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529 plan charitable giving

Family of all shapes and sizes plays a special role for most during the holidays. This brings to mind a different type of gift you can give to a loved one who is currently or planning on attending college. For the majority of the 25 Days of Giving series we’ve focused on charitable gifts made to nonprofit organizations. But, investing in a student’s future and helping to make higher education more affordable and accessible is certainly a valid cause…and has tax benefits of its own.

The 411 on the 529

Gordon Fischer Law Firm is dedicated to Iowans, so we’ll focus on the College Savings Iowa 529 plan, but know that all 50 states and D.C. sponsor at least one type of 529 plan. There are two types of 529 plans—prepaid tuition plans and college savings plans. The College Savings Iowa plan is a tax-advantaged program sponsored and administered by the Treasurer of the State of Iowa. The purpose? Just as the name “college savings” says, it is intended to “help an individual or a family pay for higher-education costs.”

girl in graduation robes

The account funds can be used by the beneficiary for any purpose, but for the withdrawals to be considered tax-free, the money must be used for qualified higher-education expenses at an eligible educational institution by the student. Eligible expenses include elements associated with higher education such as: tuition, mandatory fees, books, required supplies, computers (including related hardware and software), internet access, equipment required for enrollment/attendance, and even  room and board during any academic period where the student is enrolled at least half-time.

If withdrawals are made and not used for for a qualified expense, the deductions must be added back to Iowa taxable income and adjusted annually for inflation. Additionally, the earnings part of the non-qualified withdrawal may be subject to a 10 percent federal penalty tax on top of federal income tax. A great alternative to non-qualified withdrawals if the student doesn’t end up going to or paying for school, is transferring the money to another eligible beneficiary’s 529 account.

Who Can be a 529 Plan Beneficiary?

Your school years may be far behind you, but you can set up a 529 for any beneficiary. The only requirements are that the prospective or current student must be a U.S. citizen or resident alien with a valid Social Security number or other taxpayer ID number. The student doesn’t have to reside in Iowa or be related to you in any way. So, you could set-up a 529 for your niece, but also your friend’s son whom you’ve known since he was little…even if he lives in another state!

woman opening gift on couch

Federal, State, & Estate Tax Benefits

The most obvious benefit of College Savings Iowa 529 accounts is that contributed assets grow deferred from federal and state income taxes. Plus, “Iowa taxpayers can deduct up to $3,239 in contributions per beneficiary (student) account from adjusted gross income for 2017.” These contributions can usually be made up through the tax-filing deadline. (For example, you could make a tax deductible contribution for the 2017 tax year up until the end of April 2018.)

Beyond the $3,239 state tax deduction, you can contribute up to $70,000 in a single tax year for each beneficiary (or $140,000 as a married couple filing jointly) without incurring federal gift tax. This is provided you don’t make any other gifts to that student beneficiary over the course of five years. For the purpose of the contribution, it’s as if you made the $70,000 gift over the course of five years. Any additional gifts made to the beneficiary during that five-year period will incur a gift tax.

There’s another major benefit when it comes to the 529 and estate taxes. Money contributed to a 529 account is generally treated as a “completed gift” to the student beneficiary, but as the contributor/participant, you still have control over the money. If you were to die with money remaining in your account, it will not be included in your estate for federal estate tax purposes. In short, the 529 is a valid tool if your goal is to reduce the total of your estate to avoid the estate tax, but still help a student you care about.

In terms of estate tax, if you took option for the $70,000 contribution ($140,000 for married couples) to a 529 plan account as if it was made over five years and then you die within the five year window, a prorated portion of the contribution will be subject to estate tax. This can get a bit confusing so please speak with your trusted estate planning attorney or tax advisor for more personalized information.

What’s your experience with 529 plans? Any questions in regards to how contributing to a 529 plan could impact your tax savings? Don’t hesitate to contact me by email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or phone (515-371-6077).

College student in graduation robes

If your child went to college this year you likely helped them acquire dorm essentials, review their class schedule, and file all the necessary paperwork for enrollment, student loans, financial aid, and the like. Give yourself a pat on the back; as a parent you should feel great that the small human you raised is beginning to charter the course for a successful, fulfilling life!

However, there are likely two important documents you (and your college student) didn’t have on the college prep list: power of attorney for healthcare and financial power of attorney.

I encourage every Iowan to have these essential documents a part of their quality estate plan. However, college students are in a unique position since many don’t yet have the need for a full estate plan if they don’t have children, pets, substantial financial assets, real estate, at the time they head off for their undergraduate education. But, even if a college student doesn’t have a need for an entire estate plan, they still need these power of attorney documents. Let’s review both.

Power of Attorney for Healthcare

A power of attorney for healthcare designates someone to handle your healthcare decisions for you if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. This essentially gives another person the power to make decisions on your behalf. For example, if you don’t want to be kept alive with machines, you can clearly outline that in your power of attorney for healthcare. Keep in mind that power of attorney for healthcare isn’t just about end-of-life decisions—it can cover any medical situation. So, in a worst case scenario, if your (adult) child were to have some sort of debilitating accident and were deemed by a medical professional unable to make healthcare decisions for themselves, then a trusted adult (such as you, the parent) could make such decisions in the best interest of their health.

Power of Attorney for Finances

The power of attorney for finances is similar to the power of attorney for healthcare; your designated agent has the power to make decisions and act on your behalf when it comes to your finances. This gives the selected agent the authority to pay bills, settle debts, sell property, or anything else that needs to be done if you become incapacitated and unable to do this yourself.

While college students may not have many financial assets, their bank accounts, credit cards and apartment leases in their name should all be taken into consideration and accounted for. Additionally, a financial power of attorney can cover digital assets including online accounts for their school, banking, email, and social media, among others. Without passing along the necessary digital information and instructions to digital accounts, parents if they’re the authorized representative, can face major headaches on issues such paying bills, accessing bank records, shutting down social media profiles, and the like she says.

Course of Action: Avoid Court

Having power of attorney documents in place also prevents someone, like you as a parent, from having to go to court to get permission to act as the student’s proxy. Avoiding court at all costs (pun intended) is a wise plan as it’s both time consuming and expensive.

Does State Residency Matter?

A power of attorney that’s validly executed in the state in which an individual has full-time residency is usually honored across the U.S. But, what if your child is enrolled at a school out-of-state? Not a problem. Simply have your in-state attorney contact a recommended attorney in the state where the school is located to confirm the power of attorney document would be valid in that state and if not, recommend provisions to ensure it would be.

College student tossing cap into air

Why Now?

When your child is a minor (under age 18) you need certain legal documents such as nomination of guardianship. Once your child turns 18 (AKA becomes a legal adult) they are no longer under your immediate care as their guardian you as their parent are no longer responsible for making their healthcare decisions. Yet, all of us need someone we trust to make decisions in our best interest, which is why adults (even college students and young professionals) need power of attorney documents established.

How to get Started? Have a conversation.

As a parent you cannot force your college student to sign a power of attorney, but you may be one of the best people to discuss the topic. While a topic that includes debilitating injuries and the prospect of death is not a pleasant one for anyone involved, it’s nonetheless important. As a trusted adult you can explain how these documents could make a vital difference in some health and financial related situations. A good place to start in the conversation is explain what the documents are and how they can be used to execute their personal wishes.


I’m always happy to help more Iowans (at any age) get the necessary estate planning documents they need. Contact me by phone or via email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com and we can get started.