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Rolling Savings Bonds into a 529 College Savings Plan for Tax-Free Treatment

Mark Kantrowitz

July 23, 2012

My son is heading to college this fall and I would like to use his savings bonds tax free, although the way I read the rules I think I cannot do it. Here is the story: All of the bonds were bought from 1994 through 2001 by various family members. All of the bonds have my son’s name on the “TO” line of the bond. A few of the bonds have my Social Security number, a few have my son’s Social Security number, and a few have the Social Security number of various family members. A few of the bonds have “OR” my name or my wife’s name listed on them, a few have “POD” my name or my wife’s name listed on them, and a few have no other person listed on them. It’s kind of a dog’s breakfast I know, but I’m wondering if there is any way that I can use any of them tax free for his college expenses. — Brian P.

The first step in evaluating the status of a set of savings bonds is to figure out who is the account owner and who is the beneficiary for each bond. The tax status and financial aid treatment depend on the account owner, not the beneficiary.

If a parent is redeeming the bonds to pay for a child’s college education, the parent must be the owner of the bonds to get tax-free treatment. The child may be listed as a beneficiary on the bonds but cannot be listed as an owner or co-owner. The parent can also use the bonds tax-free for his or her own education, but in all cases the owner of the bonds must have been at least age 24 as of the first day of the month in which the bonds were purchased.

Savings bonds are listed as an asset of the bond owner on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). They are not listed as an asset of the beneficiary.

If the child is the owner of the bonds, sometimes the bonds can be reissued with the parent as the owner and the child as the beneficiary. The money used to buy the bonds must have come from the parent, not the child, and the bonds must have been purchased on or after January 1, 1990.

There is often confusion concerning who is the owner of the bonds and who is the beneficiary. The person listed on the “Mail to” line of the bond is not the owner or beneficiary. That is merely the delivery address. There may be a separate “To” line on the savings bond, which would be the owner. But it is best to check who is the registered owner of the bonds.

The words “OR” and “WITH” are used to designate a secondary owner of the bonds, such as “Primary Owner WITH Secondary Owner”. The word “POD” means “Payable on Death” and is used to designate the beneficiary, who will become the owner upon death of the current owner. For example, one might see a designation like “Owner POD Beneficiary”.

Sometimes it can be helpful to follow the Social Security numbers, since the owner is obligated to pay income taxes on the interest earned on the savings bonds. But the bond owner can choose to defer paying taxes on the interest earnings until the bonds are redeemed.

Regardless of whether savings bonds are redeemed to pay for qualified education expenses or to roll them over into a 529 college savings plan, the account owner must fall below the income phaseouts during the year of redemption to qualify for tax-free treatment.

Additional information may be found in the Savings Bonds section of the FinAid site.


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