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Using UTMAs vs. 529 Plans to Save for Children Thumbnail

Using UTMAs vs. 529 Plans to Save for Children

When it comes to planning for your child's future, particularly their education, two popular financial vehicles often come into play: UTMAs (Uniform Transfers to Minors Act accounts) and 529 Plans. Both have distinct advantages and drawbacks, making them suitable for different goals and circumstances. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of each to help you make an informed decision.

What are UTMAs and 529 Plans?

UTMAs (Uniform Transfers to Minors Act Accounts)

UTMAs are custodial accounts that allow parents or guardians to transfer assets to their children. These accounts can hold a variety of assets, including cash, stocks, bonds, and real estate. Once the child reaches the age of majority (18 or 21, depending on the state), they gain full control over the account.

529 Plans

529 Plans are tax-advantaged savings plans specifically designed for education expenses. There are two types of 529 Plans: Prepaid Tuition Plans and Education Savings Plans. The former allows you to purchase tuition credits at current rates for future use, while the latter involves investing contributions in various investment options to grow over time.

Pros and Cons of UTMAs


  1. Flexibility of Use: UTMA funds can be used for a wide range of expenses beyond education, including cars, weddings, and other significant purchases.
  2. Investment Options: UTMAs can hold a broad spectrum of assets, giving more control over how the money is invested.
  3. Tax Benefits: A portion of the income generated by the account may be taxed at the child's lower tax rate, potentially reducing the overall tax burden.


  1. Lack of Control: Once the child reaches the age of majority, they gain full control over the account and can use the funds as they wish, which might not align with the original intent.
  2. Financial Aid Impact: UTMAs are considered the child's asset, which can significantly impact their eligibility for financial aid.
  3. Tax Implications: While there are tax benefits, there are also tax implications to consider. For instance, income above a certain threshold may be subject to the "kiddie tax," which taxes a portion of the unearned income at the parent's tax rate.

Pros and Cons of 529 Plans


  1. Tax Advantages: Earnings in a 529 Plan grow tax-free, and withdrawals are also tax-free when used for qualified education expenses. Additionally, many states offer tax deductions or credits for contributions.
  2. Control: The account owner retains control over the funds, even when the beneficiary reaches adulthood.
  3. Financial Aid: 529 Plan assets are considered the parent's asset, which generally has a less detrimental effect on financial aid eligibility compared to UTMAs.
  4. High Contribution Limits: 529 Plans typically have high lifetime contribution limits, allowing for substantial savings over time.


  1. Limited Use: Funds must be used for qualified education expenses to enjoy the tax benefits. Non-qualified withdrawals are subject to taxes and a 10% penalty on earnings.
  2. Investment Options: Investment choices are limited to those offered by the plan, which can restrict flexibility compared to a UTMA.
  3. Potential Fees: Some 529 Plans come with management fees and other costs that can eat into your savings.

Which One is Right for You?

The decision between UTMAs and 529 Plans depends largely on your specific goals and circumstances.

  • If you prioritize flexibility and foresee the need to cover a variety of expenses, a UTMA might be the better choice.
  • If you are focused on education savings and want to maximize tax advantages while minimizing the impact on financial aid, a 529 Plan is likely more suitable.

In many cases, a combination of both might serve your needs best. For instance, you could use a 529 Plan to cover education costs and a UTMA for other significant expenses.

Ultimately, it’s important to carefully consider your long-term goals, consult with a financial advisor, and perhaps even involve your child in the planning process as they grow older to ensure that the savings plan you choose aligns with your family's overall financial strategy.