Tax Tip

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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How The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) Affects Fantasy Sports

Fantasy sports is becoming increasingly popular, with 59.3 million people playing in the United States and Canada, creating a $7 billion industry. With this though, comes tax implications for winners.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) provides tax opportunities and drawbacks that fantasy players should understand.

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There is currently an ongoing debate how winnings should be classified and where they should be reported. Are the winnings considered gambling income or hobby income? The TCJA does not clarify the definition of gambling and to date the IRS has not weighed in as to whether fantasy sports winnings are hobby or gambling income. If fantasy sports are not considered gambling, then the hobby loss rules would apply. In this case, the TCJA eliminates the taxpayers’ ability to deduct any fantasy expenses even if there is fantasy income. Prior to the TCJA, hobby losses were deductible as miscellaneous deductions subject to the 2% adjusted gross income (AGI) floor.

Many have argued that fantasy sports are ‘wagering transactions’ thereby allowing fantasy sports losses to be deductible to the extent of their winnings. Previously, gambling losses were assumed to be the cost of placing the wager, but TCJA suggests that other expenses that are ordinary and necessary to execute wagering transactions are deductible. For traditional gamblers, this includes the ability to deduct expenses related to travel, lodging, etc., to the extent of winnings – but fantasy players may have different ‘ordinary and necessary’ expenses. Potentially deductible fantasy sports expenses under TCJA include: fantasy-related online subscriptions and magazines; cost of any office equipment/space exclusively dedicated to fantasy sports; 50% of food costs at fantasy sports draft parties; and cost of any punishments for losing in a fantasy sports league. Losses from other gambling activities, like traditional casinos, could also be used to offset fantasy sports winnings.

For casual fantasy players, the increase in the standard deduction under the TCJA will reduce the number of taxpayers that itemize, thereby eliminating any potential benefit of fantasy-related expenses, since the deductions allowed are classified as “other itemized deductions” on the schedule A.

For the serious fantasy player, treating gambling as a trade or business may be useful. It is important to remember that taxpayers who recognize profits on their schedule C will be subject to both income and self-employment taxes, so it may not always be beneficial to consider yourself a professional. In the case of the serious professional fantasy player, income and expenses will be reported on schedule C, negating the need to itemize in order to take advantage of the deductions.  The TCJA does have one downfall for professional gamblers; prior to the new tax law, gambling expenses such as travel and lodging were not considered gambling losses, which meant they were not limited to gambling winnings. This allowed professional gamblers to have a net loss on gambling activities. Under the TCJA, these expenses are defined as wagering losses, therefore are limited to the extent of gambling winnings. Those who identify themselves as professionals have the burden to prove their activity is regularly pursued full-time, and to produce a livable income. Taxpayers should expect to hear from the IRS when claiming to be a professional.

Whether a taxpayer is a professional or a casual player, it is very important to keep all records as the burden of proof is on the taxpayer. While gambling is reported on W-2G, fantasy sports sites typically issue 1099-Misc to players winning more than $600. The IRS suggested that the net method of reporting (reports winnings from contests less the entry fees for any contest won) was the appropriate way to calculate winnings, but not all fantasy sports sites comply. It is important for a taxpayer to know how the site they are using reports winnings.

In summary, under the TCJA, fantasy players may benefit by treating their fantasy sports as gambling and claiming fantasy-related expenses that were not previously deductible.

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

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.