Using Children's IRAs to pay for College

If your child has earned income (maybe from working in your business), you may want to consider establishing an IRA for your child. The IRA funds can, in turn, be used to help pay your child’s college expenses. When your child withdraws money from an IRA, tax law imposes taxes on the withdrawals, but no 10 percent penalty applies when the money is used to pay for qualified higher education expenses.

The big hurdle to avoid is the kiddie tax. IRA withdrawals are subject to the kiddie tax rules. Under these rules, an under-age-24-student pays taxes on unearned income at the parents’ high tax rate when the child’s unearned income is more than $2,100 and the child’s earned income is not more than half of his or her support. This makes the kiddie tax a true destruction force when it comes to saving for college. Your children need your help to avoid the dreaded kiddie tax.

Most minor children do not earn enough to need the tax deduction that the traditional IRA offers. This makes the Roth IRA a great vehicle for the working child’s college planning because the withdrawals of contributions are free of both penalties and taxes when used for qualified higher education.

If you have children who fit this profile, make sure your children start making their Roth IRA contributions at a young age and earn a good rate of return on the investments.

The Roth IRA habitually proves superior for the child’s college funding when compared with the traditional IRA. With the traditional IRA, the child gets a deduction while in a low tax bracket but, because of the kiddie tax, pays taxes in the parents’ high tax bracket upon withdrawal for college. This is a bad deal.

Another point of consideration is that the IRA and other retirement assets of both the parents and the children are not counted as assets available for education on the FAFSA or CSS profile applications for financial aid