Investing for Education

Azzad advisors can help your family plan for one of life’s biggest investments.

As someone who values financial freedom for yourself and your family and seeks a better life for all, you understand the importance of a college education for your children. And you know that, next to buying a home, a college education is the largest expenditure most parents will ever make. According to the College Board, for the 2019-2020 academic year, the average annual cost for a four-year public college is $21,950 (in-state students) and for a four-year private college, $49,870. (These are numbers for tuition, fees, room, and board).

It’s likely that costs will continue to rise, but by how much? Annual increases in the range of 2 to 5% would be in keeping with historical trends. But keep in mind that the actual percentage increase in any year could be higher or lower, and the rate could vary from public to private college.

The Importance of Saving Early​

The more money you save now, the less money your child will need to borrow later. By investing even a small amount on a regular basis, you have the potential to accumulate a significant amount in your child’s college fund.

The following table illustrates how your monthly investment could grow over time (assuming an 8 percent after-tax):

Monthly Investment 5 Years 10 Years 15 Years 20 Years
$100 $7,348 $18,295 $34,604 $58,902
$300 $13,043 $54,884 $103,811 $176,706
$500 $36,738 $91,473 $173,019 $294,510
Note: This example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the return of any investment. There is no guarantee that your investment will realize a return, and there is a risk that you could lose your investment entirely.

Saving for college: What are your choices?

When saving for your child’s college education, one size does not fit all. Should you choose a Coverdell Education Savings Account or an UGMA/UTMA custodial account in your child’s name? Or would you prefer to simply put money into an account in your own name? Ideally, you will want to choose a savings vehicle that offers the best mix of tax advantages, financial aid benefits, and flexibility while meeting your overall needs.

Azzad offers the following types of accounts that you can use to save for education expenses. Our financial advisors can help you decide which one is right for your family.

Coverdell Education Savings Account

A Coverdell Education Savings Account (formerly Education IRA) is a tax-advantaged educational savings account that you can establish for any child under age 18. Withdrawals can be used to pay for qualified college, secondary or even elementary school expenses. Contributors must meet certain income eligibility requirements.

Key benefits:

  • Withdrawals for qualified expenses are generally tax-free
  • Tax-free growth until funds are withdrawn
  • Flexibility of education expenditures
  • Ability to change the designated beneficiary to another qualified family member
  • Continue to manage the account even after your child reaches majority age

Potential disadvantage: Income restrictions exist for depositors into a Coverdell account.

UGMA / UTMA Custodial Accounts

An UGMA/UTMA custodial account can be used to save for college or anything else that benefits your child. (The acronyms stand for Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) and Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA).

With these accounts, a custodian (usually a parent) manages the account, but its assets are considered an irrevocable gift to the child.

Before opening an UTMA account for your child, make sure you know the pros and cons to avoid any regret later.

An UTMA account can offer several advantages, including:

  • More investment options than Section 529 accounts, including halal and socially responsible investments. As the custodian, you control how the account is managed on behalf of the child until the child reaches the age of majority.
  • High annual gift limits.
  • Flexibility to use funds for anything that benefits the child, including pre-college education or non-education related expenses.
  • A small tax benefit by shifting some annual investment income to a child’s lower bracket.
  • Ability to shift wealth to a child over time without incurring gift or estate taxes.

Potential disadvantages of an UTMA account:

  • If you think your child may qualify for needs-based financial aid, an UTMA account could hurt their chances. Custodial assets count more heavily against a student’s financial aid application than parental assets, since they are considered an asset of the child. Of course, this should not affect merit-based financial aid.
  • Contributions to an UTMA are considered an irrevocable gift to a child. That means you cannot take the contribution back nor can you transfer that money to another child. Any funds placed into an UTMA account must be used for the benefit of the named child.
  • An UTMA requires a custodian to give control of the assets to the child between ages 18-21, depending on the state. A strained relationship between a child and custodian could pose a problem in finding agreement on how the assets should be used.

We invite you to contact an Azzad financial advisor to find out which savings options will fit best with your family’s needs and goals.

Key Education Savings Numbers​

Coverdell education savings accounts (formerly known as education IRAs)

Coverdell ESAs 2020 2021
Annual contribution limit $2,000 $2,000
MAGI phaseout range for Coverdell education savings accounts 2020 2021
Single–phaseout threshold amount $95,000 $95,000
Single–completed phaseout amount after $110,000 $110,000
Married filing jointly–phaseout threshold amount $190,000 $190,000
Married filing jointly–completed phaseout threshold amount $220,000 $220,000
Deduction for qualified higher education expenses
Higher education expenses 2020 2021
Maximum deduction $4,000 N/A

Gift tax exclusion

Gift tax 2020 2021
Annual gift tax exclusion–single individual $15,000 $15,000
Annual gift tax exclusion–joint gift $30,000 $30,000
Lump-sum gift to 529 plan–single individual $75,000 $75,000
Lump-sum gift to 529 plan–joint gift $150,000 $150,000

How tax law affects savings in a child’s name:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018 simplified the kiddie tax; it will stay in effect until 2025. As in previous years, a child is allowed $2,100 in untaxed, unearned income. Amounts over the $2,100 threshold are taxed at these rates:

Up to $2,500: 10%
$2,551 to $9,150: 24%
$9,151 to $12,500: 35%
All over $12,501: 37%

The good news is that kids are no longer affected by their parent’s tax rate. Plus, parents no longer have to worry about adding the earnings of several siblings together.

Be careful because the new rates could be higher than a parent’s highest tax rate under the new tax code. However, a married couple would have to have over $600,000 in income to reach the highest kiddie tax rate of 37%.

Example: In 2017, a child has unearned income of $5,000. They would have paid 0% on the first $2,100. Then on the remaining $2,900, they would pay $1,148 in taxes if the parent’s tax bracket was 39.6%.

In 2018 or 2019, a child who has that same amount in unearned income would again pay 0% on the first $2100. The tax would be 10% on the next $2,500 or $250 and then 24% on the remaining $400 or $96. That’s a tax bill of $346 compared with $1,148 in 2017.

Check out our financial aid 101 page to learn more about how income and education savings accounts impact financial aid.