In the Market for a 529 College Savings Plan? Shop Around.

The outcome could have been different, however, if the error had occurred during a downturn, said Madeline Hume, a Morningstar analyst. She advised being familiar with your plan’s performance, so you can gauge if returns seem out of the ordinary, and paying attention when your plan notifies you of changes. “It’s important to keep aware of what communications are coming out,” she said.

The firm rates 529 plans on factors like fees, investment options and plan oversight, and most are rated gold, silver or bronze, indicating they offer a net benefit to investors. However, eight plans received “negative” ratings, mostly because of excessive fees.

Here are some questions and answers about 529 saving plans:

What college expenses can 529 funds be used for?

Savings in a 529 can be used to pay college costs including tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, books, supplies and required equipment.

Can I use 529 funds to pay student loans?

Yes. Under a law passed in 2019, up to $10,000 from a 529 account can be used to repay a beneficiary’s student loans. Another $10,000 each can be used to repay student loans borrowed by the beneficiary’s siblings.

Can grandparents save in a 529 account for a grandchild?

Yes — and an upcoming change to an important financial aid form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, should help to make that more attractive. Currently, contributions from grandparent-owned 529 plans are reported on the FAFSA as untaxed cash support to the student, which can reduce eligibility for financial aid, said the financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. An updated FAFSA, however, will eliminate the question about cash support, he said, so distributions from grandparent-owned 529s will no longer be included on the form. The change is expected to take place with the FAFSA available in late 2022, for the 2023-24 academic year.

The change, however, does not affect a different student aid form, the CSS Profile, which is required by many higher-cost private colleges, Mr. Kantrowitz said.

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