Articles tagged with: tax-free withdrawals

Can an IRA Be a College Savings Vehicle?

You might be surprised at its potential.

An IRA is a retirement savings account, right? Indeed it is. IRA stands for Individual Retirement Arrangement. Even with that definition, however, there is no prohibition on using an IRA to save for other purposes, such as funding a college education.

Why would anyone choose an IRA as a college savings vehicle? At first glance it may seem strange, since there are a couple of types of investment accounts dedicated to that goal in the first place. On closer inspection, IRAs – especially Roth IRAs – present some features that may be quite attractive to the parent or grandparent seeking ways to build education savings.

Flexibility. Parents are urged to save for their children’s college educations as soon as possible … but what if their children end up spending little or no time in college? Some young adults do start careers or businesses without any college education. Some simply have no interest in going to school any longer. Another, more pleasant circumstance worth mentioning: what if a child ends up getting a significant college scholarship, even a full ride?

In the event that these things happen, parents or grandparents who long ago opened a conventional college savings account may face a financial dilemma. Withdrawals from these conventional college savings plans are tax-free as long as they are used for qualified educational expenses, but if the funds are withdrawn other purposes, the distribution is regarded as fully taxable income (and the account gains are subject to a 10% penalty). Sometimes you can transfer assets in one of these conventional college plans to another family member, but some families do not have that choice.1

As an IRA can be used to build retirement savings as well as a college fund, it offers a family flexibility in the face of such uncertainty. If the assets saved and invested for college end up being nice but not really necessary, those invested assets can serve as retirement funds.

Tax-deferred growth & the possibility of a tax-free withdrawal. You probably know the basic distinction between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA: the former permits tax-deductible contributions as a tradeoff for eventual taxable withdrawals, while the latter offers no tax deduction on contributions in exchange for tax-free withdrawals later (provided an investor follows IRS rules). Either IRA gives you tax-deferred growth of the invested assets.2

Now, can you open a Roth IRA, own it for five years or more and withdraw its assets tax-free even if you use the money for something other than your retirement? If that something is your child’s college education, the answer is (a qualified) yes.3

Withdrawals from Roth (and for that matter, traditional) IRAs face no withdrawal penalties if the money withdrawn is used for qualified educational expenses. Does this mean you can take $100K out of a Roth IRA today and use it to pay for your child’s college education? Probably not that large an amount, as some restrictions apply.3

Roth IRA withdrawals are regarded by the IRS as a return of contribution first, with account earnings coming out next. If you own a Roth IRA and are younger than 59½, or are older than 59½ but have owned your Roth IRA for less than five years, your Roth IRA’s earnings are ordinary, taxable income if withdrawn. Roth IRA contributions may be withdrawn tax-free at any age. So if you have contributed, say, $45,000 to a Roth IRA, as much as $45,000 from that Roth could be taken out tax-free and used for qualified educational expenses.3

One other note about taxes that pertains to all this: eight states offer no tax deduction on funds contributed to a conventional college savings plan. If you live in one of those eight states (Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California among them), then idea of withdrawing Roth IRA contributions tax-free at some point for education purposes may seem more attractive.3

Not considered an asset on the FAFSA. When students apply for college aid, they routinely fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps the federal government figure out the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the degree of college costs the family finances can handle. Conventional college savings accounts are counted as assets on the FAFSA in determining the EFC, but IRAs and other retirement accounts are not.1

What are the shortcomings of building college savings with an IRA? First, this idea may not work for retirees, as you must have “taxable compensation” to make Roth IRA contributions and you cannot make traditional IRA contributions past age 70½. Phase-outs on for high earners may reduce or even prohibit annual Roth IRA contributions for some. Lastly, some of the conventional college savings vehicles have no annual contribution limits, while the annual contribution limit for Roth and traditional IRAs is currently set at $5,500 ($6,500 if catch-up contributions are included). Even so, families who seek more flexibility in their college savings options may see an IRA, particularly a Roth IRA, as an intriguing potential college savings vehicle.2,3

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com.

Website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment. 

Citations.

1 – marketwatch.com/story/3-reasons-to-use-a-roth-ira-to-save-for-college-2015-03-25 [3/25/15]

2 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Traditional-and-Roth-IRAs [3/18/15]

3 – cnbc.com/2014/02/03/roth-iras-can-be-a-better-way-to-save-pay-for-higher-education-costs.html [2/3/14]

Are You Retiring Within the Next 5 Years?

What should you focus on as the transition approaches?

You can prepare for your retirement transition years before it occurs. In doing so, you can do your best to avoid the kind of financial surprises that tend to upset an unsuspecting new retiree.

How much monthly income will you need? Look at your monthly expenses and add them up. (Consider also the trips, adventures and pursuits you have in mind in the near term.) You may end up living on less; that may be acceptable, as your monthly expenses may decline. If your retirement income strategy was conceived a few years ago, revisit it to see if it needs adjusting. As a test, you can even try living on your projected monthly income for 2-3 months prior to retiring.

Should you try to go Roth? Many pre-retirees have amassed substantial retirement savings in tax-deferred retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s and traditional IRAs. Distributions from these accounts are taxed as ordinary income. This reality makes some pre-retirees weigh the pros and cons of a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) conversion for some or all of those assets. You may want to consider the “Roth tradeoff” – being taxed on the amount of retirement savings you convert today in exchange for the ability to take tax-free withdrawals from the Roth IRA or 401(k) tomorrow. (You must be 59½ and have owned that Roth account for at least five years to take tax-free distributions.)1

Should you downsize or relocate? Moving to another state may lessen your tax burden. Moving into a smaller home may reduce your monthly expenses. In a perfect world, you would retire without any mortgage debt. If you will still be paying off your home loan in retirement, realize that your monthly income might be lower as you do so. You may want to investigate a refi, but consider that the cost of a refi can offset the potential savings down the line.

How conservative should your portfolio be? Even if your retirement savings are substantial, growth investing gives your portfolio the potential to keep pace with or keep ahead of rising consumer prices. Mere gradual inflation has the capability to erode your purchasing power over time. As an example, at 3% inflation what costs $10,000 today will cost more than $24,000 in 2045.2

In planning for retirement, the top priority is to build savings; within retirement, the top priority is generating consistent, sufficient income. With that in mind, portfolio assets may be adjusted or reallocated with respect to time: it may be wise to have some risk-averse investments that can provide income in the next few years as well as growth investments geared to income or savings objectives on the long-term horizon.

How will you live? There are people who wrap up their careers without much idea of what their day-to-day life will be like once they retire. Some picture an endless Saturday. Others wonder if they will lose their sense of purpose (and self) away from work. Remember that retirement is a beginning. Ask yourself what you would like to begin doing. Think about how to structure your days to do it, and how your day-to-day life could change for the better with the gift of more free time.

Many retirees find that their expenses “out of the gate” are larger than they anticipated – more travel and leisure means more money spent. Even so, no business owner or professional wants to enter retirement pinching pennies. If you want to live it up a little yet are worried about drawing down your retirement savings too fast, consider slimming transportation costs (car and gasoline expenses; maybe you could even live car-free), landscaping costs, or other monthly costs that amount to discretionary spending better suited to youth or mid-life.

How will you take care of yourself? What kind of health insurance do you have right now? If your company sponsors a group health plan, you may as well get the most out of it (in terms of doctor, dentist and optometrist visits) before you leave the office.

If you retire prior to age 65, Medicare will not be there for you. Check and see if your group health plan will extend certain benefits to you when you retire; it may or may not. If you can stay enrolled in it, great; if not, you may have to find new coverage at presumably higher premiums.

Even if you retire at 65 or later, Medicare is no panacea. Your out-of-pocket health care expenses could still be substantial with Medicare in place. Long term care is another consideration – if you think you (or your spouse) will need it, should it be funded through existing assets or some form of LTC insurance?

Give your retirement strategy a second look as the transition approaches. Review it in the company of the financial professional who helped you create and refine it. An adjustment or two before retirement may be necessary due to life or financial events.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Retirement/The-Tax-Benefits-of-Your-401-k–Plan/INF22614.html [5/7/15]

2 – investopedia.com/articles/markets/042215/best-etfs-inflationary-worries.asp [4/22/15]