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529 Plans: Questions Answered

My child just got a full scholarship- what about my 529 Plan?

Since your child has received a full scholarship, you can withdraw--without penalty--some of the funds in your 529 account. In each withdrawal from your 529 plan, you receive some earnings and some of the contributions that were made to the account. Generally, a penalty is imposed on the earnings portion of each withdrawal that you don't use to pay qualified higher education expenses. Your child's scholarship creates an exception. As long as your withdrawals during the year don't exceed the amount of the scholarship for the year, you will not owe a penalty.

Keep in mind that you may owe federal, and in some cases, state income taxes on the earnings portion of each withdrawal. However, you won't owe federal income taxes if your withdrawals during the year don't exceed the amount of your child's scholarship for the year.

Withdrawing the funds isn't your only option. You can leave the funds in the 529 account for your child's future use (some plans allow 529 funds to be used for graduate school). Or, you can change the beneficiary of the 529 account. If the new beneficiary and your child are members of the same family, you won't owe federal income taxes or a penalty when you make the change. But the change of beneficiary could cause a gift tax or a generation-skipping transfer tax, so pick the new beneficiary with care.

Note: Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with 529 plans before investing. More information about 529 plans is available in each issuer's official statement, which should be read carefully before investing. Also, before investing, consider whether your state offers a 529 plan that provides residents with favorable state tax benefits.

If I Open a 529 plan for my grandchild, will it be subject to Medicare Spendown if I need long term care?

Very possibly. So far, state laws have largely ignored this issue. But unless future legislation in your state exempts 529 plans from Medicaid rules, you'd be wise to assume that these assets will be subject to the state's grasp.

To be eligible for Medicaid, most states require that your assets and monthly income fall below certain limits. A state may count the assets and income that are legally available to you for paying bills. You can make assets unavailable by giving them away or by holding them in certain trusts. In some cases, though, such transfers may create a period of ineligibility before you can collect Medicaid.

The potential problem with 529 plans is that your contributions are "revocable." This means that you can contribute money to your grandchild's 529 account today, and then take it back (subject to income taxes and a penalty) later. Since it's possible for you to get your hands on the money, your state Medicaid authorities may consider your 529 gift to be a countable asset when considering your eligibility for Medicaid. That might prevent or delay your eligibility for Medicaid.

In addition, your state has the right to "look back" at your finances 60 months from the date you apply for Medicaid. Contributions you've made to your grandchild's 529 account within this period may delay your eligibility for Medicaid.

You may want to consult a Medicaid planning attorney and keep abreast of changes in your state's laws with respect to Medicaid and 529 plans.

Note: Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with 529 plans before investing. More information about 529 plans is available in each issuer's official statement, which should be read carefully before investing. Also, before investing, consider whether your state offers a 529 plan that provides residents with favorable state tax benefits.