Yes, You Can Open a 529 for Yourself – Here’s How

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Amy Buttell

By Amy Buttell

December 8, 2023

With more adults than ever heading back to school for retraining, consider setting up a 529 plan for yourself in addition to, or instead of, one for your young children.

Regardless of your age, you can set up a 529 college savings plan for yourself to fund higher education expenses now or in the future. You can use the money in a 529 plan to upgrade your skills by taking classes at a qualified college or trade school or working towards a degree or advanced certificate. You can apply the funds for tuition, books, fees, and even a computer, as long as it is considered a qualified education expense.

Why a 529?

529 plans are tax-advantaged savings accounts that can help you in a few ways. State tax benefits are available in more than 30 states, with state tax deductions for 529 plan contributions. Although your contributions don’t qualify as a federal income tax deduction, your investment grows tax-deferred, and all money from the fund for your educational expenses is tax-free upon withdrawal. 

Even if you change your mind and don’t use the money for your own educational expenses, you can always change the beneficiary on your account to a child, grandchild, or another family member without paying any tax on the transfer. Beginning in 2024, you can roll over unused 529 funds into a Roth IRA as well, giving you great flexibility.

Getting started

Setting up a 529 plan for yourself is no more complex than setting it up for a child or grandchild. The first step is to choose a state plan using the tools here at

Because so many states give a tax deduction for state residents, staying with your own state’s plan could make sense unless you have a compelling reason to go out of state. Open an account with yourself as both the account owner and the beneficiary. Generally, you can do this with a small sum, such as $25 or less.

Choosing an investment option can be trickier because the most commonly selected investment option — the age-based plan — isn’t suitable for an adult. That’s because age-based plans assume an 18-year time frame in which a child grows older toward college enrollment. Instead, you’ll want to choose another option suitable for your timetable.

If you plan to return to school immediately, you may want to choose an investment strategy with little or no investment risk, such as a money market account. If you have at least five years to save and earn, you might want to select a balanced fund that invests in stocks or bonds or pick a stock fund and a bond fund. When making contributions, you can either set up an automatic investment plan whereby you contribute a certain amount per month, or you could contribute occasionally when you have some extra cash.

While any investment return is welcome on 529 plan assets, the discipline of saving is essential, too, because you are making a financial commitment to yourself to return to school. “When it is part of your midterm to long-term plan to go back to school, setting up a 529 plan absolutely makes sense,” says Ken Bower, a Certified Financial Planner with Moneta Group, a wealth management firm in St. Louis. “You are, in many cases, going to get a tax deduction for your contribution — depending on what state you live in — and will be able to take the money out tax-free for your education.”

Retraining today

If you’re out of work or need some retraining, there’s no time to save. But if you have money to put towards that retraining effort, using a 529 plan can still make sense, Bower says.

“In Missouri, dollars only have to be in an account for ten business days before you remove them for a qualified educational expense,” he says. “If you live in a state that gives a tax deduction and have an account with your state’s plan, you get the tax deduction, which in Missouri is 6 percent. So it is simply a pass-through account.”

Before you employ this strategy, check with the state where you plan to set up an account to determine the minimum time before removing the funds to ensure you have enough time between depositing the funds and removing them to pay your educational expenses. 

For the money to be withdrawn tax-free, you must incur qualified education costs, including tuition, room and board, fees, and even a computer to further your education at a qualified educational institution.

Future beneficiaries

Even if you have not decided to return to school, it may be worthwhile to set up a 529 plan for yourself and contribute some money, such as a bonus from work or a tax refund, to it now and then. It’s there if you need it, and if you ultimately do not return to school, you can change the beneficiary to your children or another relative.

Also, if you use it for your own qualified educational expenses but overfund the account, you can change the beneficiary in the future, says Nicole Ramirez, a financial adviser with AXA Equitable in Dallas. “If you need to go back to school, you can set up a 529 plan for yourself and use some of the money for qualified expenses for higher education, and then at a later date, if you have some money left, you can change the beneficiary to your child,” she says.

Another reason an adult might want to set up a 529 plan is to get a jump on funding college for children who have not even been born. “When you’re young and have no children, maybe you live in a smaller house and have a small house payment or rent payment, you may have a little more disposable income to put away into a 529,” Ramirez says. “When children come, your money tends to go into other places. So for a young couple planning on having children later on, it’s a great idea to fund a 529 in their names with the thought of changing the beneficiary to the children once they come along.”

A good place to start:

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