8.   Qualified Tuition Program (QTP)

Introduction

Qualified tuition programs (QTPs) are also called “529 plans.

States may establish and maintain programs that allow you to either prepay or contribute to an account for paying a student's qualified education expenses at a postsecondary institution. Eligible educational institutions may establish and maintain programs that allow you to prepay a student's qualified education expenses. If you prepay tuition, the student (designated beneficiary) will be entitled to a waiver or a payment of qualified education expenses. You cannot deduct either payments or contributions to a QTP. For information on a specific QTP, you will need to contact the state agency or eligible educational institution that established and maintains it.

What is the tax benefit of a QTP.   No tax is due on a distribution from a QTP unless the amount distributed is greater than the beneficiary's adjusted qualified education expenses. See Are Distributions Taxable , later, for more information.

  
Even if a QTP is used to finance a student's education, the student or the student's parents still may be eligible to claim the American opportunity credit or the lifetime learning credit. See Coordination With American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits, later.

What Is a Qualified Tuition Program

A qualified tuition program is a program set up to allow you to either prepay, or contribute to an account established for paying, a student's qualified education expenses at an eligible educational institution. QTPs can be established and maintained by states (or agencies or instrumentalities of a state) and eligible educational institutions. The program must meet certain requirements. Your state government or the eligible educational institution in which you are interested can tell you whether or not they participate in a QTP.

Qualified education expenses.   These are expenses related to enrollment or attendance at an Eligible educational institution (defined later). As shown in the following list, to be qualified, some of the expenses must be required by the institution and some must be incurred by students who are enrolled at least half-time. See Half-time student , later.
  1. The following expenses must be required for enrollment or attendance of a Designated beneficiary (defined later) at an eligible educational institution.

    1. Tuition and fees.

    2. Books, supplies, and equipment.

  2. Expenses for special needs services needed by a special needs beneficiary must be incurred in connection with enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution.

  3. Expenses for room and board must be incurred by students who are enrolled at least half-time. The expense for room and board qualifies only to the extent that it is not more than the greater of the following two amounts.

    1. The allowance for room and board, as determined by the eligible educational institution, that was included in the cost of attendance (for federal financial aid purposes) for a particular academic period and living arrangement of the student.

    2. The actual amount charged if the student is residing in housing owned or operated by the eligible educational institution.

You will need to contact the eligible educational institution for qualified room and board costs.

  
For tax years after 2010, the purchase of computer technology or equipment is only a qualified education expense if the computer technology or equipment is required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible institution.

Designated beneficiary.   The designated beneficiary is generally the student (or future student) for whom the QTP is intended to provide benefits. The designated beneficiary can be changed after participation in the QTP begins. If a state or local government or certain tax-exempt organizations purchase an interest in a QTP as part of a scholarship program, the designated beneficiary is the person who receives the interest as a scholarship.

Half-time student.   A student is enrolled “at least half-time” if he or she is enrolled for at least half the full-time academic workload for the course of study the student is pursuing, as determined under the standards of the school where the student is enrolled.

Eligible educational institution.   For purposes of a QTP, this is any college, university, vocational school, or other postsecondary educational institution eligible to participate in a student aid program administered by the U.S. Department of Education. It includes virtually all accredited public, nonprofit, and proprietary (privately owned profit-making) postsecondary institutions. The educational institution should be able to tell you if it is an eligible educational institution.

  Certain educational institutions located outside the United States also participate in the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid (FSA) programs. 

How Much Can You Contribute

Contributions to a QTP on behalf of any beneficiary cannot be more than the amount necessary to provide for the qualified education expenses of the beneficiary. There are no income restrictions on the individual contributors.

You can contribute to both a QTP and a Coverdell ESA in the same year for the same designated beneficiary.  

Are Distributions Taxable

The part of a distribution representing the amount paid or contributed to a QTP does not have to be included in income. This is a return of the investment in the plan.

The designated beneficiary generally does not have to include in income any earnings distributed from a QTP if the total distribution is less than or equal to adjusted qualified education expenses (defined under Figuring the Taxable Portion of a Distribution , later).

Earnings and return of investment.    You will receive a Form 1099-Q, from each of the programs from which you received a QTP distribution in 2013. The amount of your gross distribution (box 1) shown on each form will be divided between your earnings (box 2) and your basis, or return of investment (box 3). Form 1099-Q should be sent to you by January 31, 2014.

Figuring the Taxable Portion of a Distribution

To determine if total distributions for the year are more or less than the amount of qualified education expenses, you must compare the total of all QTP distributions for the tax year to the adjusted qualified education expenses.

Adjusted qualified education expenses.   This amount is the total qualified education expenses reduced by any tax-free educational assistance. Tax-free educational assistance includes:

Taxable earnings.   Use the following steps to figure the taxable part.
  1. Multiply the total distributed earnings shown in box 2 of Form 1099-Q by a fraction. The numerator is the adjusted qualified education expenses paid during the year and the denominator is the total amount distributed during the year.

  2. Subtract the amount figured in (1) from the total distributed earnings. The result is the amount the beneficiary must include in income. Report it on Form 1040 or Form 1040NR, line 21.

Example 1.

In 2007, Sara Clarke's parents opened a savings account for her with a QTP maintained by their state government. Over the years they contributed $18,000 to the account. The total balance in the account was $27,000 on the date the distribution was made. In the summer of 2013, Sara enrolled in college and had $8,300 of qualified education expenses for the rest of the year. She paid her college expenses from the following sources.

  Gift from parents $1,600  
  Partial tuition scholarship (tax-free) 3,100  
  QTP distribution 5,300  
       

Before Sara can determine the taxable part of her QTP distribution, she must reduce her total qualified education expenses by any tax-free educational assistance.

  Total qualified education expenses $8,300  
  Minus: Tax-free educational assistance −3,100  
  Equals: Adjusted qualified  
education expenses (AQEE)
$5,200  

Since the remaining expenses ($5,200) are less than the QTP distribution, part of the earnings will be taxable.

Sara's Form 1099-Q shows that $950 of the QTP distribution is earnings. Sara figures the taxable part of the distributed earnings as follows.

  1. $950 (earnings) × $5,200 AQEE  
$5,300 distribution
     
    =$932 (tax-free earnings)  

  2. $950 (earnings)−$932 (tax-free earnings)
    =$18 (taxable earnings) 

Sara must include $18 in income (Form 1040, line 21) as distributed QTP earnings not used for adjusted qualified education expenses.

Coordination With American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits

An American opportunity or lifetime learning credit (education credit) can be claimed in the same year the beneficiary takes a tax-free distribution from a QTP, as long as the same expenses are not used for both benefits. This means that after the beneficiary reduces qualified education expenses by tax-free educational assistance, he or she must further reduce them by the expenses taken into account in determining the credit.

Example 2.

Assume the same facts as in Example 1 , except that Sara's parents claimed an American opportunity credit of $2,500 (based on $4,000 expenses).

  Total qualified education expenses $8,300  
  Minus: Tax-free educational assistance −3,100  
  Minus: Expenses taken into account  
in figuring American opportunity credit
−4,000  
  Equals: Adjusted qualified  
education expenses (AQEE)
$1,200  
       

The taxable part of the distribution is figured as follows.

  1. $950 (earnings) × $1,200 AQEE  
$5,300 distribution
     
    =$215 (tax-free earnings)  

  2. $950 (earnings)−$215 (tax-free earnings)
    =$735 (taxable earnings)
     

Sara must include $735 in income (Form 1040, line 21). This represents distributed earnings not used for adjusted qualified education expenses.

Coordination With Coverdell ESA Distributions

If a designated beneficiary receives distributions from both a QTP and a Coverdell ESA in the same year, and the total of these distributions is more than the beneficiary's adjusted qualified higher education expenses, the expenses must be allocated between the distributions. For purposes of this allocation, disregard any qualified elementary and secondary education expenses.

Example 3.

Assume the same facts as in Example 2 , except that instead of receiving a $5,300 distribution from her QTP, Sara received $4,600 from that account and $700 from her Coverdell ESA. In this case, Sara must allocate her $1,200 of adjusted qualified higher education expenses (AQHEE) between the two distributions.

  $1,200 AQHEE × $700 ESA distribution  
$5,300 total distribution
= $158 
AQHEE (ESA)
 

  $1,200 AQHEE × $4,600 QTP distribution  
$5,300 total distribution
= $1,042 
AQHEE (QTP)
 

Sara then figures the taxable portion of her Coverdell ESA distribution based on qualified higher education expenses of $158, and the taxable portion of her QTP distribution based on the other $1,042.

Note.

If you are required to allocate your expenses between Coverdell ESA and QTP distributions, and you have adjusted qualified elementary and secondary education expenses, see the examples in chapter 7, Coverdell Education Savings Account under Coordination With Qualified Tuition Program (QTP) Distributions .

Coordination With Tuition and Fees Deduction.   A tuition and fees deduction can be claimed in the same year the beneficiary takes a tax-free distribution from a QTP, as long as the same expenses are not used for both benefits.

Losses on QTP Investments

If you have a loss on your investment in a QTP account, you may be able to take the loss on your income tax return. You can take the loss only when all amounts from that account have been distributed and the total distributions are less than your unrecovered basis. Your basis is the total amount of contributions to that QTP account. You claim the loss as a miscellaneous itemized deduction on Schedule A (Form 1040), line 23 (Schedule A (Form 1040NR), line 9), subject to the 2%-of-adjusted-gross-income limit.

If you have distributions from more than one QTP account during a year, you must combine the information (amount of distribution, basis, etc.) from all such accounts in order to determine your taxable earnings for the year. By doing this, the loss from one QTP account reduces the distributed earnings (if any) from any other QTP accounts.

Example 1.

In 2013, Taylor received a final distribution of $1,000 from QTP #1. His unrecovered basis in that account before the distribution was $3,000. If Taylor itemizes his deductions, he can claim the $2,000 loss on Schedule A (Form 1040).

Example 2.

Assume the same facts as in Example 1 , except that Taylor also had a distribution of $9,000 from QTP #2, giving him total distributions for 2013 of $10,000. His total basis in these distributions was $4,500 ($3,000 for QTP #1 and $1,500 for QTP #2). Taylor's adjusted qualified education expenses for 2013 totaled $6,000. In order to figure his taxable earnings, Taylor combines the two accounts and determines his taxable earnings as follows.

  1. $10,000 (total distribution)−$4,500 (basis portion of distribution)
    = $5,500 (earnings included in distribution)

  2. $5,500 (earnings) x $6,000 AQEE  
$10,000 distribution
     
    =$3,300 (tax-free earnings)  

  3. $5,500 (earnings)−$3,300 (tax-free earnings)
    =$2,200 (taxable earnings)
               

Taylor must include $2,200 in income on Form 1040, line 21. Because Taylor's accounts must be combined, he cannot deduct his $2,000 loss (QTP #1) on Schedule A (Form 1040). Instead, the $2,000 loss reduces the total earnings that were distributed, thereby reducing his taxable earnings.

Additional Tax on Taxable Distributions

Generally, if you receive a taxable distribution, you also must pay a 10% additional tax on the amount included in income.

Exceptions.   The 10% additional tax does not apply to distributions:
  1. Paid to a beneficiary (or to the estate of the designated beneficiary) on or after the death of the designated beneficiary.

  2. Made because the designated beneficiary is disabled. A person is considered to be disabled if he or she shows proof that he or she cannot do any substantial gainful activity because of his or her physical or mental condition. A physician must determine that his or her condition can be expected to result in death or to be of long-continued and indefinite duration.

  3. Included in income because the designated beneficiary received:

    1. A tax-free scholarship or fellowship (see Tax-Free Scholarships and Fellowships in chapter 1, Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Tuition Reductions),

    2. Veterans' educational assistance (see Veterans' Benefits in chapter 1, Scholarships, Fellowships, Grants, and Tuition Reductions),

    3. Employer-provided educational assistance (see chapter 11, Employer-Provided Educational Assistance ), or

    4. Any other nontaxable (tax-free) payments (other than gifts or inheritances) received as educational assistance.

  4. Made on account of the attendance of the designated beneficiary at a U.S. military academy (such as the USNA at Annapolis). This exception applies only to the extent that the amount of the distribution does not exceed the costs of advanced education (as defined in section 2005(d)(3) of title 10 of the U.S. Code) attributable to such attendance.

  5. Included in income only because the qualified education expenses were taken into account in determining the American opportunity or lifetime learning credit (see Coordination With American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning Credits , earlier.)

Exception (3) applies only to the extent the distribution is not more than the scholarship, allowance, or payment.

Figuring the additional tax.    Use Part II of Form 5329, to figure any additional tax. Report the amount on Form 1040, line 58, or Form 1040NR, line 56.

Rollovers and Other Transfers

Assets can be rolled over or transferred from one QTP to another. In addition, the designated beneficiary can be changed without transferring accounts.

Rollovers

Any amount distributed from a QTP is not taxable if it is rolled over to another QTP for the benefit of the same beneficiary or for the benefit of a member of the beneficiary's family (including the beneficiary's spouse). An amount is rolled over if it is paid to another QTP within 60 days after the date of the distribution.

Do not report qualifying rollovers (those that meet the above criteria) anywhere on Form 1040 or 1040NR. These are not taxable distributions.

Members of the beneficiary's family.   For these purposes, the beneficiary's family includes the beneficiary's spouse and the following other relatives of the beneficiary.
  1. Son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, adopted child, or a descendant of any of them.

  2. Brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister.

  3. Father or mother or ancestor of either.

  4. Stepfather or stepmother.

  5. Son or daughter of a brother or sister.

  6. Brother or sister of father or mother.

  7. Son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law.

  8. The spouse of any individual listed above.

  9. First cousin.

Example.

When Aaron graduated from college last year he had $5,000 left in his QTP. He wanted to give this money to his younger brother, who was in junior high school. In order to avoid paying tax on the distribution of the amount remaining in his account, Aaron contributed the same amount to his brother's QTP within 60 days of the distribution.

If the rollover is to another QTP for the same beneficiary, only one rollover is allowed within 12 months of a previous transfer to any QTP for that designated beneficiary.

Changing the Designated Beneficiary

There are no income tax consequences if the designated beneficiary of an account is changed to a member of the beneficiary's family. See Members of the beneficiary's family , earlier.

Example.

Assume the same situation as in the last example. Instead of closing his QTP and paying the distribution into his brother's QTP, Aaron could have instructed the trustee of his account to simply change the name of the beneficiary on his account to that of his brother.


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