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August 18, 2016 / Jessica Connell

Tax-Free Savings for College

o $56,000 can be given tax-free in the first year.

However, a rollover from one beneficiary to another in a younger generation is treated as a gift from the first beneficiary, an odd result for an act the “giver” may have had nothing to do with.

Estate Tax. Funds in the account at the designated beneficiary’s death are included in the beneficiary’s estate, another odd result, since those funds may not be available to pay the tax.

Funds in the account at the account owner’s death are not included in the owner’s estate, except for a portion thereof where the gift tax exclusion installment election is made for gifts over $14,000. For example, if the account owner made the election for a gift of $56,000 in 2016, a part of that gift is included in the estate if he or she dies within five years.

Tip: A Qualified Tuition Program can be an especially attractive estate-planning move for grandparents. There are no income limits, and the account owner giving up to $56,000 avoids gift tax and estate tax by living five years after the gift, yet has the power to change the beneficiary.

State Tax. State tax rules are all over the map. Some reflect the federal rules; some reflect quite different rules. For specifics of each state’s program, see College Savings Plans Network (CSPN). If you need assistance with this, please contact us.

Saving with Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

You can contribute up to $2,000 in 2016 to a Coverdell Education Savings account (a Section 530 program formerly known as an Education IRA) for a child under 18. These contributions are not tax deductible but grow tax-free until withdrawn. Contributions for any year, for example, 2016 can be made through the (unextended) due date for the return for that year (April 17, 2017). There is no adjustment for inflation; therefore the $2,000 contribution limit is expected to remain at $2,000.

Only cash can be contributed to a Coverdell ESA, and you cannot contribute to the account after the child reaches his or her 18th birthday.

The beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if they are less than a beneficiary’s qualified education expenses at an eligible institution. This benefit applies to higher education expenses as well as to elementary and secondary education expenses.

Anyone can establish and contribute to a Coverdell ESA, including the child. An account may be established for as many children as you wish; however, the amount contributed during the year to each account cannot exceed $2,000. The child need not be a dependent, and in fact, does not even need to be related to you. The maximum contribution amount in 2016 for each child is subject to a phase-out limitation with a modified AGI between $190,000 and $220,000 for joint filers and $95,000 and $110,000 for single filers.

A 6 percent excise tax (to be paid by the beneficiary) applies to excess contributions. These are amounts in excess of the applicable contribution limit ($2,000 or phase out amount) and contributions for a year that amounts are contributed to a Qualified Tuition Program for the same child. The 6 percent tax continues for each year the excess contribution stays in the Coverdell ESA.

Exceptions. The excise tax does not apply if excess contributions made during 2016 (and any earnings on them) are distributed before the first day of the sixth month of the following tax year (June 1, 2017, for a calendar year taxpayer). However, you must include the distributed earnings in gross income for the year in which the excess contribution was made. The excise tax does not apply to any rollover contribution.

The child must be named (designated as beneficiary) in the Coverdell document, but the beneficiary can be changed to another family member–to a sibling for example when the first beneficiary gets a scholarship or drops out. Funds can also be rolled over tax-free from one child’s account to another child’s account. Funds must be distributed not later than 30 days after the beneficiary’s 30th birthday (or 20 days after the beneficiary’s death if earlier). For “special needs” beneficiaries the age limits (no contributions after age 18, distribution by age 30) don’t apply.

Withdrawals are taxable to the person who gets the money, with these major exceptions: Only the earnings portion is taxable (the contributions come back tax-free). Also, even that part isn’t taxable income, as long as the amount withdrawn does not exceed a child’s “qualified higher education expenses” for that year.

The definition of “qualified higher education expenses” includes room and board and books, as well as tuition. In figuring whether withdrawals exceed qualified expenses, expenses are reduced by certain scholarships and by amounts for which tax credits are allowed. If the amount withdrawn for the year exceeds the education expenses for the year, the excess is partly taxable under a complex formula. A different formula is used if the sum of withdrawals from a Coverdell ESA and from the Qualified Tuition Program exceeds education expenses.

As the person who sets up the Coverdell ESA, you may change the beneficiary (the child who will get the funds) or roll the funds over to the account of a new beneficiary, tax-free, if the new beneficiary is a member of your family. But funds you take back (for example, withdrawal in a year when there are no qualified higher education expenses, because the child is not enrolled in higher education) are taxable to you, to the extent of earnings on your contributions, and you will generally have to pay an additional 10 percent tax on the taxable amount. However, you won’t owe tax on earnings on amounts contributed that are returned to you by June 1 of the year following contribution.

Professional Guidance

Considering the wide differences among state plans, federal and state tax issues, and the dollar amounts at stake, please call the office before getting started with any type of college savings plan.

 

For more tips visit www.PlumCPAs.com

Copyright © 2016 CPA Site Solutions

This information is  for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice, or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal, or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation. Tax articles are not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding accuracy-related penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The information is provided “as is,” with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose.

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