Investment Insights

Understanding 529 Plans

Americans are saving for education but lack awareness of 529

The 13th annual survey from Edward jones finds only half of Americans are aware of 529 plans, and most don’t think they’re saving enough for education.

ST. LOUIS, May 20, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Even though 529 plans are an important tool for education savings, many still are unaware of their uses, according to new research financial services firm Edward Jones conducted with Morning Consult. Half of Americans (50%) don’t know what a 529 plan is and fewer than a quarter have a 529 plan. What’s more, only one out of every four adults (25%) knows that 529 plans can be used to fund more than just higher education. The primary barrier is the perception that more savings or income are required to open a 529 account.

“Thanks to tax law changes over the past seven years, 529 plans are more useful and applicable than ever, and can often be used tax-free and penalty-free for secondary schools, technology purchases to further education and much more,” said Andy Esser, an Edward Jones Financial Advisor in Durham, NC. “As a financial advisor and parent, I see first-hand the varying benefits of 529 funds – no matter what path a child may choose. Educating families on those benefits leads to more impactful results.”

In fact, compared to survey results from 2023, there has been an increase (6%) in the number of adults who are more likely to consider saving for a vocational or trade school (27%) due to the impact of inflation/high interest rates, while saving for the conventional four-year college path has remained a less popular path to save for (22%).

Knowledge Gaps Remain

A 529 education savings plan is an investment account that offers tax benefits when used toward qualified education expenses for the account beneficiary. Earnings grow tax-free, and when used for qualified education expenses, distributions are federally tax-free. With the 2022 passage of the Secure 2.0 Act, 529 account owners can roll over unused 529 assets to a Roth IRA for the 529 beneficiary, subject to certain criteria and limitations.

Of Americans who are already saving for education through a 529 plan, the majority (77%) know that 529 plans can be used to fund more than just higher education. However, a broader understanding of the various uses of 529 plan funds is lacking. The minority of Americans know that 529 plans can be used for vocational and trade schools (47%), room and board (43%), repayment of student loans (41%) and rollover funds to a Roth IRA (19%).

Though one-third of Americans saving for a child’s education (32%) do not know what a 529 plan is, the features of the savings plan resonate with many. In fact, three out of five Americans (61%) say the tax benefits make them more inclined to enroll in a plan. Other popular features that made Americans more compelled to consider 529 plans include the flexibility to control their 529 accounts (58%) and using the money to pay for qualified education expenses (56%).

The State Of Education Savings

Recent legislation has made parents more likely to save for a child’s education. In fact, the SECURE 2.0 Act allowing investors to roll up to $35,000 of unused 529 funds into a Roth IRA for the beneficiary under certain conditions has made more than one-third of adults (34%) more likely to save for a child’s education.

Respondents also say they are more likely to save for their children’s education because of the estimated costs surpassing $90,000 at some colleges and universities (24%), rulings about college admissions criteria (24%) and the increase in applicants per college and waitlist decisions (22%). When asked what would make them feel better about covering the costs of future education expenses, 29% said the possibility of new legislation aimed at reducing college costs would help.

One-third of parents saving for a child’s education (32%) are currently enrolled in a 529 plan for themselves or a family member, and they’re starting early. In fact, 12% of parents with an infant or toddler and 19% of parents with a preschooler already are saving for future education needs with a 529 plan. What’s more, 34% of parents saving for their child’s education would prefer that friends and family contribute to 529 plans and education savings goals instead of giving gifts like toys, technology and gadgets for holidays and birthdays.

Thanks to tax law changes over the past seven years, 529 plans are more useful and applicable than ever, and can often be used tax-free and penalty-free for secondary schools, technology purchases to further education and much more...

Despite being more likely to save for education, the majority of Americans (60%) do not feel they’re saving enough to reach their goals for future education expenses.

To reach education savings goals, one-third of adults (35%) have or have planned to use a personal savings account as part of their education savings strategy. Other top strategies include scholarships (18%) and federal or state financial aid (18%). Interestingly, one in 10 adults (9%) have or plan to get a job at a school or university for tuition benefits as part of their education savings strategy. Even with these methods, the vast majority of adults (84%) have not or do not plan to invest in a 529 plan as part of their education savings strategy.

Education Savings Conversations Happen, But Not Enough

Some families are making time to discuss education savings before making any decisions, but their children often are left out. Of those who have already discussed 529 plans with their children, only four in 10 (42%) noted they typically consult their child before making decisions related to education savings.

The majority of adults saving for education typically consult family members (56%) before making decisions related to education savings, but only 31% typically consult their child. Additionally, one-third of parents (33%) saving for education typically consult a financial advisor before making decisions related to education savings.

Financial advisors can act as an objective third party to facilitate these conversations between parents and children or advise on the best strategies to meet those educational savings goals, within the family’s broader financial goals.

“It’s important for people to have a financial advisor understand what’s most important to them – whether that be education, retirement or something else – and marry those priorities with the right tax-advantaged vehicles,” added Esser. “With the recent enhancements to 529 plans, I’d encourage anyone to speak with a trusted advisor to revisit how they’re investing for their family’s future.”

More From Edward Jones

To continue to raise awareness for 529 plans and education savings strategies, Edward Jones offers a Financial Fitness program through its partnership with EVERFI. The initiative has helped more than 900,000 learners increase their financial knowledge since 2020, well on its way to reaching a goal of one million learners by the end of 2025. Edward Jones branches across the country recognize May 29 as “Save for Education Day” to raise awareness for 529 plans and education savings.

 

 

 

Survey Methodology
This survey was conducted by global data intelligence company Morning Consult among a national sample of 2,202 adults ages 18+ from April 22-25, 2024.
About Edward Jones
Edward Jones is a leading financial services firm in the U.S. and through its affiliate in Canada. The firm’s nearly 19,500 financial advisors serve more than 8 million clients with a total of $2 trillion in client assets under care at the end of March 2024. Edward Jones’ purpose is to partner for positive impact to improve the lives of its clients and colleagues, and together, better our communities and society. Through the dedication of the firm’s approximately 54,000 associates and our branch presence in 68% of U.S. counties and most Canadian provinces and territories, the firm is committed to helping more people achieve financially what is most important to them. The Edward Jones website is at www.edwardjones.com, and its recruiting website is www.careers.edwardjones.com. Member SIPC.

 

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