Lacey Langford is an Accredited Financial Counselor® and the founder and CEO of the Military Money Show, a podcast that helps U.S. service members, veterans, and their spouses with personal finance.
Education is one of the most significant investments a family can make in their children’s future. However, saving for education can be challenging for military families due to the frequent moves, deployments, and transitions that come with military life. One solution to this challenge is using a 529 college savings plan to consistently save for your child’s education, whether it’s kindergarten or grad school. This article breaks down the benefits of 529 plans for military families, including tax advantages, flexibility, control over the account, and potential estate planning benefits.
Consistency isn’t something the military is known for. A lot can come up, like a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), military training, or separating from the service, making saving for future education expenses challenging. A 529 account can help parents get in the habit of setting aside money for education expenses, regardless of where the military sends them or through the transitions of military life.
Additional education savings
While you may have the Post-9/11 GI Bill, these benefits may not cover all of your education expenses. A 529 account can help fill in the gap because your GI Bill often will only cover some of your education expenses, especially if you have more than one child. The extra savings can ensure you don’t dip into your savings or retirement funds to cover college costs.
Potential tax benefits
Many states offer tax benefits when contributing to 529s, such as a state income tax deduction or credit. The frequent moves you make as a military family may give you the advantage of these benefits in multiple states. You can find a listing of each state’s 529 plan through the College Savings Plans Network.
A 529 plan can pay for a wide range of education expenses, including tuition, room and board, textbooks, and even certain K-12 expenses. This flexibility can be particularly helpful for military families who may need to cover education expenses not covered by the military’s education benefits. It’s also beneficial if you’d prefer to keep your child in private elementary, middle, or high schools to keep some continuity with the frequent school moves military children face.
With a 529 plan, parents remain in control of the account and can change the beneficiary or investment options anytime. This power can benefit military families who may need to make changes due to moves or other changes in circumstances, like a child joining the military.
Serving in the military can be dangerous. In the unfortunate event of a service member’s death, a 529 account can help ensure that the designated beneficiary receives funds for education expenses without incurring estate taxes. As long as the funds in the account are used for qualified education expenses, such as tuition, room and board, and textbooks, they won’t be subject to federal income tax.
Education savings plans typically offer a range of investment options, allowing you to choose a strategy that aligns with your risk tolerance and financial goals.
Military families should consider using a 529 college savings plan to help them save for their children’s education. The advantages of these plans include tax benefits, flexibility, control over the account, and potential estate planning benefits. Military families face unique challenges, but a 529 can help provide consistency in saving for education expenses regardless of your duty location. Additionally, these plans can help fill the gaps left by military education benefits and are a valuable tool for military families looking to invest in their children’s future.