529 Plans: The Ins and Outs of Contributions and Withdrawals

529 plans can be powerful college savings tools, but you need to understand how your plan works before you can take full advantage of it. Among other things, this means becoming familiar with the finer points of contributions and withdrawals.

How much can you contribute?

To qualify as a 529 plan under federal rules, a state program must not accept contributions in excess of the anticipated cost of a beneficiary's qualified education expenses. At one time, this meant five years of tuition, fees, and room and board at the costliest college under the plan, pursuant to the federal government's "safe harbor" guideline. Now, however, states are interpreting this guideline more broadly, revising their limits to reflect the cost of attending the most expensive schools in the country and including the cost of graduate school. As a result, most states have contribution limits of $350,000 and up (and most states will raise their limits each year to keep up with rising college costs).

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