North Carolina 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 college 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 tax advantages and benefits. Some plans may have contribution requirements or enrollment fees.

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

North Carolina offers two education savings programs: the NC 529 Plan and the Morgan Stanley National Advisory 529 Plan.

The NC 529 Plan has is an advisor-sold plan that is open to North Carolinians and non-state residents. The plan features Vanguard funds in its age-based or static options, and also includes a federally-insured deposit (FDIC) option through the State Employees Credit Union.

The Morgan Stanley National Advisory 529 Plan is another advisor-sold plan option. This is a national advisory 529 plan for which North Carolina is the plan sponsor. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC is the program manager.

The Morgan Stanley plan is open to North Carolinians and non-state residents. The plan is offered exclusively to Morgan Stanley clients (participants of Morgan Stanley sponsored investment or advisory programs). There are 13 different investment options, including several MS 529 funds.

You can find more information about North Carolina 529 plans at nc529.org or MorganStanley.com. The College Foundation of North Carolina (www.cfnc.org) is another resource you may wish to consult.

What are the tax benefits of a 529 plan in North Carolina?

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 North Carolina?

No, North Carolina does not offer tax deductions for 529 plans.

What happens to a North Carolina 529 Plan if not used?

There is no time in which the funds within a North Carolina 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 United States citizen. This is not limited to immediate family members; funds can be transferred to cousins, nieces, nephews, and other close loved ones. 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 a North Carolina 529 Plan lose money?

Yes, a 529 plan is an investment plan with different types of investment options. The investment options, including more conservative tracks. Speak with a qualified financial advisor about different investment portfolio options.

Do I need a North Carolina 529 Plan for every child?

You don’t need a North Carolina 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 North Carolina 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 North Carolina 529 plan be used to pay off student loans, apprenticeships, and K-12 private schools?

North Carolina 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 North Carolina 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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