Arkansas 529 Plan Basics

While we are providing general information about the state’s 529 plan, please consult the Plan Description and Participation Agreement for more detailed information and facts about the plan.

A 529 plan is a savings plan that encourages education savings for qualified higher education expenses: college, vocational, or other post-secondary learning. 529 plan funds can also go to private high school or K-12 tuition at a qualified tuition program.

Unlike a traditional savings account or bank account, your money grows tax-deferred in a 529 account and qualified distributions are federal tax and state tax free.

Different states have different state plans with different investment options and different tax benefits. They will also have different minimum contribution (and subsequent contribution) requirements and plan fees. You are not required to open a 529 plan in your home state. You can open a 529 plan in any state that accepts out-of-state enrollments. Additionally, 529 plan accounts can be linked to the Upromise rewards program. Earn an extra $25 bonus when you connect a 529 account to your Upromise profile.

Arkansas has two college savings plans to choose from, the GIFT College Investing Plan and iShares 529 Plan.

The GIFT College Investing Plan (also referred to as the Arkansas 529 Gift Plan) is a direct-sold plan managed by Ascensus College Savings and The Vanguard Group. The plan is open to in-state and out-of-state residents. The plan features age-based and static portfolio options, utilizing Vanguard mutual funds and an FDIC insured savings option. Plan fees range from 0.43% – 0.57%.

Enrollment in the GIFT College Investing Plan requires a minimum initial contribution of $25 and then subsequent minimum contributions of $10. If you enroll in the automatic investment plan, the minimum contribution level is $10 per month or $30 per quarter, or $5 per pay period via payroll direct deduction.

With lump-sum contributions, the minimum initial contribution is $25, and the minimum subsequent contribution is $10. With the automatic investment plan, the minimum contribution level is $10 per month or $30 per quarter via bank transfer or $5 per pay period via payroll deduction. GIFT accounts can be linked to the Upromise rewards service.

The iShares 529 plan is an advisor-sold plan that consists solely of iShares ETFs and offers 7 different age-based portfolios, 4 asset allocation options, and 17 individual portfolios. Many of your plan’s portfolios can be mixed and matched together. Ascensus Broker Dealer Services, Inc. is the program manager.

The iShares plan does not require Arkansas residency. The plan has a minimum contribution of $500 to enroll, and plan fees range from 0.35% to 1.3%. While the program management and maintenance fees are higher, this plan comes with the guidance of a financial advisor. And like the GIFT plan, accounts can also be linked to the Upromise rewards service.

Both of Arkansas 529 plans have a maximum contribution limit. You can find your Arkansas 529 plans until all account balances (in all Arkansas 529 plans for the same beneficiary) reach $366,000.

You can find more information about Arkansas 529 plans, including detailed program descriptions and participation agreements, at arkansas529.org.

What are some Arkansas 529 plan benefits and tax advantages?

Funds you invest in a 529 plan grow tax-deferred. And funds that the student eventually withdraws from the plan towards qualified educational costs are free from federal taxes.

A common misconception is that these 529 plan assets will disqualify your child from financial aid. On the contrary, 529 plan funds are treated more favorably in the financial aid formula than other savings in your child’s name through a custodial account such as an UTMA/UGMA. This is because assets in a child’s 529 plan belong to the parent not child, and FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) gives preferential tax treatment to assets belonging to a student’s parent versus the student.

If your child is an Einstein or football star, and manages to score a free ride to school, you can still repurpose those funds. You can take out an amount equal to the scholarship fund amount from the 529 plan without incurring the 10% penalty tax fee you’d normally have to pay on funds not going to qualified education costs. (You would have to pay regular ordinary income taxes on earnings, but there would be no penalty. Alternatively, you can leave the funds in a 529 plan to be used at a later date by this beneficiary or a direct relative of the original beneficiary.)

And for many, a 529 plan can be used to transfer wealth. Contributing to a 529 plan lets grandparents or other contributors reduce the size of their taxable estate while helping them fund a grandchild’s or family member’s education. It’s even possible to make five years worth of contributions in a single year, up to $75,000 (or $150,000 for married couples) and still get the gift tax exclusion.

Is a 529 plan tax deductible in the state of Arkansas?

Yes, Arkansas residents can claim a state tax deduction of up to $5,000 per year as a single filer or $10,000 per year for married couples applying jointly. There is also a tax benefit for contributions made to non-Arkansas 529 plans. Single filers can claim a tax deduction of $3,000 per year and joint filers can claim $6,000 per year.

These 529 tax deductions have a 4-year carryforward.

What happens to an Arkansas 529 Plan if not used?

There is no time in which the funds within an Arkansas 529 plan need to be withdrawn. Unused funds can remain in the account and continue to grow tax-deferred.The account owner may also choose to change the beneficiary, without penalty, to another individual with a social security number who is a member of the original beneficiary’s family and a United States citizen. This is not limited to immediate family members; funds can be transferred to cousins, nieces, nephews, and other close relatives. The account owner can close the account if not used, but funds in the account will be subject to federal and state income tax as well as a 10% penalty on the account earnings.

And as outlined earlier in this article, 529 plans allow the account owner to withdraw the amount a beneficiary receives in scholarships without incurring the 10% penalty.

Can an Arkansas 529 Plan lose money?

Yes, a 529 plan is an investment plan with different types of investment options. The investment options offer different levels of market risk.

Speak with a qualified financial advisor about your financial goals and different investment portfolio options.

Do I need an Arkansas 529 Plan for every child?

You don’t need an Arkansas 529 plan for each child but you may find it easier to administer if you do. You can only have one named beneficiary on an Arkansas 529 plan. The risk and mix of equities to fixed income of certain investment options is determined by the age of the beneficiary. For this reason, you may want to have a different 529 plan for each child.

You may be interested to know that multiple people can open accounts for the same beneficiary.

Can an Arkansas 529 plan be used to pay off student loans, apprenticeships, and K-12 private schools?

Arkansas 529 plans can be used to pay tuition at K-12 private schools and to pay student loans up to $10,000 annually. 529 plans can also be used to pay for registered apprenticeship programs.

How do financial aid and scholarships affect an Arkansas 529 plan?

A 529 plan can affect financial aid, but the impact is dependent on the account owner and their tax situation, not the beneficiary.

If the account is held by the parent or guardian of the student, funds within are considered parental assets. The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculation for parent assets is a maximum of only 5.64% versus 20% for the students assets.However, if the 529 plan is held by a grandparent or extended family member, while the assets are not taken into account for the FAFSA EFC, distributions from these accounts qualify as student income, which is assessed at 50%.

529 accounts do not affect merit-based scholarships. Other scholarships may depend based on the school.

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