SHORTCUTS

529 Plan Details:

Enter your state:

World's Simplest College Calculator:

How old is your child?

Find a 529 Pro:

Enter your zip code:

Enroll In a 529 Plan:

View a list of participating plans

OPTIONS

COLLEGE SAVINGS 101

Two kids, two 529 plans?

10/13/2005

QUESTION:
Dear Joe,

I opened a 529 plan when my daughter was born. Now I have another baby on the way. Should I open a separate 529 for the new baby? Or can I use the funds in the first 529 account for either child? Does it matter if both kids will be in college at the same time (i.e., first daughter is a junior and second child is a freshman)?
Thanks!

-- Big Bill

ANSWER:
Dear Big Bill,
While it's possible to maintain a 529 plan in just one child's name, even when you intend to send more than one child to college, I generally recommend that families open a separate 529 account for each child.

That's assuming there is no additional cost to maintaining multiple accounts. If your 529 plan charges an annual or quarterly account maintenance fee, check to see if you can avoid the fee by signing up for automatic contributions through payroll deduction or electronic funds transfer)

With a separate 529 plan for each child, it becomes easier for you to tailor the mix of stocks, bonds and stable-principal investments (e.g., stable value, guaranteed principal and money market funds) to the particular ages of your children. When your older child is nearing high school graduation, you may want to ratchet down the level of market risk in her 529 plan. At the same time, you could keep a more-aggressive asset allocation in your younger child's 529 plan, accepting more risk for a potentially higher return. Many 529 plans offer "age-based" investment options that automatically make these adjustments as the beneficiary ages.

Separate accounts for your children also offer more gift-tax leeway. Since your 529 contributions are treated as gifts from you to the account beneficiary, your $11,000 annual gift exclusion will go twice as far with two accounts -- one for each child -- than with just one account.

Financial aid is another reason to recommend maintaining separate accounts. You wouldn't want the investments reserved for your younger child's future college expenses to count against your older child's financial aid eligibility. Be warned: The rules here are rather murky, and the impact of a sibling's 529 account may depend on the college's own policies as well on as the type of aid -- federal or institutional -- being sought.

Finally, I believe that separate 529 accounts allow for better family bookkeeping. There will never be any doubt as to your intention to help send all of your children to college. You'll avoid the uncomfortable position of being asked to explain to a curious 8th-grader why account statements are showing up in the mail with only a brother or sister's name on them. And in the event of your death or divorce, no matter how unlikely, your legal representatives and other family members will have less reason to question your actions in setting up and funding the 529 plans.

Even with separate accounts, you'll continue to have the flexibility to shift the money around in the future. You simply need to make sure that whenever funds are withdrawn from the 529 plan to pay for college they are coming from an account in the name of the child incurring the costs. It's a simple matter to change the beneficiary designation among family members at any time, transfer 529 funds between different family members' accounts or split one 529 account into two. The ability to move assets around the family is a key advantage of 529 plans when comparing other college-savings alternatives, such as Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, or UTMA, accounts.

Other recent questions

»529s and Financial Aid (Video) (11/19/2014)
»529s and Financial Aid (Script) (11/19/2014)
»What are the best ways to maximize the savings in my 529 plan? (Video) (10/14/2014)
»What are the steps involved in setting up a 529 account? (Script) (09/15/2014)
»What are the steps involved in setting up a 529 account? (Video) (09/15/2014)
»What is the first step in getting started with a 529 plan? (Script) (09/05/2014)
»What is the first step in getting started with a 529 plan? (Video) (09/05/2014)
»Coverdell ESA vs. 529 Plan: Which to choose? (Video) (07/15/2013)
»Coverdell ESA vs. 529 Plan: Which to choose? (Script) (07/15/2013)
»What is the best 529 plan for me? (Video) (07/10/2013)
»What is the best 529 plan for me? (Script) (07/10/2013)
»What happens to my 529 if my child gets a scholarship? (Video) (07/02/2013)
»What happens to my 529 if my child gets a scholarship? (Script) (07/02/2013)
»Can grandparents open a 529? (Video) (06/20/2013)
»Can grandparents open a 529? (Script) (06/20/2013)
»Do I have to use my own state's 529 plan? (Video) (06/12/2013)
»Do I have to use my own state's 529 plan? (Script) (06/12/2013)
»529 Plans: Tax Benefits of a 529 Plan (Video) (06/07/2013)
»529 Plans: Tax Benefits of a 529 Plan (Script) (06/07/2013)
»What are the Pros & Cons of 529 plans? (Video) (05/30/2013)