Illinois 529 Plan Basics

While we are providing general information about the state’s 529 plan, please consult the Plan Description or Disclosure Booklet 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.

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 benefits. You can enroll in any state’s 529 plan that accepts non-resident enrollment. 529 plan funds can be applied to in-state schools or out of state schools, public or private institutions.

The state of Illinois has 3 state plans: the Bright Start Illinois 529 College Savings Plan, the Bright Directions Advisor-Guided 529 College Savings plan, and the College Illinois Prepaid Tuition Program.

The Bright Start plan is a direct-sold plan that does not require residency and comes with 0.11% – 0.83% fees. Bright Start Direct has a variety of portfolios to choose from. Union Bank & Trust Company is the Program Manager and Program Distributor. The Illinois State Treasurer is the state agency of record.

The Bright Directions plan is an advisor-sold plan that similarly does not require in-state residency and comes with 0.32% – 3.50% advisor fees. This plan comes with the guidance of a financial advisor. Union Bank & Trust Company of Lincoln, Nebraska is the Program Manager. Northern Trust Securities, Inc. serves as Program Distributor and the Illinois State Treasurer is the state sponsoring agency.

The College Illinois Prepaid Tuition Program is a prepaid tuition plan designed for Illinois residents. The plan requires Illinois residency for the account owner or beneficiary. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission is the Program Manager and state agency of record.

All 529 plans can be linked to the Upromise rewards service. Earn an extra $25 bonus when you connect a 529 account to your Upromise profile.

What are some Illinois 529 plan tax benefits?

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 Illinois?

Illinois state income tax filers can claim a state tax deductions of up to $10,000 a year as a single filer or $20,000 for joint filers. Contributions above this amount cannot be deducted and Illinois does not support carryforward.

For more information about tax benefits on college savings plans, consult a qualified tax professional.

What happens to an Illinois 529 Plan if not used?

There is no time in which the funds within an Illinois 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 an individual with a social security number who is a member of the original beneficiary’s family and a U.S. 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 Illinois 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 different investment portfolio options.

Illinois, like many other states, does not offer an FDIC insured 529 college savings plan. Mutual funds, stocks, and bonds are similarly not FDIC insured.

Do I need an Illinois 529 Plan for every child?

You don’t need an Illinois 529 plan for each child but you may find it easier to administer if you do. You can only have one named beneficiary on a Illinois 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 Illinois 529 plan be used to pay off student loans, apprenticeships, and K-12 private schools?

Illinois 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 a Illinois 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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529 Plan Basics by State

Check out these College Savings: 529 Plan Basics by State

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