Are 529 College Savings Plans Worth It?
We all know college is expensive. In 2019, the average sticker price of an in-state public college education was $10,116, while private colleges average a whopping $36,801. With the ever-increasing price of sending kids to college, more parents than ever feel the need to find ways to save for their children's college expenses.
529 college savings plans' popularity and growth have continued to rise since their creation under the Small Business Protection Act of 1996, but studies still show that most Americans still don't know what a 529 savings plan is. We break down the basic pros and cons of 529 plans, giving you a better understanding of how they work and if they may be the right college savings vehicle for your kids.
What Is a 529 College Savings Plan?
529 plans are tax-advantaged investment accounts that are state or state agency run to save for college expenses.
There are no income, age, or contribution limits to 529 savings plans. You don't have to worry if the account beneficiary doesn't go to college right away; they can use it whenever! Additionally, the beneficiary of the plan can be changed to another family member. This means that, as the account owner, you can transfer it to another family member, including yourself! Parents can feel better about staying in control of the money, too. Unlike UGMA (Uniform Gift to Minors Act) and UTMA (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act) accounts, the custodian of a 529 savings plan always stays the owner; it will never switch over to the control of the beneficiary. This means parents can rest assured that their child can't withdraw the money to purchase the Mustang they've been eyeing!
The most obvious disadvantage to 529 plans is that you are limited to withdrawing the money only for college expenses. If withdrawn for any other reason, you may be subject to income tax along with penalty expenses on the earning portions of the account. Luckily, the list of qualified college expenses is vast, including the most recent addition to the list: student loan payments.Since 529 plans are run by states and institutional agencies, a big concern is whether or not the plan that is opened will transfer easily if the beneficiary ends up going to college out of state. In most 529 plans, your choice of college is not affected by the state in which it was opened.
Most states offer a full or partial tax deduction for 529 contributions. Some states even allow a tax credit for the contributions. Account owners can also feel better knowing that the earnings grow tax-free and will never be taxed as long as the money is used for qualified expenses.
Most plans are low maintenance and have automatic investment management options, which means less work and worry on your end. Many 529 plans use target-date funds, which change based on the beneficiary's age and become more conservative the closer they get to college age. These types of funds can be great for the account owner, who wants to be able to "set it and forget it." but it can also be troublesome for those more involved with managing their own investments. Account owners can only make investment changes twice a year in 529 accounts (there is a loophole for this if you switch the beneficiary; then the investment change limit is reset)
529 Plans' Effect on Financial Aid
There is much debate over how a 529 plan can affect a college applicant's ability to receive financial aid. A lot of factors go into the decision-making on FASFA (free application for federal student aid) forms, so it's important to look into each individual case. Since student assets are assessed at higher rates than parents', in most cases it is best to keep the account in the parent's name. However, 529 accounts owned by a grandparent will be counted on the FASFA application as the student's assets, so it will be assessed at a higher percentage.
In my personal opinion, as a former personal banker and mother of two, 529 plans are the best way to save for college, as long as you start early– it doesn't make much sense to open one if your child will be attending college in just a few short years. The best advice I can give people is to act early, set clear goals for the future, and meet with a financial professional to discuss your exact situation.
Every time payday rolls around, I’m on top of the world. Jeff Bezos-level rich - even though I’m anything but. And then somehow the very next day, rent is due.
The cycle continues. The next payday, bills for my apartment. I find myself without a surplus of savings since I just moved and newly-furnished my apartment completely.
Even more terrifying is the looming presence of the holiday season. Halloween’s officially over and before we know it, hello Thanksgiving…and then there’s Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s insane.
I’ve been feeling very British lately. Not in a Union-Jack-obsessed, “Keep Calm and Carry-On” way. I went through that phase in 2012 with everyone else… no thank you. And it’s not even a surge of patriotism catalyzed by the Queen dying — I’m firmly team Diana and team Meghan.
Now that fall is officially here, the holidays will sweep in and I’ll have to contend with the fact that I won’t be spending them with my family in the UK. I went home to London earlier this year, so there’s not much left in my travel budget for another trip across the pond. A few domestic jaunts might be in my future, but the closest I’ll get to England this winter is watching Love Island and Love, Actually.
So in that spirit, I’ve been filling my days with content from my favorite Brits. I’m listening to all the old British rock bands I grew up listening to, patiently awaiting the new Arctic Monkeys album, and rewatching anything with Michaela Coel in it. I even shipped myself an order of British Baked Beans, so you know it’s dire.
I’ve also been watching British YouTubers like Grace Beverley — my favorite. Generally, I only go on YouTube to watch Vogue Beauty Secrets and AD Open Door videos. But I’m so glad I stumbled on Grace. Her content is a mix of London lifestyle (what lured me in), relatable entrepreneurship, and mindful productivity. I’m not a hustle-and-grind-girlboss, but as a creative person in a 9-to-5, I need all the help I can get to stay plugged in. So, the video “how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmed” changed my approach to WFH.
Grace outlines her own productivity method: the to-do table. Instead of making a simple to-do list, she divides her tasks into a table that anyone can follow. As someone who’s survived with to-do lists for years, I recently implemented Grace’s method, and it’s revolutionized my workdays.
how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmedwww.youtube.com
I follow her routine to a tee. Here’s how it works:
Essentially, she divides her daily responsibilities into four categories: quick ticks, tasks, projects, and non-negotiables.
- Quick Ticks: Actions that take less than 5-minutes
- Tasks: To-do’s that take up to 30-minutes. Probably don’t take too much brain energy.
- Projects: Long-term list items. These help guide your priorities, even if you’re not crossing them off in one day.
- Non-negotiables: Pick 3 things each day that you must get done. This is how you’ll truly measure success.
With everything written down and sorted, next address your schedule. Meetings, deadlines, and time blocks — whatever works best for you. Write it down. Then make a pact with yourself to stick to them.
This way of categorization provides a roadmap for prioritizing your day — making you far more productive. Have you ever spent the entire day on small tasks and then suddenly realized you hadn’t moved the needle on any task? Or do you spend way too much time on tasks that aren’t a priority? No more. With your non-negotiables laid out, you know what to laser-focus on and what to dedicate energy towards.
Also, it pays to know your working style. I’m not a morning person. Yet, I have to be up and at ‘em super early. So, first thing in the morning, I march through my Quick Ticks to warm me up. I set a time limit, so I can knock out some easy wins which is totally inspiring. Then I move on to bigger things without lingering on emails or admin. For others, it might be more helpful to tackle the big things with all that early-in-the-day brain power earlier.
Grace has great tips on avoiding overwhelm and burnout. My favorite is taking more intentional breaks rather than scrolling through social media. I call this scrolling “productive” because I’m “coming up with pitches.” Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. It’s more productive in the long run to giving my brain a break with non-screen related stimuli.
Grace’s solution? Set a timer to read a real, an actual book. I’ve never thought of this. It’s a genius way to check off some books on my TBR and kickstart my creativity. After reading a good book, I’m completely inspired to write. So having books near my desk helps me step away from the computer during my lunch break for an actual reset. (And yes, the current books I’m reading are by British authors: Assembly by Natasha Brown, and Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalolu.)
In my pursuit of switching out my WFH set-up and getting my life together, I’ve engineered my workstation for success. With my new WFH essentials and Grace’s productivity technique, I’m revitalized for work — despite the fall blues and my melancholy about the pending holidays.
Here are the things getting me hyped for work and helping me crush my Grace Beverley-inspired to-do tables — no lists in sight:
Pack your bags — Southwest Airlines is having a major sale! Fares are as low as $59 one-way if you book by October 3rd.
This end-of-summer super sale is a game-changer for your travel plans through the end of the year. Summertime travel gets all the glory. But why not take advantage of your long weekends, holidays, and PTO this fall. You’ll be surprised at how much travel you can fit in. Keep the fall/winter season exciting with domestic trips that give you all the excitement without breaking the bank. All thanks to Southwest.
Here’s the breakdown:
Where can you go?
You’ll find discounted tickets to and from most airports. Sale fares apply to cross country travel, and even Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean! Whether you’re visiting a new city or revisiting your last beach vacation, this sale has fares to make your travel dreams come true.
What do the fares cover?
Southwest Airlines has multiple fare tiers, each with various benefits. Wanna Get Away fares start at $59, while Wanna Get Away Plus fares start at $89. You can also find great deals on Anytime fares, which offer priority boarding and express lanes. Then there’s Business Select tickets for a luxe experience at an affordable price point.
Do you have to be a Southwest Rapid Rewards member?
You may think these sale fares are too good to be true. Is there a catch? Do you have to be a Southwest Rapid Rewards member to access them? You’re in luck — anyone can attain these fares for a limited time.
But, insider tip, you should consider signing up for Southwest Rapid Rewards. With a free sign up, you earn points and miles with each trip you take. And with this sale, each dollar you spend on these discounted tix can stretch super far until you eventually earn free travel. The only thing better than a sale is free stuff.
I’ve been browsing the Southwest Airlines site, checking out flights and dreaming.