The State of North Carolina’s 529 educational savings plan can be found at https://www.cfnc.org/. Many banks also have 529 plans, so check with your financial advisor to compare plans.
Here is the latest information from the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy about 529s:
What is a 529 plan?
A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs. 529 plans, legally known as “qualified tuition plans,” are sponsored by states, state agencies, or educational institutions and are authorized by Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code.
All fifty states and the District of Columbia sponsor at least one type of 529 plan. In addition, a group of private colleges and universities sponsor a prepaid tuition plan.
What are the differences between prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans?
Prepaid Tuition Plans. Prepaid tuition plans let a college saver or account holder purchase units or credits at participating colleges and universities (usually public and in-state) for future tuition and mandatory fees at current prices for the beneficiary. Prepaid tuition plans usually cannot be used to pay for future room and board. . . .
College Savings Plans. College savings plans let a college saver open an investment account to save for the beneficiary’s future qualified higher education expenses – tuition, mandatory fees and room and board. Withdrawals from college savings plan accounts can generally be used at any college or university, including sometimes at non-U.S. colleges and universities. A college saver may typically choose among a range of investment portfolio options, which often include various mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) portfolios and a principal-protected bank product. These portfolios also may include static fund portfolios and age-based portfolios (sometimes called target-date portfolios). Age-based portfolios automatically shift toward more conservative investments as the beneficiary gets closer to college age. . . .
What fees and expenses will I pay if I invest in a 529 plan? . . . .
Prepaid Tuition Plans. Prepaid tuition plans may charge an enrollment/application fee and ongoing administrative fees.
College Savings Plans. College savings plans may charge an enrollment/application fee, annual account maintenance fees, ongoing program management fees, and ongoing asset management fees. Some of these fees are collected by the state sponsor of the plan and some are collected by the plan manager. The asset management fees will depend on the investment option you select. Investors that purchase a college savings plan from a broker are typically subject to additional fees, such as sales loads or charges at the time of investment or redemption and ongoing distribution fees. . . .
How does investing in a 529 plan affect federal and state income taxes?
Contributions. Many states offer tax benefits for contributions to a 529 plan. These benefits may include deducting contributions from state income tax or matching grants. But college savers may only be eligible for these benefits if you invest in a 529 plan sponsored by your state of residence.
Withdrawals. If you use 529 account withdrawals for qualified higher education expenses, earnings in the 529 account are not subject to federal income tax and, in most cases, state income tax. However, if 529 account withdrawals are not used for qualified higher education expenses, they will be subject to state and federal income taxes and an additional 10% federal tax penalty on earnings.
What restrictions apply to an investment in a 529 plan?
Investments. College savings plans have certain pre-set investment options. It is not permitted to switch freely among the options. Under current tax law, an account holder is only permitted to change his or her investment option twice per year or when there is a change in the beneficiary.
Withdrawals. With limited exceptions, you can only withdraw money that you invest in a college savings plan for qualified higher education expenses without incurring taxes and penalties. Beneficiaries of prepaid tuition plans may only use their purchased credits or units at participating colleges or universities. If a beneficiary doesn’t attend a participating college or university, the prepaid tuition plan may pay less than if the beneficiary attended a participating college or university. It may only pay a small return on the original investment.
Does investing in a 529 plan impact financial aid eligibility?
While each educational institution may treat assets held in a 529 account differently, investing in a 529 plan will generally impact a student’s eligibility to receive need-based financial aid. For many families, the larger part of a financial aid package may be in loans. So, the more you can save before college, the less debt you or your student may have to incur during college.
Offering Circulars for 529 Plans. You can find out more about a particular 529 plan by reading its offering circular. The National Association of State Treasurers created the College Savings Plan Network, which provides links to most 529 plan websites.
529 Expense Analyzer. 529 college savings plans have fees and expenses that can vary widely from plan to plan. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has developed a tool to help you compare how these fees and expenses can reduce returns. . . .
Other Online Resources. You can learn more about 529 plans and other college saving options on FINRA’s Saving for College website. The website contains links to other sites, including the College Savings Plan Network and the Internal Revenue Service’s Publication 970 (Tax Benefits for Higher Education). You can also find educational information about 529 plans on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s education center website.
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