In January of 2015, President Obama proposed eliminating the tax-free benefits of Section 529 college savings plans. Under his proposal, savings would grow tax-deferred, but withdrawals would be taxed as income to the beneficiary (usually the student). His belief was that taxpayers who save in 529 plans are families who can better afford the cost of college than everyone else. In reality, it is estimated that close to ten percent of 529 accounts are owned by households having income below $50,000, and over 70 percent are owned by households with income below $150,000. What isn’t surprising, though, is that the tax revenue realized by this action would have been significant, because as of the end of the 4th quarter of 2014, the assets held in 529 and other college savings plans reached almost a quarter of a trillion dollars. How many students would have been forced to apply for loans if they had been required to pay tax on withdrawals from their college savings plans? Fortunately, the House of Representatives thought differently than the President and, in February of 2015, they passed HR 529. This bill not only maintains the tax-free status of 529 plans, but also makes them more flexible and easier to use. Hopefully the Senate will follow the House’s lead and pass a companion bill with similar provisions.
Do you have college savings plans established for your children or grandchildren and, if so, were you aware of this attack on their tax-free status?
Gifting money to children
Contributing to college savings plans for children and grandchildren is a form of gifting, which is a topic that I discuss in detail in Chapter 11 of Retire Secure!. Gifting money to children is an excellent way to minimize taxes at your death, and, depending on the amount gifted, can also provide the recipient with tax-free income. Unfortunately, strategies that reduce taxes frequently come under fire and it is critical that you stay on top of the rules. Also discussed in this chapter are the perils of gifting to relatives in an attempt to avoid seizure of your to pay for nursing home care. It’s a bad idea – don’t even think about it – but it is still beneficial to understand the laws on this subject.
Many couples are not aware that the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 introduced a concept called portability that makes estate taxes less of a concern for many individuals than in the past. If you have not had your estate plan reviewed since 2012, you should read Chapter 11 to learn about the potential pitfalls of what I call “The Cruelest Trap of All”. Since the passage of this act, many estate plans are outdated and could cause the surviving spouse to be disinherited at the first spouse’s death.
Gifting money to children strategies, and the tax implications of gifting, should be a critical part of every estate plan. Changes in legislation that were not anticipated at the time the plan was established, though, can make your plan ineffective and in some cases disastrous. As much has changed in this area; please read Chapter 11 thoroughly to see how you might be affected.
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A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.
Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.
Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.
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