Pros and Cons of 529 Plans for Grandparents (2024)

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Written By Adeyemi Adetilewa

A 529 plan is a powerful tool for securing your grandchild’s educational future.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of 529 plans for grandparents, helping you make informed decisions to pave the way for your grandchild’s academic success.

Two types of 529 plans

529 plans are investment vehicles designed to help families save for future educational expenses.

There are two main types: prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans. Prepaid tuition plans allow you to pay for tuition credits at participating institutions in advance, while education savings plans offer a variety of investment options for growing your savings over time.

1. 529 Prepaid Tuition Plans

Prepaid tuition plans allow contributors to pay for future tuition costs at today’s rates. This means that you’re essentially buying education credits in advance, locking in the cost of tuition at current prices.

Imagine your grandchild is born, and you contribute to a prepaid tuition plan. If the current cost of one year of college tuition is $20,000, you can purchase credits now, even though your grandchild won’t attend college for another 18 years.

If tuition rates have increased to $30,000 per year by then, you’ve essentially saved $10,000 per year in tuition costs.

However, it’s crucial to note that prepaid tuition plans are often limited to in-state public institutions, and there might be restrictions on using them for out-of-state or private colleges.

Pros of Prepaid Tuition Plans

  • Cost Certainty: Locking in today’s tuition rates provides a hedge against future tuition inflation.
  • Predictable Contributions: Contributors can make regular payments, spreading the cost of education over time.

Cons of Prepaid Tuition Plans

  • Limited Flexibility: These plans may limit usage to in-state public institutions, potentially restricting choices for the grandchild.
  • Non-Tuition Expenses: Prepaid plans may not cover other associated costs like room and board or textbooks.

2. 529 Education Savings Plans

Education savings plans, also known as 529 savings plans, operate more like traditional investment accounts. Contributions are invested in a selection of mutual funds or similar investments, and the value of the account can fluctuate based on market performance.

Suppose you contribute to an education savings plan when your grandchild is young. Your contributions are invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.

Over the years, the investments grow tax-free, and when it’s time for your grandchild to attend college, you can withdraw the funds to cover qualified education expenses, such as tuition, room and board, and textbooks.

Education savings plans offer greater flexibility regarding the choice of educational institutions. They can be used at most accredited colleges and universities nationwide, and even some international institutions.

Pros of Education Savings Plans

  • Flexibility: Education savings plans can be used at a wide range of institutions, offering more flexibility for the grandchild.
  • Potential for Higher Returns: Depending on market performance, these plans offer the potential for higher returns on investments.

Cons of Education Savings Plans

  • Market Risks: Investments in education savings plans are subject to market fluctuations, and the value of the account can go up or down based on investment performance.
  • Limited Control: Contributors have less control over the impact of future tuition increases compared to prepaid tuition plans.

Both prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans have their advantages and disadvantages. The choice between them depends on factors such as your financial goals, the level of risk you’re comfortable with, and the specific needs of your grandchild.

Combining elements of both types or consulting with a financial advisor can be a strategic approach to ensure a well-rounded and tailored 529 plan that best suits your family’s circumstances.

Remember, careful consideration and planning can unlock the full potential of 529 plans, securing a brighter educational future for your grandchild.

Pros and Cons of 529 Plans for Grandparents

Pros and Cons of 529 Plans for Grandparents

Here are the pros and cons of 529 plans for grandparents:

Advantages of 529 Plans

Here are some of the advantages of 529 plans to consider today:

1. Tax Benefits

One of the significant advantages of 529 plans is the array of tax benefits they offer. The growth of your investment is tax-free, and withdrawals for qualified education expenses are also tax-exempt. This can result in substantial savings over time.

Suppose you contribute to a 529 plan when your grandchild is born. Over the years, as the investments grow, the compounded returns remain untaxed, providing a more significant pool of funds for educational expenses.

2. Control Over Funds

Grandparents who contribute to a 529 plan retain control over the account. This means you can decide when and how the funds are used, ensuring that they are directed toward your grandchild’s educational needs.

If your grandchild decides to pursue a specialized course or study abroad. The flexibility of a 529 plan allows you to allocate funds accordingly, providing support tailored to your unique educational journey.

3. Estate Planning

529 plans can play a strategic role in estate planning. By contributing to your grandchild’s education fund, you can reduce your taxable estate while providing a meaningful gift that supports their future.

If your estate approaches the taxable limit, contributing to a 529 plan can be a proactive way to reduce the overall value subject to estate taxes, benefiting both your grandchild and your estate.

4. Financial Aid Impact

Contrary to common concerns, the impact of a 529 plan on a grandchild’s eligibility for financial aid is often minimal. The assets held in a grandparent-owned 529 plan may have a reduced effect on the financial aid calculation compared to other types of accounts.

Even with a well-funded 529 plan, your grandchild may still qualify for financial aid based on their income and other factors, making it a versatile savings vehicle.

Disadvantages of 529 Plans

Disadvantages of 529 Plans

Here are some disadvantages of 529 plans to consider today:

1. Limited Investment Options

While 529 plans offer investment options, they may be more limited compared to other investment vehicles. This limitation could impact the potential for high returns, depending on market conditions.

Some grandparents may prefer more diverse investment options, and in such cases, supplementing a 529 plan with additional investment strategies could be considered for a well-rounded portfolio.

2. Non-Educational Withdrawal Penalties

Withdrawals from a 529 plan for non-educational expenses may incur taxes and penalties. This lack of flexibility can be a drawback if funds are needed for unexpected non-educational purposes.

In the event of a financial emergency, having to pay penalties for non-educational withdrawals could be a drawback. It’s essential to maintain emergency funds outside of the 529 plan for unforeseen circumstances.

3. State-Specific Regulations

Each state manages its 529 plans, and regulations can vary. Understanding the specific rules and benefits associated with your state’s plan is crucial to maximizing its advantages.

Some states offer tax deductions for contributions to their 529 plans, enhancing the overall benefits. Researching and understanding your state’s regulations can optimize your financial strategy.

4. Market Fluctuations

Like any investment, the performance of a 529 plan is subject to market fluctuations. Economic downturns can impact the value of the investments within the plan, affecting the overall account value.

During a market downturn, the value of the investments in the 529 plan may temporarily decrease. However, historically, markets have recovered over the long term, showcasing the importance of a well-thought-out investment strategy.

Tips for Maximizing 529 Plans

To make the most of 529 plans, consider the following tips:

1. Regularly Review Investments

Periodically review and adjust your investment portfolio within the 529 plan to align with your goals and market conditions.

If the market has experienced significant changes, such as a recession or a boom, adjusting your investment strategy within the 529 plan can help optimize returns.

2. Explore State Tax Incentives

Investigate state-specific tax incentives that may further enhance the benefits of your 529 plan contributions.

Some states offer tax deductions or credits for contributions to 529 plans, providing an additional financial incentive for grandparents.

3. Stay Informed

Keep yourself informed about changes in educational costs and regulations that might impact your 529 plan strategy.

Understanding the evolving landscape of educational costs can help you make informed decisions about the amount you contribute to the 529 plan over time.

Tips for Maximizing 529 Plans


In conclusion, a 529 plan can be a powerful tool for securing a child’s educational future. The tax benefits, control over funds, and positive impact on estate planning make them an attractive option.

However, it is crucial to be aware of the potential limitations, such as non-educational withdrawal penalties and market fluctuations.

By carefully considering the pros and cons of 529 plans for grandparents, and implementing the provided tips, you can unlock the full potential of 529 plans, providing a valuable contribution to your grandchild’s academic journey.

Remember, consulting with a financial advisor is always a wise step to tailor your approach based on your unique circumstances.

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