You may have more ways to pay for college expenses than you think
Q. My twins are going to be juniors in high school. I don’t have enough to pay for testing classes, the actual tests, and I’m not looking forward to college application fees — not to mention the traveling for college visits. They both have 529 Plans and UTMA accounts. Can I take money from that to pay the expenses we have coming?
— Empty wallet
A. College tuition is costly, and you’re right, you can encounter lots of expenses just preparing to get there.
They’re costs that creep up on many families, who end up scrambling to cover them, said Bryan Smalley, a certified financial planner with RegentAtlantic Capital in Morristown.
Given the options you’ve mentioned, the custodial accounts– the UTMA, or Uniform Transfer to Minor Act accounts — are the best ones to use for these costs, Smalley said.
“Unlike 529 accounts, which can only be used to cover qualified higher education expenses — or taxes on earnings and a 10 percent penalty will be levied — custodial accounts can be used to cover a broader range of expenses,” Smalley said.
You should still check with your accountant, but the expenses listed should fall in the realm of expenses that can be covered by a custodial account, Smalley said.
The key is that the expenses are for the benefit of the child for whom the custodial account is set up.
“I would exhaust the funds in these accounts first and if additional funds are needed would look for other ways to cover the expenses — e.g. part-time jobs for the twins — before considering the use of the 529 accounts in order to preserve the tax-free distributions for future qualified higher education expenses,” Smalley said.