Using 529 Plan Funds to Pay Rent

Even if your child lives off-campus at college, he can cover room and board costs with money from a 529 plan.

My mother-in-law has a 529 plan for my son. He is going to be living in a rental house off-campus with three other students this year. Can he use the 529 plan to pay for his portion of the rent, food and utilities?

Yes, but not necessarily the full cost. As long as your son is enrolled at least half-time in a degree program, room and board qualify as eligible expenses to be covered by tax-free withdrawals from the 529 plan. But the maximum amount permitted for off-campus living cost is the amount the college cites as the off-campus room-and-board figure for federal financial aid purposes. Ask the college's financial aid office for the number it reports to the Department of Education.

Utilities and other reasonable living costs can be included, says Joe Hurley, of SavingforCollege.com (opens in new tab), as long as the total doesn’t exceed the school’s official room-and-board figure.

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For more information about using money from 529 plans and other accounts for college expenses, see Take Advantage of Education Tax Breaks.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.