Question: Does a Section 529 educational savings plan account impact the eligibility of a minor receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits? Are there any regulations governing such plans?
Answer: Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs), also referred to as Section 529 educational savings plans, allow individuals to contribute to an account established to pay a designated beneficiary’s education expenses beyond high school at an eligible educational institution. Funds in a Section 529 plan are considered to be countable resources to the individual who owns the account (e.g. a parent or grandparent). Normally, the owner is the person who established the account. In most instances, the individual who establishes a Section 529 plan account retains the ability to withdraw any or all of the funds in the account for his or her own benefit. The designated beneficiary (i.e. the student or future student) is not the owner of the account and does not have any rights to the funds in the account. Therefore, funds in a Section 529 plan account do not impact the eligibility of a minor receiving SSI benefits since the minor is not the owner of the funds in the account.
Regulations governing the ways in which Section 529 Plans impact SSI eligibility are set forth in Section SI 01140.150 of Social Security’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS) as follows:
A. What is a Qualified Tuition Program?
Qualified Tuition Programs (QTPs), also referred to as Section 529 Plans, allow individuals to prepay or contribute to an account established for paying a designated beneficiary’s education expenses beyond high school at an eligible educational institution. QTPs can be established and maintained by states, agencies, instrumentalities of states, and eligible educational institutions. Individuals may contribute to a QTP regardless of the amount of their income.
B. Types of QTPs
There are two types of QTPs (529 Plans): savings plans and pre-paid plans.
- Savings plans
- They are accounts that provide investment options such as mutual funds or money market funds (similar to a retirement account (e.g. 401K)).
- They are not guaranteed by the State and the value is subject to fluctuations in financial markets (e.g. the stock market).
- They can be established for a beneficiary of any age.
- Prepaid plans
- They allow individuals to purchase units or credits at participating colleges and universities for tuition.
- They allow individuals to lock-in future tuition rates at current prices.
- States may guarantee investments in plans that they sponsor.
- Most plans must be established for a beneficiary by a certain age or grade.
- Account Owner
An account owner, also referred to as a donor, is the individual who has ownership of the account and directs use of the funds. Most plans allow the account owner to reclaim the funds deposited into a QTP at any time.
- Designated beneficiary
A designated beneficiary is the individual (i.e. a student or future student) who is to receive the benefit of the funds in the account. The designated beneficiary can be changed to a member of the beneficiary’s family.
- Members of the beneficiary’s family
The beneficiary’s family includes the beneficiary’s spouse and the following other relatives of the beneficiary:
- son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, adopted child, or a descendant of any of them;
- brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister;
- father, mother, or ancestor of either;
- stepfather or stepmother;
- son or daughter of a brother or sister;
- brother or sister of father or mother;
- son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law;
- the spouse of any individual listed above; or
- first cousin.
- Eligible educational institution
An eligible educational institution is any college, university, vocational school, or post-secondary educational institution eligible to participate in a student aid program administered by the U.S. Department of Education. It includes virtually all accredited public, non-profit, and proprietary (i.e. privately owned profit making) post-secondary institutions. It also includes certain educational institutions located outside the U.S.
- Withdrawals or distributions
Withdrawals or distributions are the issuance of funds from the account. Distributions are payable to an eligible educational institution, the QTP account owner, the designated beneficiary or the estate of the beneficiary, as directed by the account owner. The account owner determines when distributions are made from the account and for what purpose.
Distributions from a QTP meet the definition of a gift provided:
- They are not repayment for goods or services provided by the designated beneficiary;
- They are not given because of a legal obligation on the donor’s part; and
- They are given irrevocably (i.e. the donor relinquishes all control). For additional information on gifts, see SI 00830.520.
- Rollover contribution
A rollover contribution is any amount “rolled over” or transferred to another QTP for the benefit of the same beneficiary or a member of the beneficiary’s family.
- Educational expenses
Educational expenses are tuition, fees, and other necessary educational expenses at any educational institution. Examples of educational expenses include:
- tuition and fees;
- laboratory fees;
- student activity fees;
- stationary supplies;
- technology fees; and
- impairment-related expenses necessary to attend school or perform schoolwork (e.g. special prosthetic devices necessary to operate school machines or equipment).
NOTE: Educational expenses do not include the cost of food and shelter.
D. QTP as a countable resource
Funds in a Qualified Tuition Program (QTP), also referred to as a Section 529 Plan, are a countable resource to the individual who owns the account (e.g. a parent or grandparent). Normally, the owner is the person who established the account. In most instances, the individual who establishes a QTP retains the ability to withdraw any or all of the funds in the account for his or her own benefit.
NOTE: In most cases, the designated beneficiary (i.e. the student or future student) is not the owner of the account and does not have any rights to the funds in the account.
EXAMPLE: A disabled child is the designated beneficiary of a QTP that was established by the child’s father who lives in the household. The field office (FO) determines that the father is the owner of the QTP and it is a countable resource to him. In determining eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) of the child, the FO deems the child’s resources to include the resources of the father, including the QTP, to the extent that the father’s resources exceed the applicable resource limit.
- SI 01330.001, Deeming of Resources – General
- SI 01330.200, Deeming of Resources- Parent-to-Child Deeming
- Value of a QTP
The value of the QTP is the current market value minus any applicable penalties, but not minus taxes. In addition, any maintenance fees associated with the account, whether scheduled or collected, do not reduce its value.
- Dividends and interest earned on a QTP
Dividends and interest are returns on capital investments such as stocks, bonds, or savings accounts. Exclude dividends and interest earned on QTPs from income.
- Rule for withdrawals or distributions from a QTP
Withdrawals or distributions to the account owner are not income but a conversion of a resource (i.e. the resource in a different form). The distribution is a countable resource to the account owner.
Assume that any distribution the designated beneficiary receives from a QTP is a gift, unless there is evidence to the contrary (e.g. there is an allegation that the distribution must be repaid). Distributions, which meet the definition of a gift and are used for educational expenses of the designated beneficiary, are excluded as income in the month of receipt.
If an excluded distribution is retained into the month following the month of receipt, it is an excluded resource of the designated beneficiary for 9 months beginning with the month after the month of receipt. For information on educational gifts, see SI 00830.455 and SI 01130.455.
If the designated beneficiary spends any portion of a QTP distribution for a purpose other than his or her educational expenses or no longer intends to use the funds for his or her educational expenses, the funds are income at the earlier of two points:
- in the month the funds are spent; or
- in the month the individual no longer intends to use the funds for educational expenses.
If a countable distribution is retained into the month following the month of receipt, it is a countable resource.
- Examples of QTP distributions
EXAMPLE 1: Distributions excluded as income and resources
A disabled adult, age 19, is the designated beneficiary of a QTP. On January 10, the disabled adult receives $3,000 from the QTP. The disabled adult spends $2,800 for tuition and fees in January. As of February 1, $200 of the distribution remains. The disabled adult tells the field office (FO) that he will use the rest of the money for future educational expenses.
The FO determines:
- The disabled adult is not the owner of the QTP; therefore, it is not a resource to the individual.
- The distribution meets the definition of a gift for educational purposes and is excluded from income in the month of January.
- The remaining amount of $200 is excluded from resources for the months of February through October. As of November 1, any portion that remains is a countable resource of the disabled adult.
EXAMPLE 2: Distributions counted as income and resources
A disabled adult, age 21, is the designated beneficiary of a QTP. On August 5, the disabled adult receives $1,500 from the QTP. During the month of August, the individual spends $1,350 on books. The individual spends $75 on groceries in August and saves $75. The disabled adult tells the FO that she intends to add the rest of the money to her “emergency fund” that she has set aside for non-educational expenses.
The FO determines:
- The disabled adult is not the owner of the QTP; therefore, it is not a resource to the individual.
- That $1,350 of the distribution meets the definition of a gift for educational purposes and is excluded from income in the month of August.
- That $150 of the distribution is countable income to the individual for the month of August because the disabled adult spent $75 on non-educational expenses and intends to use $75 for non-educational expenses. As of September 1, any portion of the $75 that remains is a countable resource of the disabled adult.
- Rollover or transfer of QTP funds
Funds in a QTP may be transferred or “rolled over” to a member of the beneficiary’s family. A transfer or “roll over” of QTP funds from a beneficiary to a family member does not necessarily indicate a transfer of account ownership. When there is a valid transfer, the original account owner no longer owns the property.
A disabled child lives in the household with an ineligible parent and ineligible child. On April 10, the ineligible parent establishes a QTP that is designated for the disabled child. The FO determines that the ineligible parent is the owner of the QTP and it is a countable resource to the parent as of May 1. In determining eligibility for SSI of the disabled child, the FO deems the child’s resources to include the resources of the ineligible parent, including the QTP, to the extent that the parent’s resources exceed the applicable resource limit.
On January 3 of the following year, the ineligible parent “rolls over” the funds to the ineligible child because the funds are no longer foreseen as necessary to pay the college education expenses of the disabled child. The FO determines that, although the parent “rolled over” the funds to a member of the beneficiary’s family, the parent retains ownership of the funds (i.e., a valid transfer of ownership did not occur). The funds remain a countable resource to the ineligible parent.
An eligible individual lives in the household with an ineligible spouse and ineligible child. On January 6, the ineligible spouse establishes a QTP that is designated for the ineligible child. The FO determines that the ineligible spouse is the owner of the QTP and it is a countable resource as of February 1. In determining eligibility for SSI of the eligible individual, the FO determines the total countable resources are the combination of the resources of the eligible individual and the ineligible spouse after all applicable exclusions are applied.
On June 6, the ineligible spouse transfers ownership of the funds to the child’s grandfather. The FO determines that a valid transfer occurred. As of July 1, the QTP is not a countable resource to the ineligible spouse; however, the FO must determine whether the ineligible spouse received fair market value (FMV) for the QTP. If not, a period of SSI ineligibility may exist for the eligible individual.
POMS Section SI 01140.150 can be accessed here – Section SI 01140.150
For additional information concerning NJ elder law and special needs planning visit: https://vanarellilaw.com/legal-services/
- Affordable Care Act
- Alzheimer's Disease
- Attorney Ethics
- Attorneys Fees
- Beneficiary Designations
- Blog Roundup and Highlights
- Blogs and Blogging
- Care Facilities
- Collaborative Family Law
- Consumer Fraud
- Developmental Disabilities
- Discrimination Laws
- Doctrine of Probable Intent
- Domestic Violence
- Elder Abuse
- Elder Law
- Elective Share
- End-of-Life Decisions
- Estate Administration
- Estate Litigation
- Estate Planning
- Family Law
- Financial Exploitation of the Elderly
- Future of the Legal Profession
- Geriatric Care Managers
- Governmental or Public Benefit Programs
- Health Issues
- Housing for the Elderly and Disabled
- In Remembrance
- Insolvent Estates
- Institutional Liens
- Interesting New Cases
- Law Firm News
- Law Firm Videos
- Law Practice Management / Development
- Lawyers and Lawyering
- Legal Capacity or Competancy
- Legal Malpractice
- Legal Rights of the Disabled
- Medicaid Appeals
- Medicaid Applications
- Medicaid Planning
- Care Contracts
- Estate Recovery
- Family Part Non-Dissolution Support Orders
- Life Estates
- Loan repayments
- Promissory Notes
- Qualified Income Trusts
- Spousal Refusal
- Transfers For Reasons Other Than To Qualify For Medicaid
- Transfers to "Caregiver" Child(ren)
- Transfers to Disabled Adult Children
- Undue Hardship Provision
- Multiple-Party Deposit Account Act
- New Cases
- New Laws
- News Briefs
- Non-Probate Assets
- Nursing Facility Litigation
- Personal Achievements and Awards
- Personal Injury Lawsuits
- Punitive Damages
- Retirement Benefits
- Reverse Mortgages
- Section 8 Housing
- Settlement of Litigation
- Social Media
- Special Education
- Special Needs Planning
- Surrogate Decision-Making
- Top Ten
- Veterans Benefits
- Web Sites and the Internet
- Writing Intended To Be A Will