Saving For College – What Is An ESA – Coverdell Education Savings Account – Education IRA

I have opened two ESAs, one for my daughter and one for my son. An ESA – Education Savings Account – is an account created as an incentive to help parents and students save for education expenses. (See IRS Pub 2007 -59)

Overview of the account –

The annual contribution limit per beneficiary (student) is $2000.

A beneficiary (student) is someone under the age of 18.

Contributions are not deductible – but deposits grow tax free.

Distributions from the account are tax free, as long as they are used for qualified education expenses – tuition, books, fees, and room and board. (See IRS Topic 310)

Contributions must be made made before the due date of the contributor’s tax return. If you open an ESA for 2007, you will have until April of 2008 to fully-fund the account.

All contributions must be distributed before the beneficiary reaches the age of 30. To avoid taxes the balance of the account can be rolled over into another ESA which has been established for a family member. (See IRS PDF PUB 970)

My daughter is 8 and and my son is 3, so I have 11 more years to contribute to her account and 16 years to contribute to his account. I like the ESA because I can control the investments inside the account. I can purchase stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, or bonds. (If you are thinking about saving for college, may I suggest that you also look into 529 plans? My buddy Nickel recently wrote and excellent article about the best 529 plans.) I do not like the fact that contributions are limited to $2000. I recently ran the numbers, and if I average an 8% return for the next 11 years, the balance in my daughter’s account would be about $45,000 – probably not enough to pay for tuition and room and board for 4 years of college.

Contributions to an ESA can be used for qualified primary, secondary, and higher education expenses. While I like the ESA, I will also look into funding 529s for my daughter and my son – the low contribution limits bother me a bit.

Let me remind you that I am not a tax professional or financial adviser. Please consult a qualified tax professional before making any tax-related decisions.

How are you saving / planning to save for your children’s college expenses?

9 thoughts on “Saving For College – What Is An ESA – Coverdell Education Savings Account – Education IRA

  1. More synchronicity! I was just up all last night researching the different kinds of education funds. Through my reading, I discovered that Vanguard has a really nice break down of the pros & cons of the different types of college funds (& other “offspring” funds).

    The link is long, so I transformed it using “”:

    or, just go through Vanguard’s homepage…

  2. I wonder how well these account perform though. Here is what I would also consider if I was you:

    – Roth IRA accounts – gains grow tax-free, and after 5 years you can take out for any purpose without any penalties. It gives you a lot more freedom than education-specific account while providing tax benefits.

    – A solid stock/mutual fund portfolio that may not be as tax efficient but over the next 15 years it may well end up outperforming many of those tax efficient accounts.

    Just a thought. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Posts I Enjoyed Last Week | The Sun’s Financial Diary | A Personal Finance Blog on Saving and Investing

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