Education

6 FAQs About 529 College Savings Plans

College is a large expense and one worth planning for, especially if you want your future college graduate to start their lives with minimal debt. One common way to prepare for such an expense is to open a 529 college savings plan.

Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash

Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash

What is a 529 plan?

College savings 529 plans are state-sponsored savings accounts that offer both tax and financial aid benefits.

What states run a 529 program?  

Almost every state has a 529 program, each with different perks and benefits. You can pick based on perks and you don’t need to live in the state you opened the account in.

You can look at 529 plan options using this tool from SavingforCollege.com.

What are the two types of college 529 plans?

There are two types of 529 plans, they are:

  • College savings plans – This plan is similar to a Roth 401k or Roth IRA by allowing you to contribute after-tax income in the form of mutual funds and other types of investments. There are a number of investment options to choose from and the 529 account will go up and down and value according to those investment choices. The money is this account is available for tuition, books, and often housing.

  • College prepaid tuition-  This plan can be used to pre-pay all or part of the costs of an in-state public college education. Sometimes, they can be converted for use at private or out-of-state colleges.

What are the perks of using a 529 savings plan?

Each state provides slightly different incentives for its 529 programs. But some of the overall benefits include:

  • Large income tax breaks (for federal and often state taxes)

  • The donor stays in control of the account until its use

  • They’re low maintenance

When can you start them?

You can start one of these savings plans at any time. Most 529 programs are “set it and forget it” meaning the investments come straight out of your paycheck or bank account.

Where can I learn more about college 529 plans?

There are a lot of online resources for comparing and ranking different 529 programs. You can reference one of these, or reach out to your friendly neighborhood tax professionals. We can help you select the best option for you.

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3 Essential Tips for Financial Planning When You Have a Disability

Having a disability is not quite as rare as many people think. In fact, about 14 percent of adults around the world have a disability of some kind. This includes people who have a physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory limitation at a mild, severe, or moderate level. Also, these disabilities could have happened at birth, in old age, or anywhere in between.

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One thing that remains consistent across all forms of disability, however, is that life generally costs more money for those who have them. Normal expenses such as medical care and food, as well as additional costs such as modified housing and assistive devices and technology, can put a major burden on those with disabilities. That’s why it’s essential to have a financial plan in place. If you have a disability, these three tips will help you prepare and form the financial skills it takes to live your best life, both now and in the future.

Consider Life Insurance

One of the first things you should do when planning your finances is to look into life insurance. If you get a policy that benefits your current situation, it could provide significantly for your family if you were to pass away unexpectedly. And life insurance can help cover things like medical expenses, funeral expenses, and lost income. Moreover, shopping for life insurance is fairly straightforward nowadays, as you can easily purchase it online and use online calculators to figure out the coverage you need.

Set a Budget

Much of your financial planning comes down to making a budget. Not only will your budget serve as a guideline for your spending and saving, the process of making a budget will teach you a lot about your financial situation and the steps you can take to grow. If you’re on a fixed income, start with how much you bring in each month. If you are able to work or already have a job, where does that put your monthly income?

Once you factor in your income, write down all of your expenses; include everything you can think of. This might include normal monthly expenses such as your mortgage payment, home and auto insurance, utilities, food, entertainment, gas, etc. Also, consider your medical expenses: How much do you spend on medical care, assistive devices, or any other medical-related expenses? Furthermore, include any credit card debt you want to pay off.

Once you get these basic costs on paper, see where you stand concerning your income and expenses. Then you can determine what you can cut (entertainment, miscellaneous items, etc,) if necessary. Also, be sure to research all your options when it comes to financial assistance.

Build an Emergency Fund

As it is with anyone, saving money is important when you have a disability. Once you figure out your budget, determine how much you can put away in savings. Building an emergency fund will create a safety net in the event that something unexpected happens — whether it’s a medical incident, major home or car repair, or any other kind of sudden expense. Decide on a set amount to put into a cash jar or savings account, and stick to it as close as you can.

There may be many expenses that come with a disability, but that doesn’t mean you can’t navigate them and make a plan that meets your needs and sets you up to be cared for later in life. Work through your finances and set a budget to guide you through your spending and saving. Find the best life insurance plan for you and your family, and start building an emergency fund today. Being financially prepared will help you overcome a lot of challenges and put you in a better position to live a fulfilling life.

 Written by Ed Carter

Tax lesson for teachers: Educator expenses can be written off

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

By Bankrate

tax deductions for teachers

Teachers on average spend $530 of their own money during the school year to pay for supplies, snacks for students and other classroom items.

Teachers and other educators can get a tax deduction of up to $250 for some of those costs as well as continuing education expenses.

Even better, they don’t have to itemize to get the tax break. Educator expenses are one of the so-called above-the-line deductions claimed directly on a Form 1040 or via tax software.

Educator expenses deduction enhanced

Congress made the tax break for educators a permanent part of the tax code in 2015.

Lawmakers also indexed the $250 maximum deduction amount for inflation. It didn’t change for the 2016 tax year, because of low inflation, but it could increase in future years.

What items are deductible?

Besides teachers, counselors, principals and aides can take the deduction if, for the tax year, they were employed at a state-approved public or private school system from kindergarten through grade 12, and worked at least 900 hours during the school year.

Educators can write off unreimbursed costs for:

  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Computer and other equipment (including software and services)
  • Supplementary materials used in the classroom
  • Professional development programs

The IRS also applies its “ordinary and necessary” rule here. An item purchased for your classroom must be considered ordinary:  something that is common and accepted in the education profession.

It also must be necessary: defined as helpful and appropriate, though maybe not required.

So buying a recording of “Death of a Salesman” to help drive home Arthur Miller’s points to your students would likely meet tax muster. But purchasing a new HD television, instead of watching on your school’s working-but-old set, may raise some IRS eyebrows.

Couples who share education careers could get a double break if they file jointly. However, each spouse is limited to $250 of qualified expenses.

What about home schooling? Sorry, but the tax law specifically states that costs for this type of instruction don’t count toward the educator expenses deduction.

Circumstances could limit expenses

In addition to the eligibility requirements on expenses, the IRS has set some other restrictions on what’s deductible.

The tax agency says when an educator uses any tax-favored funds to pay for his or her own schooling, those amounts must be subtracted from the total the teacher claims under the educator expenses deduction.

Take for example Joe Jones, a high school English teacher who is working toward his master’s degree in literature during school breaks. He cashed in savings bonds to pay his tuition and excluded the bonds’ $150 interest from tax. He also spent $200 for books on Shakespeare to distribute to his 11th-grade students. He must subtract the $150 in tax-free interest from the $200 for the books, leaving him only $50 to claim under the educator expenses deduction.

The same rule applies to nontaxable earnings a teacher gets from qualified state tuition programs or tax-free withdrawals from a Coverdell education savings account.

Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York.  He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.