenses carefully before investing in a 529 savings plan. The official statement, which contains this and other information, can be obtained by calling your Financial Advisor. Read it carefully before you invest. Wells Fargo Advisors is not a tax or legal advisor.

Before investing, an investor should consider whether the investor’s or designated beneficiary’s home state offers any state tax or other benefits that are available only for investments in that state’s 529 plan. The availability of such tax or other benefits may be conditioned on meeting certain requirements.

Does contributing to a traditional or Roth IRA make sense for college savings?

Traditional IRAs are not well suited for college savings. However, the tax law does provide one special advantage in the form of an exception from the 10% early distribution penalty if you have qualifying education expenditures for yourself, your spouse, your child or grandchild, or your spouse’s child or grandchild. (Limitations apply; see IRS publication 970.) Roth IRAs are also not specifically designed for college savings. However, a Roth IRA can make sense in some situations if you are putting money away for retirement at the same time you are saving for a child’s education. You can build up the Roth account with contributions and earnings and then withdraw only the contributions to fund college costs. Because the Roth rules permit you to withdraw your contributions first, those withdrawals are free of tax and penalty. The earnings part of your Roth IRA can remain in the Roth for use as part of your retirement. If you must withdraw earnings, as well as contributions, you are under age 59½, and you have not had the account for at least five years, the earnings will be taxed. But even so, if you have qualifying higher education expenses, you may be able to avoid the 10% early distribution penalty. (See IRS publication 970.)

Tax credits

The American Opportunity Credit provides a tax credit of up to $2,500 of tuition and related expenses paid during any of the first four years of
college. The credit is phased out starting at $80,000 Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) for single filers and $160,000 for joint filers.
Lifetime Learning Credit. Unlike the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit can be taken for any year of postsecondary schooling and does not require at least half-time enrollment or that the coursework lead to a degree. The Lifetime Learning Credit maximum is $2,000 per return, or 20% of qualified tuition and fees up to $10,000. Income limitations will reduce the credit for couples with MAGIs more than $116,000 and for others with more than $58,000 for 2019. Education tax credits are calculated on IRS Form 8863.

Funds must be withdrawn for qualified expenses, rolled into another eligible family member’s ESA, or transferred to a 529 plan within 30 days of the beneficiary’s 30th birthday to avoid income taxes and a 10% IRS penalty. The earnings portion of withdrawals not used for qualified expenses is subject to an IRS penalty and taxes unless an exception applies. If the beneficiary dies or becomes disabled, you may make distributions from the account penalty-free. If the student receives a tax-free scholarship, withdrawals up to the amount of the scholarship may be made penaltyfree within the same tax calendar year.

Eligibility. Eligibility to contribute to an ESA is based on the contributor’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). Single taxpayers whose MAGI is less than $95,000 and joint taxpayers whose MAGI is less than $190,000 can make the full $2,000 nondeductible contribution. The allowable contribution is phased-out for single taxpayers whose MAGI is between $95,000 and $110,000 and for joint filers whose MAGI is between $190,000 and $220,000. If your MAGI exceeds these limits, you cannot contribute. Keep in mind that the total of all contributions to all ESAs set up for the benefit of any one beneficiary cannot exceed $2,000 per year.

Investment-based college-savings programs come in many shapes and sizes. That’s why a Financial Advisor’s insight and guidance is so valuable. He or she will not only help you choose the right savings plan but also help you select the plan’s investment alternatives that fit your needs and risk tolerance.

Taxable accounts

Rather than investing in an ESA or 529 plan, you may choose to save using a taxable account. If so, you’ll have to decide whether to invest in your name or your child’s name.

Investing in your name

To maintain maximum control over the assets in your college-savings account, invest in your own name. Under this arrangement, you may invest however you choose and give your child access to the account’s assets when you decide to do so—if at all. You’ll pay taxes on the account’s earnings at your own marginal income tax rate.

Investing in your child’s name

Tax law contains provisions that limit the effectiveness of investing in a child’s name, but it may still make sense for parents willing to cede control over an account to a child. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 modified the “kiddie tax” rules for tax years 2018 through 2025. Children who are subject to kiddie tax rules and have taxable income attributable to earned income are taxed according to the single taxpayers brackets and rates. While net unearned income of that child will be taxed at the estate and trust tax rates. Since these brackets are compressed it will be important when making investment choices to control the amount and character of the income generated to minimize tax liability.

The “kiddie tax”

Children who have not reached the age of 19 by the end of the tax year are subject to the “kiddie tax” rules. If the child continues to be a full-time student, the rules apply until he or she turns age 24. If a child is age 18 or older and provides more than half of his or her own support, the kiddie tax rules do not apply.


Custodial accounts

If you decide to invest in your child’s name, you will probably do so in a custodial account. In such an
account for a minor, an adult serves as custodian and holds supervisory powers over the investments.

Each state has statutes that govern the legal requirements of custodial accounts and conform to either the Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or the Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA). The following policies apply to all custodial accounts:

  • All gifts to minors are irrevocable, and the donor of the gifts retains no right to the property. Distributions should be used for the child’s benefit. Unlike an ESA or 529 savings plan, the funds are not restricted to education expenses only. In many cases, however, custodial funds are used to pay for education expenses that are not considered qualified expenses under the ESA or 529 rules.
  • The custodian manages the investments, making decisions concerning buying and selling, reinvesting earnings, and so forth. He or she must act in the child’s best interest and not for himself or herself.
  • The account’s ownership is in the minor’s name and Social Security number. The custodian holds supervisory powers only. When the child reaches the age that custodianship ends, as specified by the state in which the account was created, the custodian is obligated to transfer assets to the child.
  • Only one child may be named on a custodial account.

Taxes levied on a custodial account depend on your child’s age and whether the account’s income was generated through taxable or tax-free investments. The “kiddie tax” rules, as explained on page 5, usually apply.

529 savings plans ESA UGMA/UTMA Savings Bonds
How much can you invest? Perhaps as little as $10 a
month or as much as vendor allows; varies by state. (Donor subject to annual gift tax exclusion of $15,000 or five-year accelerated gift.)
$2,000 maximum annual
contribution per child up to age 18 (over 18 if beneficiary has special needs).
Unlimited contributions, but donor should consider the $15,000 annual gifttax exclusion. Up to $10,000 per year of Series EE and I bonds electronically and an additional $5,000 in paper Series I bonds bought with IRS tax refund (per Social Security number).
Who controls
the account?
Account owner
(not beneficiary).
Parent or other “responsible individual.” The custodian until the minor reaches the age the custodianship terminates (varies by state). Bond owner.
Tax treatment Tax-deferred growth. Qualified withdrawals may be federal-tax-free. Earnings portion of
distributions may be taxable in years the American Opportunity Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit is used if same expenses used to qualify for credit. Contributions may qualify for a state-income-tax deduction.
Tax-deferred growth. Qualified withdrawals may be federal-tax-free. Earnings portion of distributions may be taxable in years the American Opportunity Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit is used if same expenses used to qualify for credit. While the child/student is under age 24 and a dependent, subject to “kiddie tax” rules. If child is over age 18 and has earned income greater than half his/her support, “kiddie tax” no longer applies. Interest is taxable unless higher-education exclusion applies. See IRS Form 8815 for details. Interest income might not be tax-free in a year when American Opportunity Credit or Lifetime Learning Credit is used if same expenses used to qualify for credit.
Restrictions on use of money Withdrawals must be used for qualified education expenses at eligible postsecondary institutions or up to $10,000 annually per beneficiary for tuition at elementary or secondary schools. Withdrawals must be used for qualified elementary or secondary expenses or qualified higher-education expenses. Should be used for the child’s benefit. No restrictions. However, to qualify for interest exclusion, withdrawals must be used for qualified higher-education expenses and meet other requirements as per Form 8815.
Financial aid
Considered account owner’s assets, with the exception of student- or custodian-owned account. Accounts owned by the
dependent student or a custodian for the student (Custodial 529) are considered the parents’ assets. Penalty-free withdrawals if student receives tax-free scholarship. Restrictions apply.
Considered account  owner’s assets, with the exception of student- or custodian-owned ESA.
Accounts owned by a dependent student or a custodian for the student are considered the parents’ assets. Penalty-free withdrawals if student receives tax-free scholarship. Restrictions apply.
Considered child’s assets. Considered bond owner’s assets.
Advantages Anyone can make contributions. Account owner retains control. No family income restrictions. Plans can be transferred to another eligible family member without penalty or to another qualified tuition program once every 12 months. Can transfer account to eligible family member. Anyone who is under the MAGI limits can make contributions. Withdrawals can also be used for qualified K-12 expenses. Self-directed investment choices. Anyone can make contributions. Withdrawals not restricted to qualified educational expenses. Possibly lower taxation on investment income than if held in parent’s name. No family income restrictions. Guaranteed minimum return. Tax on interest income can be deferred until the earlier of redemption or maturity. It may be tax free if you qualify for the education exclusion.
Disadvantages Tax and 10% penalty on earnings for nonqualified withdrawals.
Investment options are limited to those offered by a particular plan. May only change investment options twice per calendar year or when changing beneficiary.
Tax and 10% penalty on earnings for nonqualified withdrawals. Not available to taxpayers with MAGIs over $220,000 (joint) or $110,000 (single). Low contribution limit. No tax deferral. Child gains complete control at age when custodianship ends (varies by state). Low rate of return. Eligibility for interest out
for MAGIs above $121,600 (joint) or $81,100 (single) for 2019. Benefit of interest exclusion is limited to person(s) taking a dependency exemption for the student on Form 1040.














Start now

It’s common to assume that saving will be easier in the future when you’re earning more, but as your family and income grow, so do your expenses associated with your standard of living. If you wait until your kids or grandkids are closer to college age, you may find you’ve waited too long and might face the prospect of scaling back the family’s finances in other ways to save for hefty tuitions, fees, and living expenses.

Also, when you start early, college savings can earn substantially more over time through the power of compounded growth. For example, suppose you start putting aside $100 every month for an 8-year-old child. Assuming a 5% annual growth rate, you’ll save $15,592 by the time your child is ready for college but will have invested only $12,000 out-of-pocket.

If you wait until your child is 15 to start saving, you’ll have to put more money aside each month to save the same amount, and your out-of pocket investment will be much greater. For example, at the same 5% annual growth rate, it would take $400 per month to save $15,566 in time for college, and you’d have invested $14,400 out-of-pocket. This information is hypothetical and is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to represent any specific return, yield, or investment, nor is it indicative of future results.

How do you plan to meet the ever-rising costs of college? Contact your Financial Advisor today to discuss your education funding options.

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Moran Wealth Management and Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network are not a legal or tax advisor. However, we will be glad to work with you, your accountant, tax advisor and or attorney to help you meet your financial goals.