The question of “who controls the funds held in a Section 529 qualified tuition account?” is a very common question we hear. To answer this question please read the following:
Some parents will simply save money for their child or children’s college costs in a custodial account; these accounts become the children’s property once they reach the age of majority, depending upon state law, which is usually 18 or 21. At that point, the parents lose control. Unlike these child custodial accounts, Section 529 plans are not irrevocable gifts: The parent or other account owner retains control.
Generally, the same person who contributed the money controls the Section 529 account. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. Someone else, such as a grandparent, could make a donation but name the child’s parent as the account owner, or a parent could establish the account and allow others to contribute to it.
Money cannot be removed from the account without the permission of the account owner. If the child (the designated beneficiary of the plan) decides not to go to school, the account owner can simply change the beneficiary to another “family member,” a term that, for the purposes of beneficiary changes, can refer to the beneficiary’s sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces, certain in-laws, and any spouse of any of those individuals—but not the spouse of the original beneficiary.
This rule for beneficiary changes gives parents and other donors the flexibility to use the funds for the family member who needs them the most. For example, if a designated beneficiary decides not to attend college or receives a full scholarship, another child can be named (as long as the new child is a member of the family). Alternately, if funds remain in the plan after a child has finished school, a younger family member can be named as the beneficiary for the balance.
There are no tax issues if the transfer is within the same generation or an older generation of the family, such as changing the beneficiary to a sibling of the original beneficiary. However, if the transfer is to a beneficiary in a younger generation, the transfer is considered a taxable gift from the old beneficiary to the new beneficiary, and a gift tax return will need to be filed.
If you have questions related to Section 529 plans and how they might be used to save for a child’s future education, please call Dagley & Co.
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Many people do not realize that education credits are not only available for your child’s tuition. Instead, they are also available for you, your spouse, or your dependents. Even if you attend school part-time, these credits may still be available.
There are two education-related credits available: the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC). For either credit, the student must be enrolled in an eligible educational institution for at least one academic period (semester, trimester or quarter) during the year. An eligible educational institution is any accredited public, nonprofit, or proprietary post-secondary institution that can participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s student aid programs.
The credits phase out for higher-income taxpayers who are married filing jointly (MFJ) or who are unmarried. Those who are married filing separately (MFS) do not qualify for either credit.
The following table provides the qualifications for both credits:
QUALIFICATIONS AOTC LLC Allowance Period First 4 years of post-secondary education Any post-secondary education for any number of years Enrollment Must be considered at least a half-time student by the educational institution Not required to be enrolled at least half-time Program Type Must be pursuing a program leading to a degree or another recognized educational credential Not required to be enrolled for the purpose of obtaining a degree or other credential Credit Applied Per student Per family Credit Amount 100% of the first $2,000 and 25% of the next $2,000 in qualified expenses 20% of up to $10,000 in qualified expenses Qualified Expenses Qualified tuition and related expenses, which include books, supplies and equipment required for enrollment or attendance Qualified tuition and related expenses; the books, supplies and equipment must be purchased from the educational institution High Income Phase-out Based upon filing status and adjusted gross income (inflation-adjusted annually; 2017 amounts shown) MFJ: $160,000 to $180,000MFS: No credit allowedUnmarried: $80,000 to $90,000 MFJ: $112,000 to $132,00MFS: No credit allowedUnmarried: $56,000 to $66,000 Refundable* Partially; 40% of the credit is treated as refundable No
*Generally, credits are nonrefundable, meaning that they can only be used to offset your tax liability; any amount exceeding your current-year tax liability is lost. However, unlike other credits, the AOTC is partially refundable in most cases.
Many individuals who both work and attend school can be enrolled less than halftime and still qualify for the LLC.
Another interesting twist to education credits is that the taxpayer who qualifies for and claims the student’s exemption for the year gets the credit—even if someone else pays the expenses. Thus, for example, even if a noncustodial parent pays a child’s college expenses, the custodial parent gets the credit if he or she is otherwise qualified. The same applies when grandparents help pay for their grandchild’s education; the grandparents do not qualify for the credit unless they, and not the child’s parents, claim the student as a dependent.
Generally, the educational institution sends a Form 1098-T to the taxpayer (or dependent); this includes the information necessary to complete the IRS form and claim the credit. Unless the IRS has exempted the educational institution from having to file a 1098-T, the law requires the taxpayer to have this 1098-T in hand to claim either of the credits.
If you have questions about how this these education tax credit provisions apply to you, please give Dagley & Co. a call.
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When it comes to saving for your children’s education, the tax code provides two primary advantages. We frequently get questions about the differences between the programs and about which program is best suited for a family’s particular needs.
The Coverdell Education Savings Account and the Qualified Tuition Plan (frequently referred to as a Sec 529 Plan) are similar; neither provides tax-deductible contributions, but both plans’ earnings are tax-free if used for allowable expenses, such as tuition. Therefore, with either plan, the greatest benefit is derived by making contributions to the plan as soon as possible—even the day after a child is born—so as to accumulate years of investment earnings and maximize the benefits. However, that is where the similarities end, and each plan has a different set of rules.
Coverdell Savings Accounts only allow a total annual maximum contribution of $2,000. The contributions can be made by anyone, including the beneficiary, so long as the contributor’s adjusted gross income is not high enough to phase out the allowable contribution. (The phase-out threshold is $190,000 for married contributors filing jointly and $95,000 for others.) Unless the beneficiary of the account is a special needs student, the funds must be withdrawn prior to age 30. The funds can be used for kindergarten through post-secondary education. Allowable expenses generally include tuition; room, board, and travel expenses required to attend school; books; and other supplies. Tutoring for special needs students is also allowed. Funds can be rolled over from one beneficiary to another in the same family. Although the funds can be used starting in kindergarten, the chances are that not enough of earnings will have been accumulated by that time to provide any significant benefit.
On the other hand, state-run Sec 529 plan benefits are limited to postsecondary education, but they allow significantly larger amounts to be contributed; multiple people can each contribute up to the gift tax limit each year. This limit is $14,000 for 2015, and it is periodically adjusted for inflation. A special rule allows contributors to make up to five years of contribution in advance (for a total of $70,000 in 2015).
Sec. 529 Plans allow taxpayers to put away larger amounts of money, limited only by the contributor’s gift tax concerns and the contribution limits of the intended plan. There are no limits on the number of contributors, and there are no income or age limitations. The maximum amount that can be contributed per beneficiary is based on the projected cost of college education and will vary between the states’ plans. Some states base their maximum on an in-state four-year education, but others use the cost of the most expensive schools in the U.S., including graduate studies. Most have limits in excess of $200,000, with some topping $370,000. Generally, once an account reaches that level, additional contributions cannot be made, but that doesn’t prevent the account from continuing to grow.
Which plan (or combination of plans) is best for your family depends on a number of issues, including education goals, the number and ages of your children, the finances of your family and of any grandparents or other relatives willing to help, and a number of other issues. For assistance in establishing education savings plans, please get in touch with us at Dagley & Co.
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Have you ever thought about gifting money or property to someone – perhaps to one of your children or other family members – and wondered what the tax consequences could be? Gift and inheritance taxes were created long ago to make sure an individual’s assets are taxed as they pass on to future generations. Congress has frequently tinkered with these taxes, and currently the gift and inheritance taxes are unified with a top tax rate of 40%. However, the law does provide the following two exclusions from the tax:
Lifetime exclusion – For 2015, $5.43 million per person is excluded from gift and inheritance tax. This amount is annually adjusted for inflation and applies separately to each spouse of a married couple. Where one of the couple dies and does not use the entire exclusion amount, the unused portion of the exclusion can be passed on to the surviving spouse by filing an estate tax return for the decedent, even if one is otherwise not required.
Annual exclusion – The exclusion amount is periodically adjusted for inflation. For 2015 the annual gift exclusion is $14,000 per recipient. Thus, an individual can give up to $14,000 to as many recipients as he or she would like without creating a requirement to file a gift tax return. The $14,000 applies to each individual giver, so each spouse of a married couple can give $14,000, for a total per couple of $28,000 to any one person.
If a person gives more than $14,000 for the year to any single individual, then a gift tax return is required, and the excess of the gifts over $14,000 reduces the lifetime exclusion. Once the annual limit and the lifetime limit have been exceeded, the excess becomes taxable.
Gifts can take the form of cash or property. When property is given, the dollar value placed on the gift for gift tax purposes is the property’s fair market value (FMV) at the time of the gift. However, the gift recipient assumes the giver’s tax basis in the property, which means that if the giver’s property had built-in gains, the recipient becomes responsible for those gains when the recipient subsequently disposes of the property in a taxable event.
Example: Earl gives his son, Jack, stock worth $14,000 that originally cost Earl $5,000. Later, Jack sells the stock for $16,000. Jack’s taxable gain from selling the stock will be $11,000 ($16,000 – $5,000).
However, if Jack had inherited the stock from his father, Jack’s basis would have been the FMV of the stock at the date of his father’s death instead of what Earl had paid for the stock. Assuming the FMV was $14,000 at the time of Earl’s death and Jack subsequently sold the stock for $16,000, he would only have a taxable gain of $2,000 ($16,000 – $14,000).
This example points to a mistake often made by elderly taxpayers. They will frequently sign over their assets, most commonly their home, to their heirs while they are still alive rather than waiting and allowing the heirs to inherit the property. By doing this, they create a large tax liability for the heirs since the basis of the gift is the giver’s basis, thus the heirs become responsible for the giver’s built-in gain rather than inheriting the property with the basis equal to the FMV at the time of the decedent’s death.
Example: Mary signs over her home worth $500,000 to her son, John. Mary originally paid $100,000 for the home. If John immediately sells the home for $500,000 after Mary’s passing, he will have a taxable gain of $400,000. However, if John had inherited the property after Mary’s passing, his basis would be the FMV at date of death, or $500,000, and if he sold it for $500,000, he would have no taxable gain at all.
Additional Exclusions For Gift Tax – In addition, certain medical and education expenses are also excludable over and above the $14,000 annual exclusion cap.
Tuition Expenses – Tuition expenses paid directly to the qualifying educational institution are permitted without gift tax consequences. For example, a grandparent who wants to help out a college-bound grandchild can pay the student’s tuition directly to the college. Even if the amount is over $14,000, no gift tax reporting is required, and the grandparent’s annual gift exclusion with respect to the child and his or her lifetime exclusion are not affected.
Medical Expenses – Medical expenses paid directly to the qualifying medical institution or individual providing the care or to the insurance company providing the medical coverage are also exempt from the gift tax and don’t affect the gift tax exclusions. The payments cannot go through the hands of the individual who incurred the medical expenses, but must go directly to the medical provider or insurance company.
As you can see, gifting can be complicated and requires advance planning to fully take advantage of tax benefits. Please get in touch with us at Dagley & Co. if you need assistance planning your gifts or your estate.
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If you’re smart enough to seek an advanced education (and/or help your children seek it for themselves), be smart enough to take advantage of its tax breaks! Going to college – and figuring out how to pay for it – can be stressful for students and their families. Congress has provided a variety of new tax incentives to help defray the cost of education. Some of these require long-term planning to become beneficial, while others provide almost immediate tax deductions or credits. The benefits may even cover vocational schools.
If your child is below college age, there are tax-advantaged plans that allow you to save for the cost of college. Although providing no tax benefit for contributions to the plans, they do provide tax-free accumulation; so the earlier they are established, the more you benefit from them.
- Section 529 Plans—Section 529 Plans (named after the section of the IRS Code that created them) are plans established to help families save and pay for college in a tax-advantaged way and are available to everyone, regardless of income. These state-sponsored plans allow you to gift large sums of money for a family member’s college education while maintaining control of the funds. The earnings from these accounts grow tax-deferred and are tax-free, if used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. They can be used as an estate-planning tool as well, providing a means to transfer large amounts of money without gift tax. With all these tax benefits, 529 Plans are an excellent vehicle for college funding. Section 529 Plans come in two types, allowing you to either save funds in a tax-free account to be used later for higher education costs, or to prepay tuition for qualified universities. For 2015, you can contribute $14,000 without gift tax implications (or $28,000 for married couples who agree to split their gift). The annual amount is subject to inflation-adjustment. There is also a special gift provision allowing the donor to prepay five years of Sec 529 gifts up front without gift tax.
- Coverdell Education Savings Account—These accounts are actually education trusts that allow nondeductible contributions to be invested for a child’s education. Tax on earnings from these accounts is deferred until the funds are withdrawn, and if used for qualified education purposes, the entire withdrawal can be tax-free. Qualified use of these funds includes elementary and secondary education expenses in addition to post-secondary schools (colleges). This is the only one of the educational tax benefits that allows tax-free use of the funds for below college-level expenses. A total of $2,000 per year can be contributed for each beneficiary under the age of 18. The ability to contribute to these plans phases out when the modified adjusted gross income is between $190,000 and $220,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly, and between $95,000 and $110,000 for all others.
- Education Tax Credits—Two tax credits, the American Opportunity Credit (partially refundable) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (nonrefundable), are available for qualified post-secondary education expenses for a taxpayer, spouse, and eligible dependents. Both credits will reduce one’s tax liability dollar for dollar until the tax reaches zero. The credit is not allowed for taxpayers who file Married Separate returns.
- The American Opportunity Credit—is a credit of up to $2,500 per student per year, covering the first four years of qualified post-secondary education. The credit is 100% of the first $2,000 of qualifying expenses plus 25% of the next $2,000 for a student attending college on at least a half-time basis. Forty percent of the American Opportunity credit is refundable (if the tax liability is reduced to zero). This credit phases out for joint filing taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income between $160,000 and $180,000, and between $80,000 and $90,000 for others.
- The Lifetime Learning Credit—is a credit of up to 20% of the first $10,000 of qualifying higher education expenses. Unlike the American Opportunity Credit, which is on a per-student basis, this credit is per taxpayer. In addition to post-secondary education, the Lifetime Credit applies to any course of instruction at an eligible institution taken to acquire or improve job skills. For 2015 this credit phases out for joint filing taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income between $110,000 and $130,000, and between $55,000 and $65,000 for others. The credit is not allowed for taxpayers who file Married Separate returns.
Qualifying expenses for these credits are generally limited to tuition. However, student activity fees and fees for course-related books, supplies, and equipment qualify if they must be paid directly to the educational institution for the enrollment or attendance of the student.
You may qualify for this credit even if you did not pay the tuition. If a third party (someone other than the taxpayer or a claimed dependent) makes a payment directly to an eligible educational institution for a student’s qualified tuition and related expenses, the student would be treated as having received the payment from the third party, and, in turn, pay the qualified tuition and related expenses. Furthermore, qualified tuition and related expenses paid by a student would be treated as paid by the taxpayer if the student is a claimed dependent of the taxpayer.
- Education Loan Interest—You can deduct qualified interest of $2,500 per year in computing AGI. This is not limited to government student loans and this could include home equity loans, credit card debt, etc., if the debt was incurred solely to pay for qualified higher education expenses. For 2015, this deduction phases out for married taxpayers with an AGI between $130,000 and $160,000 and for unmarried taxpayers between $65,000 and $80,000. This deduction is not allowed for taxpayers who file married separate returns.
We all know that a child’s success in life has a great deal to do with the education they receive. You cannot start the planning process too early. Please call Dagley & Co. if you would like assistance in planning for your children’s future education.
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