Tax Break for College Tuition Payments

Section 529 College Savings PlanBy Alan L. Olsen, CPA, MBA (tax)
Managing Partner
Greenstein Rogoff Olsen & Co., LLP

If you are writing a college tuition check, there may be a hidden tax break that will allow you to deduct a part of your college tuition payment. In order to do this, you must utilize a 'Section 529' College Savings Plan in one of the 26 states that provide a tax deduction or credit when you deposit the money.

People currently using Section 529 plans are well aware of these popular tax breaks. However, there are still plenty of others that currently pay state tuition but don't participate in the Section 529 plan. By first depositing the funds into a Section 529 plan and then withdrawing for the state tuition payment, you may qualify for deducting your state tuition. The deduction is allowed (in most cases) without regard to your income status.

College TuitionA 'Section 529' College Savings Plan is best known for its Federal Benefits. The earnings on the plan are tax free if you use them for higher education expenses. The current Federal law is set to expire in 2010 unless an extension is passed. Most states conform to the Federal law in allowing tax free earnings on the Section 529 plan. However, they also award a state tax break for residents' contributions to the state's own 529 plan. Kansas and Maine, starting next year, will give deductions for deposits into any state's plan.

Since the state deduction to the plan is immediate, you can deposit the funds into the '529' account then withdraw from the account within a short period. The worth of the deductions depends on your state's tax rate and whether your annual tax break is limited for making a 529 deposit.

To take advantage of the 529 Savings Plan, visit savingforcollege.com, click on "529 Plans", then click on "529 Plan Details." Click on the state in which you reside for details on its savings plan. Then browse through the state's homepage to read up on how to open an account and to withdraw money later.

Many state officials do not like their plans to be used as tax breaks, but few actually try to prevent it. So if you plan on keeping money there for only a short time, you should choose the most conservative investment option. New Mexico is one of the states where the account must be open for a year before money can be withdrawn from it. The state of Michigan has limits as well.

States prefer that residents start saving early, to benefit from compounding and in order to get tax breaks for 20 to 25 years instead of just four. It is a good idea to try out this plan with your tuition money though, as four years of deductions is better than none.

Maximum Annual Deductions

Here are the maximum annual deductions or credits available. If your state isn't here, it either doesn't have income taxes or doesn't offer a tax break for "529" deposits.

State/District Annual Cap on the Tax Break
Colorado Unlimited deductions up to the amount of your taxable income*
Connecticut $5,000 deduction; $10,000 for married couple filing jointly
District of Columbia $3,000 deduction; $6,000 for married couple filing jointly; a couple with one child must have two accounts to get the full $6,000
Georgia $2,000 deduction per beneficiary; declines above $50,000 in income or $100,000 for married couple filing jointly
Idaho $4,000 deduction; $8,000 for married couple filing jointly
Illinois $10,000 deduction; $20,000 for married couple filing jointly
Indiana $1,000 tax credit (20% of deposit up to $5,000) starting in 2007
Iowa $2,500 deduction per beneficiary; $5,000 for married couple filing jointly
Kansas $3,000 deduction for each beneficiary; $6,000 for married couple filing jointly
Louisiana $2,400 deduction per beneficiary per year; $4,800 for married couples filing jointly; state matches deposits on up to 14% of deposit depending on income
Maine $250 deduction per beneficiary starting in 2007 if income is below $100,000 (or $200,000 for married couple filing jointly)
Maryland $2,500 per account holder per beneficiary (or $10,000 if each parent maxes out the deduction in both of the state's 529 plans)
Michigan $5,000 deduction; $10,000 for married couple filing jointly
Mississippi $10,000 deduction; $20,000 for married couple filing jointly
Missouri $8,000 deduction; $16,000 for married couple filing jointly (both spouses must have income and separate accounts)
Montana $3,000 deduction; $6,000 for married couple filing jointly
Nebraska $1,000 deduction per household
New Mexico Unlimited deductions up to the amount of your taxable income*
New York $5,000 deduction; $10,000 for married couple filing jointly
Ohio $2,000 deduction per beneficiary per household
Oklahoma $10,000 deduction; $20,000 for married couple filing jointly
Oregon $2,000 deduction per household
Rhode Island $500 deduction; $1,000 for married couple filing jointly
South Carolina Unlimited deductions up to the amount of your taxable income*
Utah $1,560 deduction per beneficiary; $3,120 for married couple filing jointly
Vermont $100 tax credit (5% of deposit up to $2,000) per beneficiary; $200 for married couple filing jointly
Virginia $2,000 deduction per year, per account. Multiple accounts are fine, up to certain limits
West Virginia Unlimited deductions*
Wisconsin $3,000 deduction per beneficiary per household

*These states (and others) limit the total amount you can have deposited in a 529 plan at any one time.

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