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Can My Kid's 529 Plan Mess Up My Financial Aid Today?

By Motley Fool Staff – Updated Mar 7, 2018 at 10:06AM

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Planning for the college education of your future offspring is great forward-thinking, but assets are assets.

Regular listeners of the Motley Fool Answers podcast will know that Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are full of excellent investing and personal finance advice. But for this episode -- which they are dedicating totally to listener questions -- they've called in reinforcements: Ross Anderson, a certified financial planner from Motley Fool Wealth Management, a sister company of The Motley Fool.

In this segment, a soon-to-be grad student who is already setting aside money for kids he doesn't have yet is looking for a way to avoid having that otherwise smart long-term behavior penalize him when it comes to financial aid.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Feb. 27, 2018.

Alison Southwick: The next question goes to Bro from Ryan. "My girlfriend and I have a 529 set up for a kid that we hopefully plan to have in about four years. For now, the 529 is in my name; however, I'm going to grad school next year. Will the 529 count against me in regard to receiving financial aid?"

Robert Brokamp: I always love people who are saving for their eventual children. It's very impressive.

Southwick: They're so honest.

Ross Anderson: We have a couple of those that work here.

Brokamp: I know.

Anderson: It's fantastic.

Brokamp: Megan's one of them. She discussed it on the last mailbag. When it comes to financial aid, the key is who is considered the owner of the asset. Generally, assets owned by the student reduce financial aid by 20%, whereas assets owned by parents reduce aid by just 5.6%. A 529 owned by the parent for the beneficiary of a kid is a parent-owned asset.

If the kid owns the 529 and they're still dependent on the parent, it is also considered a parental asset. However, Ryan, since you were talking about grad school, I am assuming you are no longer a dependent of your parents, so it is probably going to be considered your asset and count more against your financial aid.

That said, it's just a general rule. It's always good to contact the schools that you are interested in to see how they handle financial aid. I was thinking if they do count it against him, what's something that he could do. I looked into maybe he can gift the 529 to his girlfriend -- transfer it to her. Not just change beneficiary but transfer ownership of the 529 to her so it's out of his name.

The thing is when I looked into this, depending on who's running the plan, you may or may not be able to do that. Some plans don't allow that and there are probably some gift tax issues involved there, as well, so definitely get some expert opinion on that, at least, from an accountant, and then look at what's available for your plan, but I think that's something to consider if that's really going to harm the amount of aid you're going to get.

Anderson: If it's more than $14,000, I believe he's going to have to file a gift tax return to do that. It may not actually cause any taxes; but having to file that return is sometimes enough of a hurdle.

Brokamp: Yes. Actually, for 2018, the gift tax exclusion has moved up to $15,000.

Anderson: Oh, gosh. Sorry. I haven't even updated my stats for the year.

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