Written and Submitted by Robert Sarian of Education Industry News
When Kelly Davitian, a retiree, decided she was going to help fund her grandson’s college education, she knew she’d have to go about it in a tax-efficient manner, one that would also benefit her. She also knew that pursuing this venture would potentially impact her estate limitations, so she met with her Smith financial advisor to develop a strategy that would help enable her to assist her grandson.
He suggested that a 529 College Savings Plan—named after the section of the IRS code that authorized their creation—would be the best way to meet Kelly’s education-funding goals. Kelly set up a 529 plan for her grandson and launched a systematic investment plan to help her potentially maximize the account’s value. Kelly’s Five Year Plan was well under way, but there was one thing she hadn’t planned for: right before she was slated to pay the school, Kelly’s grandson, received admission to another institution—in London.
Luckily, Kelly had saved for her grandson’s graduate degree in a 529 account, so she could use the funds at any accredited university in the world. Kelly’s grandson is now pursuing his MBA at the London Business School—one of the top three MBA programs in the world—and using Kelly’s 529 plan assets to pay for his tuition and related expenses.
In today’s rapidly globalizing economy, Kelly’s situation is not unique. Each year, thousands of American students either participate in study abroad programs, or enroll full-time in colleges and universities outside of the United States. In fact, according to a recent poll of college-bound students, 55 percent indicated that they are certain or fairly certain they will participate in a study abroad program, and another 26 percent indicated a strong desire to study abroad.
In response to the high demand, many higher education institutions now offer a number of international learning programs, ranging from semesters at sea to cultural immersion and multi-city programs. However, despite the many international programs available, students (38 percent) still cite high costs as the top reason for lack of participation in study abroad programs. In addition, using financial aid for international studies presents its own challenges: additional eligibility requirements—residency, grades, credit hours, and age, to name a few—must be met, and foreign and US semester schedules differ which can delay loans and other federal aid.
Still, there are options for those who want to finance an education abroad, including 529 College Savings Plans. The plans allow tax-free accumulation of assets and federal tax-free withdrawals for qualified higher education expenses, and the features (flexibility, control, and multiple investment options) which make 529 plans attractive for funding stateside education are also available when the plans are used with accredited foreign institutions.
How It Works
More than 400 foreign higher education institutions are eligible under the rules permitting federal tax-free withdrawals from a 529 plan. A list of eligible foreign institutions is available in the Federal School Code Lookup database on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website.
“The test for any particular school’s inclusion is its eligibility to participate in Title IV federal financial aid programs,” says Joseph Hurley, founder of SavingforCollege.com. “Most degree-granting four-year schools, junior and community colleges, and graduate schools will qualify, as will many proprietary and vocational schools.”
Is A 529 Plan Right For You?
A 529 savings plan is one of the best tax-advantaged ways to save for higher education—whether you plan to study in the US or abroad. Most plans offer several asset allocation options, and also allow you to contribute via lump sum or through a systematic investment plan such as a payroll deduction. You should consider investing in a 529 plan if you are:
• A parent concerned about the rising costs of college,
• A grandparent who wants to help save for your grandchildren’s future education expenses
• A retiree who would like to develop an existing hobby into a serious, full-time interest
• An “Empty Nester” who is still active in the workforce, but needs to return to school to remain competitive
• A professional who is considering going back to school to pursue a second degree, change careers, or to enhance your professional skills
• An adult who wants to help a child in your life— a niece, nephew, or godchild—save for future college expenses
As more higher education institutions implement international programs to address the growing demand, opportunities to study abroad are more available than they were twenty years ago. If you already have an education plan, consider whether studying abroad is an option you’d like to pursue in the future. If you need help developing an education plan, a Financial Advisor can help you get started, and can even customize a proposal based on projected costs at the schools you’re considering.
Whether you plan to study stateside or beyond the country’s borders, one thing is certain: college costs are on the rise, so it’s important to start early. The world is your oyster; take advantage of all it has to offer.