Q&A: Are those 529 college savings plans still a good idea?

Dear Liz: Last week we had an infant come into this world and we’re already thinking about college. I know you’ve addressed this before, but things change and I was wondering if the 529 plan is still the way to go. If our son decides not to go to college, what are the tax consequences?

Answer: Congratulations! Yes, state-sponsored 529 college savings plans are still a great way for many families to save for future college costs. The money grows tax deferred and withdrawals are tax free when used for qualified education expenses.

Even if your son opts not to go to a four-year college, he will probably need some kind of post-secondary education. Withdrawals from 529 plans can be used to pay for any accredited school in any state, including community college and trade schools.

On the off chance that he doesn’t get any kind of schooling, or conversely gets a full ride, you can change the beneficiary so that the money pays for the education of a sibling or other close relative, including yourself. And if nobody wants to use the money for schooling, you can simply withdraw it. The earnings will be taxed and subject to a 10% penalty.

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