Raid the College Fund to Pay for K-12 Tuition?

Before you start using your 529 plan to pay private-school tuition, check with your state’s plan.

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Until recently, 529 college-savings plans offered tax-free withdrawals only when the money was used for qualified college education expenses. But under the federal tax overhaul enacted at the end of 2017, parents can withdraw up to $10,000 tax-free from a 529 plan each year to pay for private-school tuition for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Before you start using your 529 plan to pay private-school tuition, check with your state’s plan. Although most states conform with federal law, a few, including Illinois, New York and Oregon, have different rules that could result in unexpected taxes and penalties. They typically charge state income tax on the earnings portion of the distribution and require families to return state tax deductions or credits received for contributions.

There are other reasons to think twice about using your 529 plan for precollege expenses. College savings plans work best when your investments have plenty of time to grow. Plus, tapping the account for precollege expenses could leave you with a shortfall for college. Families planning to use 529 funds for K–12 should consider opening a separate 529 account for that purpose. This allows you to track K–12 and college savings separately and pick investment portfolios that match your needs for each.

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Kaitlin Pitsker
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
Pitsker joined Kiplinger in the summer of 2012. Previously, she interned at the Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and with Chronogram magazine in Kingston, N.Y. She holds a BS in magazine journalism from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.