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A 529 savings account is a savings vehicle often used by parents and grandparents to pay for their children or grandchildren’s education, but college students shouldn’t rule out using a 529 plan for graduate school.
Many graduate schools and professional schools can be paid for with 529 funds, if they are deemed eligible by the U.S. Department of Education. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea.
If you’re considering this option to fund your grad school education, go over these questions to make sure it’s right for you:
- What is a 529 plan?
- What are the advantages of a 529 for graduate school?
- What are the downsides?
- How do 529s impact other financial aid?
- Who’s best suited to use a 529 plan graduate school?
Essentially, a 529 savings account is a tax-advantaged, long-term investment account that can help savings grow at a low cost.
Because 529 plans are not necessarily set up for short-term savings or designed specifically with graduate school in mind, it may be wise to consider a few factors before investing in one.
However, if you already have a 529 plan, you could earmark some of the funds in the account for your advanced education, or you could open an account when you are already in college. There is not a time limit for using your 529 account and it can be passed onto another beneficiary if funds are not used up.
The main bonus of a 529 plan is funds are tax-free when you withdraw them to pay for your education. “The point of 529 Plans is to save on taxes,” said Mackenzie Richards, senior financial consultant at BankRI Investment Services in Providence, R.I. “Some states offer a deduction for contributions, they grow without being taxed, and any withdrawals used for qualified education expenses are also tax-free.”
Opening a 529 account merely to lower your tax burden, may not make sense if you are a college student with a part-time job, or with low earnings. “Most students don’t have sufficient enough income where they need to worry about their own taxes,” Richards said.
However, Ben Birken, a CFP with Woodward Financial Advisors in Chapel Hill, N.C., says he could see an advantage to using a 529 account if:
- You have a high taxable income
- You live in a state where 529 contributions are tax-deductible
“In that case, money that had been earmarked to pay for tuition could be deposited into a 529 plan in order to earn the tax deduction,” Birken said. Instead of investing funds and leaving them to grow, you’d withdraw them right away to pay for college costs. But, he noted, “Given the income profiles of most college students, I would think this would be pretty rare.”
Specifically, if a college student knows that graduate school is in their future, Birken says a 529 savings account could be a smart vehicle to work toward that dream.
“In this case, the time horizon for education expenses is longer than just an undergraduate experience,” Birken added. So you’ll have more opportunities to see savings grow. And you’ll probably be working and get greater benefits from 529 tax breaks.
“Although college students can certainly utilize 529 plans for qualified education expenses (think tuition, fees, room and board, and books), it may not be the best decision to open one with your high school graduation money,” Richards said.
That’s because as an investment account, funds in a 529 are held in stocks. And as with any investment, Richards said, “There is always the risk of your account value dropping.”
If such a drop coincides with the timing for when you’d need to withdraw funds, you could lose money. “Like any investments, 529 plans make the most sense when you have time to ride out any short-term volatility in the markets,” said Richards.
So, you might want to plan ahead if you believe graduate school is in your future to give your money time to grow.
And similarly, you’ll likely want to cash in your 529 once you do get to grad school.
“By the time tuition is due, we suggest that most of our clients exit almost completely out of stocks in their 529 plans,” said Birken. “The risk of a significant decrease in value right when the funds might be needed for tuition is too great.”
If you’re willing to try to eke out some last-minute gains on college savings in a 529, just be aware of the risks. Even if you choose to move your money into a more stable asset, Richards said, “it is still smart to keep the education money separate from everything else.”
Look for options to save for college besides a 529, such as a certificate of deposit or a high-yield savings account.
Your assets, including a 529 account in your name, will affect your eligibility for aid.
“A 529 savings account allows you to build an education fund within an individual investment account,” said Ronald Ramsdell, founder of College Aid Consulting Services. “Money you contribute is invested in one or more specific investment portfolios.”
You’ll have to list your financial information and assets on your FAFSA for graduate school. Therefore, a 529 account in your name could lower the amount of financial aid you’re granted more than if your parents held it.
“I recommend families create the account in the parent’s name,” Ramsdell said. “The three formulas colleges utilize to determine how much financial aid a student may receive will assess students’ assets much higher than the parents’ assets.”
Funds can be transferred from child to child or even a grandchild. Parents who have more than one 529 plan for their children can move funds from one beneficiary to another. If there is money left over in an account, or if one of the recipients ends up not going the college route, that money can be used for another child’s graduate school costs.
Overall, a 529 account might not be the most beneficial option for college students. That being said, students interested in working through college or saving for a degree they won’t start for a few years might find a 529 savings plan to be a good choice.
Any funds left over in a 529 fund for undergraduate education could be used for graduate or professional schools. If you don’t have access to a 529 or if you are unable to fund one for a few years while you plan for graduate school, there are many other ways to pay for graduate degrees.
Many graduate students receive teaching fellowships at their universities. Or, you could find a job that offers tuition reimbursement. Research grants and graduate assistantships are sometimes part of a financial aid package, too.
Using a 529 plan to pay for graduate school can be done under the right conditions, but don’t worry if one won’t work for you. There are other possibilities to help you get an advanced degree.
Maya Dollarhide contributed to this report.
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 9 lenders of 2022!
|Lender||Variable APR||Eligible Degrees|
|1.74% – 8.70%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.74% – 7.99%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.74% – 7.99%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.89% – 5.90%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.74% – 7.99%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.05% – 5.25%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.86% – 6.01%||Undergrad |
|N/A7||Undergrad & Graduate|
|1.99% – 8.38%8||Undergrad & Graduate|
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1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount
The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.
To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of May 4, 2022.
2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.
Student Loan Refinance Interest Rate Disclosure Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 2.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.99% APR to 8.24% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. The maximum rate for your loan is 8.95% if your loan term is 10 years or less. For loan terms of more than 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95%. Please note, we are not able to offer variable rate loans in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, and TX. Let us know if you have any questions and feel free to reach out directly to our team.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Variable rates from 1.74% APR to 7.99% APR with a 0.25% autopay discount. Unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law, Variable Interest rates on 5-, 7-, and 10-year terms are capped at 8.95% APR; 15- and 20-year terms are capped at 9.95% APR. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, presence of a co-signer and a variety of other factors. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. For the SoFi variable-rate product, the variable interest rate for a given month is derived by adding a margin to the 30-day average SOFR index, published two business days preceding such calendar month, rounded up to the nearest one hundredth of one percent (0.01% or 0.0001). APRs for variable-rate loans may increase after origination if the SOFR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. This benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit lowers your interest rate but does not change the amount of your monthly payment. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.
Assumptions: Repayment examples above assume a loan amount of $10,000 with repayment beginning immediately following disbursement. Repayment examples do not include the 0.25% AutoPay Discount.
Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.
Interest Rate: A simple annual rate that is applied to an unpaid balance.
Variable Rates: The current index for variable rate loans is derived from the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) and changes in the LIBOR index may cause your monthly payment to increase. Borrowers who take out a term of 5, 7, or 10 years will have a maximum interest rate of 9%, those who take out a 15 or 20-year variable loan will have a maximum interest rate of 10%.
KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.
This information is current as of April 29, 2021. Information and rates are subject to change without notice.
5 Important Disclosures for Navient.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of 5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.
As of 5/17/2022 student loan refinancing rates range from 2.05% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.49% APR – 7.93% Fixed APR with AutoPay.
7 Important Disclosures for PenFed.
Fixed Rate Loan Terms: 5 years/60 monthly payments, 8 years/96 monthly payments, 12 years/144 monthly payments or 15 years/180 monthly payments. Annual Percentage Rate is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed rates range from 3.29% to 5.43% APR. Rates are subject to change without notice. Fixed APR: Fixed rates will not change during the term. This rate is expressed as an APR. Since there are no fees associated with this loan offer, the APR is the same percentage as the actual interest rate of the loan. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
8 Important Disclosures for CitizensBank.
Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.99%-8.38% (1.99%-8.38% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.99%-8.63% (2.99%-8.63% APR).
IS Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates advertised are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of December 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. Your final variable rate may be based upon the 30-day average SOFR index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
ERL Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of May 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 0.29%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the prime rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.