If your child graduates from college and you are fortunate enough to still have a balance in their 529 college savings account, what are your options for the remaining balance? There are basically 5 options for money left over in college 529 plans.
Advanced degree for child
If after the completion of an undergraduate degree, your child plans to continue on to earn a master’s degree, law school, or medical school, you can use the remaining balance toward their advanced degree.
Transfer the balance to another child
If you have another child that is currently in college or a younger child that will be attending college at some point, you can change the beneficiary on that account to one of your other children. There is no limit on the number of 529 accounts that can be assigned to a single beneficiary.
Take the cash
When you make withdrawals from 529 accounts for reasons that are not classified as a “qualified education expenses”, the earnings portion of the distribution is subject to income taxation and a 10% penalty. Again, only the earnings are subject to taxation and the penalty, your cost basis in the account is not. For example, if my child finishes college and there is $5,000 remaining in their 529 account, I can call the 529 provider and ask them what my cost basis is in the account. If they tell me my cost basis is $4,000 that means that the income taxation and 10% penalty will only apply to $1,000. The rest of the account is withdrawn tax and penalty free.
Reserve the account for a future grandchild
Once your child graduates from college, you can change the beneficiary on the account to yourself. By doing so the account will continue to grow and once your first grandchild is born, you can change the beneficiary on that account over to the grandchild.
Reserve the account for yourself or spouse
If you think it’s possible that at some point in the future you or your wife may go back to school for a different degree or advanced degree, you assign yourself as the beneficiary of the account and then use the account balance to pay for that future degree.
Hi, I’m Michael Ruger. I’m the managing partner of Greenbush Financial Group and the creator of the nationally recognized Money Smart Board blog . I created the blog because there are a lot of events in life that require important financial decisions. The goal is to help our readers avoid big financial missteps, discover financial solutions that they were not aware of, and to optimize their financial future.