You’ve been saving diligently in your 529 plan for years and now it’s here: freshman year and bills are due. How do you get those savings out to pay for the bills?
First, you need to decide to whom to direct the withdrawal: the parent, the student or the school. Here is a blog post outlining the why’s of each. In most cases, having the withdrawal go directly to the student is best.
Next, you need to actually get the money out. Most plans offer either checks to the payee of your choice (school, parent or student) or automatic transfers. But there’s a catch: most plans require the withdrawal transfer to be to a bank account that has been associated with the 529 plan account for at least 30 days. If you’ve been making automatic contributions to the plan, your bank account will be associated with the plan already. But chances are, your student’s isn’t. Given that school is starting and you may be in need of a withdrawal, go add your student’s bank account to your plan right away.
And since it’s fall, don’t forget that you can only withdraw from your plan enough money to pay for 2015 expenses. If you need to prepay a portion of 2016’s expenses in December, you will need to wait until January 2016 to withdraw those funds from your plan. Otherwise you’ll have a nonqualified distribution and be subject to tax and penalties.