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Frequently asked questions about 529 plans

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I thought there were some gift and estate tax advantages with 529 plans, but you didn't mention that as a benefit. Am I wrong?
The gift and estate tax treatment of an investment in a 529 plan is a good news, bad news situation. The bad news is that your contribution is treated as a gift to the named beneficiary for gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax purposes and so you need to be aware of this exposure particularly if you are making other gifts to the beneficiary during the same year. The good news is that your contribution qualifies for the $12,000 annual gift tax exclusion and so most people can make fairly large contributions without incurring the gift tax. Even better news is that if you make a contribution of between $12,000 and $60,000 for a beneficiary, you can elect to treat the contribution as made over a five calendar-year period for gift tax purposes. This allows you to utilize as much as $60,000 in annual exclusions to shelter a larger contribution. The money (and the growth of your account) gets out of your estate faster than if you made contributions each year. And the best news is that the asset leaves your estate but doesn't leave your control. This is a truly remarkable benefit when you compare it to the "normal" gift and estate tax laws. Anyone who is being advised to reduce their estate tax exposure through gifting, but cannot stand the thought of irrevocably giving away their assets, can now have their cake and eat it too. Of course, if you later revoke the account its value comes back into your estate. Your estate will also have to include a portion of any contribution made with the five-year averaging election if you don't live past the fourth year.

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Can I invest for one beneficiary in more than one state's 529 plan?
Sure, no problem. Most 529 savings plans have no state residency requirements. You can open accounts in as many of these states as you want, although in most cases there is little reason to have accounts in more than one or two states.

Can I contribute the maximum amount in more than one state if I want to?
The IRS currently does not require that states count your investment in other state 529 plans when applying their own contribution limits. And there are no "contribution police" out there looking for people who are intent on using multiple states to stuff hundreds of thousands of dollars into 529 plans as a kind of tax shelter. But you are looking for trouble if you contribute more on an aggregate basis than you can reasonably argue might be needed for your beneficiary's future higher education costs. Of course, between a pricey private college, medical school, and then business school you might be able to support a pretty hefty sum. A state will not want to see its program misused as a tax shelter (its tax status as a 529 plan could be threatened) and if a state determines that you have made contributions without the intent to use the account for college it will terminate your account and perhaps assess an extra penalty.

I don't have time for all this and just want to know which state has the best plan. So which one is it?
Sorry, but that's up to you to decide based on your own circumstances and objectives. The best plan for one family may not be the best plan for another. Be sure to consider getting the book, "The Best Way to Save for College - A Complete Guide to 529 Plans", for in-depth information and planning ideas (or ask your public library to order a copy).

Can I transfer my child's existing Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) account into a 529 plan?
Many, if not all, 529 plans accept funds coming from an existing UTMA or UGMA. However, because these funds belong to the minor under a custodial arrangement, any withdrawals from the UTMA/529 account must be for the benefit of that minor only. Program rules and state laws will generally prevent you from making any beneficiary changes to the UTMA/529 account, and the minor will assume direct ownership of the account when the custodianship terminates at the age of majority. Parents who are nervous about a child getting their hands on money in an UTMA account, and who may be looking to "regain control" of the money by transferring the funds to a 529 account, may be disappointed to learn that they are not able to accomplish that objective without violating state laws (see your attorney). Still, the placement of UTMA funds in a 529 account can provide all the tax and investment benefits associated with 529 plans. Remember, however, that a 529 plan can only accept cash and so any appreciated securities in the UTMA would first have to be sold and capital gains would be reportable on the minor's tax return.

"The information contained in this material and related materials ("Information") is based on information from sources believed to be accurate and reliable and every reasonable effort has been made to make the Information as complete and accurate as possible but such completeness and accuracy cannot and is not guaranteed. The reader and user of the Information should use the Information as a general guide and not as the ultimate source of information. The Information is not intended to include every possible bit of information regarding the Information but rather to complement and supplement information otherwise available and the reader and user should use the Information accordingly. The Information contains information about tax and other laws and these laws may change. The reader and user should realize that any investment involves risk and the assumptions and projections used in the Information may not be how the investments turn out. The reader and user should consult with their own tax, financial and legal advisers about all of the Information."'s corrections policy -- Updated: Oct. 18, 2006
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