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Pros and Cons of a 529 Rollover to a Roth IRA

Deciding what to do with the rest of your 529 plan funds after graduation.

A 529 Rollover to a Roth IRA is a financial strategy where an individual transfers funds from a 529 college savings plan, designed to pay for educational expenses, into a Roth IRA. This is a retirement savings account that offers tax-free growth and withdrawals. While it might be a good opportunity to transfer leftover 529 funds, there are some drawbacks to understand and it might not be a good fit for everyone. To see if your personal situation might benefit, consider working with a financial advisor

What Is the 529 Rollover?

Through a 529 Rollover, the funds from a 529 plan transition into a Roth IRA, a tax-free individual retirement account. This strategy capitalizes on benefits from both types of accounts. For instance, once the funds are transferred into a Roth IRA, they are allowed to grow tax-free. This is a relatively new capability that the 529 plans have received through the SECURE 2.0 law implemented in 2022 and it launches in 2024. 

Various reasons could drive an individual to consider a 529 Rollover. Some might have unused 529 funds due to reasons such as scholarships, attending a military academy or changing educational plans. Others might be attracted to the advantages of a Roth IRA like tax-free growth and flexible withdrawal rules. However, considering the long-term implications and complex nature of this strategy, consulting with someone experienced with 529 plans could be beneficial when exploring these possibilities.

Pros of Rolling Your 529 Funds Into a Roth IRA

The potential benefits of a 529 Rollover can indeed be appealing. This strategy can lead to tax-free growth, more flexible withdrawal rules and potentially higher returns with the right investment options in the Roth IRA. Let’s take a closer look at the main reasons someone may want to start a 529 rollover. 

  • To invest leftover funds: Some parents may open a 529 plan to help their kids pay for college but their kid either gets a scholarship or ends up not going to school. This can leave leftover money in the 529 account that needs to be moved in order to use on non-education expenses.
  • To lower fees: Fees in a Roth IRA are generally much lower than fees in a 529 account.
  • To reduce administrative headaches: Some parents have multiple 529 accounts for multiple children or because they moved to a new state and wanted to take advantage of state tax rules so they opened a new account. Moving the money to a Roth IRA can lower the headaches that come with managing so many accounts. 

The first reason is the main one that gets people excited about completing these rollovers next year, but it really depends on your unique circumstances. 

Cons of Rolling Your 529 Funds Into a Roth IRA

Deciding to rollover a 529 fund to a Roth IRA

However, potential drawbacks come with a 529 Rollover, too. These include taxes and penalties on earnings, risk of retirement savings reduction and constraints on contributions to the Roth IRA for the same tax year. There isn’t a perfect scenario that’s a fit for everyone. Here are the cons that you may want to consider before rolling over your funds.

  • Potential for recapture taxes: Some states may require you to pay back any state-specific tax deductions you’ve received.
  • Limited rollovers: You can only complete one rollover every 12 months.
  • Loss of market time: Rolling over the funds can take time and your money could be out of the market, not getting the growth, for a period of time.

It’s important to consult with a professional who is well-versed in 529 plans if you’re not sure whether it’s the right fit for you. 

Factors to Consider Before a 529 Rollover

Before embarking on a 529 Rollover, several crucial considerations need to be addressed and each could vary based on your personal circumstances. Here are the things, at a minimum, to consider.

  • Amount of Unused Funds: How much money in the 529 plan remains unused significantly affects the feasibility of a rollover.
  • Potential Tax Implications: What potential tax ramifications will arise from the rollover?
  • Future Educational Needs: Are there future educational expenses for your family to consider?
  • Retirement Saving Goals: What are your long-term aspirations for retirement savings? 

These elements significantly impact whether a 529 Rollover is the right choice for you. 

How to Rollover Your 529 Funds Into a Roth IRA

Completing a 529 Rollover involves several steps but it isn’t an overly complicated process. The steps also might vary based on the 529 plan you have or the provider you’re rolling the funds over to. Here are the basic steps to complete.

  1. Assess the Financial Implications: Begin by analyzing the financial implications of such a transition. This could include consulting with a financial advisor.
  2. Notify Your 529 Plan Provider: Make sure you fill out whatever official paperwork you need to with them to make sure they know your intention. 
  3. Withdraw Funds from The 529 Plan: The funds need to be withdrawn from the 529 plan.
  4. Deposit Funds into The Roth IRA: Within 60 days, to avoid penalties, deposit these funds into a Roth IRA. If you don’t have a Roth IRA then you’ll want to create one in advance of the funds being deposited. 

Bottom Line

A pregnant woman deciding to rollover her 529 plan before her child is born to a Roth IRA

If you’re contemplating a 529 Rollover, it’s crucial to evaluate your financial situation, understand the potential tax implications and make an informed decision. The potential advantages and drawbacks should be weighed carefully and professional guidance can aid in this process. Continue to learn more about your personal finance strategies and consult other relevant resources to gain a more comprehensive understanding of your options.

Tips for 529 Plans

  • Understanding both your retirement needs and proper planning for your children’s educational expenses can take time and experience you don’t have. A professional financial advisor can help you with both. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now
  • If you’re ready to explore opening a 529 plan consider your options by looking at the 529 plan offered in each state

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