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529 Account Question

I've contributed to my grandkids 529 Education accounts for years, and there's probably more than will ever be used. Yet I still contribute to take advantage of NYS's $10K income tax deduction (6.57% marginal tax bracket). I know there's a 10% penalty on earnings for unqualified withdrawals. I figure I can leave the money in the accounts until after I've retired and in a lower tax bracket, but wonder if I should just stop funding and lose the deduction. Any comments?


  • In NYS your tax bracket won't be that much lower in retirement - the first dollar of taxable income is taxed at 4%, and it doesn't take much ($23K for couples) to see that go up to 5.25% or even 5.9% (at $28K).

    Of course NYS doesn't tax SS, so let's say that you'll be saving around 2% on the difference in rates between now and when you retire. (NY recaptures the deduction by taxing the past contributions when you make nonqualified withdrawals. See IT-201 Line 22.)

    Assuming that the excess contributions earn a cumulative return of at least 20% over the years, the 10% penalty on the earnings will more than wipe out any savings on the NYS side.

    Beyond that, what you've got is essentially a non-deductible IRA. The money goes in post-tax (federal), the earnings are sheltered, and then taxed as ordinary income rather than cap gains/qualified divs when withdrawn.

    Post-tax contributions can make sense if you're planning to invest in very tax-inefficient funds, like the 529 Income Portfolio. But if you're planning on investing in something more tax-efficient, I don't think that nondeductible contributions pay off.

    Here's another way to ask the question: are there readers who would contribute to a nondeductible IRA if they could not convert it to a Roth? If this is not a winner, and if the 10% penalty consumes any benefit you get from the (temporary) NYS tax deduction, then there's not an obvious benefit in making the excess contributions.
  • Thanks for that input, msf. What you say makes a lot of sense. Since what's done is done, I think I'll sit on it for a while, use it as a rainy day fund, then maybe use it for some charitable donations. Who knows, maybe the law will change for what a qualified withdrawal means.
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