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Level 1

529 withdrawl and scholarship

My son got scholarship from school. We had a $3500 saved up for him. His scholarship for this year (2024) is around 5000. We plan to withdraw his 529 to help buy a car for him. Should we withdraw the 529 in our name or his name? Will there be a 10% penalty for it? Is there a state tax for it? He is a full time student and our dependent. He does not work yet. 

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Level 15

529 withdrawl and scholarship

Q.  Should we withdraw the 529 in our name or his name?

A. Simple answer: his name. Have the plan send the money to him (make him the recipient). For most people,  it doesn't matter much, as the "kiddie tax"  kicks in early. Your numbers are (probably) low enough that he will pay less tax than you. 


Q. Will there be a 10% penalty for it?

A. There will be  no penalty on the first $5000 withdrawn, as there is a penalty exception when there is a scholarship. There is also a penalty exception when the parents claim a tuition credit. 


Q. Is there a state tax for it? 

A. Yes.  Whatever portion is taxable on the federal return, will be taxable on the state return too.  A few states may also have a recovery provision for any contributions deducted, on the state return, in the past.


That said, you may still be able to avoid tax, depending on your total expenses; as room and board are also qualified expenses for a 529 plan distribution (withdrawal), even if the student lives at home (If he lives at home, the qualified distribution is limited to the school's “allowance for cost of attendance” for student living with parents). Another technique is for him to declare some of his scholarship taxable, to free up expenses for the 529 distribution (see below).


Qualified Tuition Plans  (QTP 529 Plans) Distributions

General Discussion

It’s complicated.

For 529 plans, there is an “owner” (usually the parent), and a “beneficiary” (usually the student dependent). The "recipient" of the distribution can be either the owner or the beneficiary depending on who the money was sent to. When the money goes directly from the Qualified Tuition Plan (QTP) to the school, the student is the "recipient". The distribution will be reported on IRS form 1099-Q. 
The 1099-Q gets reported on the recipient's return.** The recipient's name & SS# will be on the 1099-Q.
Even though the 1099-Q is going on the student's return, the 1098-T should go on the parent's return, so you can claim the education credit. You can do this because he is your dependent.

You can and should claim the tuition credit before claiming the 529 plan earnings exclusion. The American Opportunity Credit (AOC or AOTC) is 100% of the first $2000 of tuition and 25% of the next $2000 ($2500 maximum credit). The educational expenses he claims for the 1099-Q should be reduced by the amount of educational expenses you claim for the credit.
But be aware, you can not double dip. You cannot count the same tuition money, for the tuition credit,  that gets him an exclusion from the taxability of the earnings (interest) on the 529 plan. Since the credit is more generous; use as much of the tuition as is needed for the credit and the rest for the interest exclusion. Another special rule allows you to claim the tuition credit regardless of whose money was used to pay the tuition.
In addition, there is another rule that says the 10% penalty is waived if he was unable to cover the 529 plan withdrawal with educational expenses either because he got scholarships or the expenses were used (by him or the parents) to claim the credits. He'll have to pay tax on the earnings, at his lower tax rate (subject to the “kiddie tax”), but not the penalty.


Total qualified expenses (including room & board) less amounts paid by scholarship less amounts used to claim the Tuition credit equals the amount you can use to claim the earnings exclusion on the 1099-Q. 
  $10,000 in educational expenses(including room & board which is only qualified for the 1099-Q)

   -$3000 paid by tax free scholarship***

   -$4000 used to claim the American Opportunity credit

 =$3000 Can be used against the 1099-Q (on the recipient’s return)


Box 1 of the 1099-Q is $5000

Box 2 is $2800

3000/5000=60% of the earnings are tax free; 40% are taxable

40% x 2800= $1120

There is  $1120 of taxable income (on the recipient’s return)


**Alternatively; you can just not report the 1099-Q, at all, if your student-beneficiary has sufficient educational expenses, including room & board (even if he lives at home) to cover the distribution. You would still have to do the math to see if there were enough expenses left over for you to claim the tuition credit. Again, you cannot double dip!  When the box 1 amount on form 1099-Q is fully covered by expenses, TurboTax will enter nothing about the 1099-Q on the actual tax forms. But, it will prepare a 1099-Q worksheet for your records, in case of an IRS inquiry.

On form 1099-Q, instructions to the recipient reads: "Nontaxable distributions from CESAs and QTPs are not required to be reported on your income tax return. You must determine the taxability of any distribution." 

***Another alternative is have the student report some of his scholarship as taxable income, to free up some expenses for the 1099-Q and/or tuition credit. Most people come out better having the scholarship taxable before the 529 earnings. A student, with no other income, can have up to $13,850 of taxable scholarship (in 2023) and still pay no income tax. 


There is a tax “loop hole” available to claim an education credit, for the parents of students on scholarship. The student reports all his scholarship, up to the amount needed to claim the American Opportunity Credit (AOC), as income on his return. That way, the parents  (or himself, if he is not a dependent) can claim the tuition credit on their return. They can do this because that much tuition was no longer paid by "tax free" scholarship.  You cannot do this if the school’s billing statement specifically shows the scholarships being applied to tuition or if the conditions of the grant are that it be used to pay for qualified expenses.

Using an example: Student has $5000 in box 5 of the 1098-T and $4000 in box 1. At first glance he/she has $1000 of taxable income and nobody can claim the American opportunity credit (AOC). But if she reports $5000 as income on her return, the parents can claim $4000 of qualified expenses on their return, for the credit. 

Books and computers are also qualifying expenses for the AOC. So, extending the example, the student had another $1000 in expenses for those course materials, paid out of pocket, she would only need to report $4000 of taxable scholarship income, instead of $5000.

Scholarships are a hybrid between earned and unearned income. It is earned income for purposes of the $13,850 filing requirement and the dependent standard deduction calculation (earned income + $400).  It is not earned income for the kiddie tax and other purposes (e.g. EIC).  So, in the example, if the $5000 (or $4000) was her only income, not tax would be due. 

The taxable portion of a 529 distribution is unearned income and becomes taxable at a $1250 threshold. 

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