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How to withdraw from a 529 plan

Parents who’ve been saving for years know the advantages of putting money into a 529 college savings account. They get big tax breaks on the money. But what
happens when it’s finally time to take the money out? Financial experts at Consumer Reports say there are smart ways to do it.

If you don’t spend the money on a legitimate 529 expense, you’ll pay income tax on the earnings in the 529 and a 10 percent penalty on the amount you saved. Legitimate 5-29 expenses include obvious things, such as tuition and supplies, like books and computers. But you can also use the money toward room and board if the student is enrolled in school at least half-time.

As you spend, be sure to keep all your receipts. The IRS may have questions later. Be aware that when you spend the money also matters. You need to spend it in the same year that you make the withdrawal. That means the calendar year, not the school year.

If you’re lucky enough to have leftover 529 funds, you can avoid taxes and penalties by saving it for graduate school, transferring the money to another child, a relative or even use it to further your own education.

Consumer Reports says that sometimes you can even use 529 money toward education costs for children in kindergarten through the 12th grade, but only up to 10 thousand dollars per student, per year. Just be sure to check with your plan administrator to find out what’s covered.

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