You may still have medical school loans of your own to worry about, but if you are planning a family or already have a little one running around, it is time to develop a college savings strategy.
It is no secret that college costs have been skyrocketing over the past few decades. Young professionals, like doctors, have struggled to keep up. As explained by 529 College Savings Plan Network, a bipartisan effort in 1996 sought to remedy this challenge by establishing a tax code that would offer federal tax relief for college savings. As a result, 529 plans were born.
Basically, anyone can open a 529 savings account in the name of a child. Once the account is established, you are able to save money tax-free to be used for college expenses. This is the crucial element here; as emphasized by Money Magazine, the money can only be used for college tuition and costs, including fees, room and board, textbooks, computers, and other qualified expenses incurred by attending an accredited institution of higher education. If you decide to use the money for a non-qualified expense, you will owe a 10% tax penalty plus income taxes on the 529 account’s earnings. For many physician-investors, the restrictiveness of the account is cause for pause. Financial planners, however, point out that as long as you plan to pay for college, the tax savings are quite beneficial. In fact, some states offer additional tax advantages. If your state is one of the unlucky few that do not offer additional incentives, most financial planners recommend shopping around to other states to find a plan that best fits your needs.
Timing is an important factor in establishing a successful 529 plan. When the child is young, consider investing in the stock market to maximize potential returns. As the child gets closer to high school graduation, investment choices should be less heavily invested in the market and limit risk. This strategy is very similar to what many investors apply to their retirement planning.
But what if my child doesn’t go to college? Fear not. 529 plans can be used for vocational schools or can be transferred to a different beneficiary without a tax penalty. And another advantage of 529 plans is that because the funds are considered part of the parent/guardian’s assets, financial aid programs do not weigh them as heavily as they would if funds were under the control of the child.