Multiple children

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529 plans for parents of multiple children: One account or multiple accounts?

Parents attempting to pay for just one child to go to college know the challenges of making sure all their expenses are covered. Parents with multiple children may have double, if not triple, the challenge in figuring out the best way to accomplish their college savings goals.

How much will your family need for college?

If the average college education today costs $18,943 per year for an in-state, four-year public school, and college tuition and fees continue to increase at 3% annually1, what might it cost to send all of your children to school?

A three year age difference could result in $4,560 more in education expenses for the second child over a four-year period.

This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only.

The decision for parents with multiple children

A multiple account strategy is fairly straightforward: Simply establish an account for each child. With a single account, the idea is to make the oldest child the beneficiary, then after that child has finished school and taken all necessary withdrawals, change the beneficiary to the next oldest child.

There are pros and cons to both strategies. Outlined below are some of the options parents may want to consider.

Considerations for single or multiple accounts

Single 529 account

529s only allow one beneficiary at a time. If the children are less than four years apart, they may need college funds at the same time.

Opening a single account for multiple children may involve less paperwork and fees but may also limit the maximum that can be contributed per beneficiary to avoid the gift tax.

For some parents opening a single account may be the simplest way to start saving for their children's education.

The typical investment glide path — more growth-oriented in the early years and more conservative as the child gets older — becomes more complicated when planning for multiple children with different time horizons.

Multiple, separate 529 accounts

Parents can track the funds of each child, limiting the possibility of the oldest child's education possibly depleting the bulk of the savings in a single account approach.

529 plans are quite flexible: Account owners have the ability to rollover funds from one account to another every 12 months. If the older child has money left over in their account after all qualified expenses have been paid, the account owner can either roll the funds over to the other child's account or can change the beneficiary on the account.2

It may be easier for parents to use different investment approaches to meet the needs of each child. For example, parents may decide on a more growth-oriented investment mix for their young child given a longer time horizon, while choosing a more conservative approach for an older child.

It's never too late to start saving

Your financial advisor can help you get started and stay on course with the most appropriate investment choices for your family and your time horizon. In addition, your advisor can explain implications for taxes and financial aid eligibility, offer guidance about qualified expenses and withdrawals, and help you maximize the benefit of having a CollegeBound 529.

Additional materials/information


Saving for college: 529 college savings plans for families with multiple children

How can bunnies help you sort out how to save for college when you have multiple children?

1 Source:, Trends in College Pricing 2015

2 See Program Description for details and definitions of who qualifies as a member of the same family