Can you rollover a 529 plan to a Roth IRA?

1 min read by Unbiased team Last updated June 28, 2024

Learn how to turn your unused education savings into a retirement nest egg with a 529 to Roth IRA rollover.

Summary 

  • A 529 plan is a tax-free savings account for education expenses, while a Roth IRA is geared towards tax-free retirement savings. 

  • To rollover a 529 to a Roth IRA, the plan must have been open for at least 15 years, and the funds must have been in the account for five years. 

  • There are annual contribution limits and a lifetime cap of $35,000 for 529 to Roth IRA rollovers. 

  • A financial advisor can help you make smart, strategic decisions when it comes to saving for retirement and ensure you make the most of your money.  

What are 529 and Roth IRA plans? 

A 529 plan is a special savings account designed to help you save for education costs.  

These plans, named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, are usually sponsored by states, state agencies, or schools.  

The big advantage of a 529 plan is that your money grows tax-free, and you don’t pay taxes when you use it for qualified educational expenses like tuition, books, and housing. 

A Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account) is another type of savings account, but it’s geared towards retirement.  

You put in money that’s already been taxed, and then it grows tax-free.  

When you retire, you can take out the money without paying any taxes on it. Roth IRAs are great because they offer flexibility with withdrawals and provide tax-free income in retirement. 

You might think about rolling over a 529 to a Roth IRA if you have leftover money after covering education costs or if your beneficiary decides not to go to college. This way, you can turn those unused education savings into a retirement nest egg. 

What is the 529 rollover process? 

A 529 plan rollover to a Roth IRA means transferring the funds from your 529 college savings plan to a Roth IRA.  

Recent changes in the law, specifically the SECURE Act 2.0, now allow these rollovers starting in 2024. This change aims to give families more options for using their leftover 529 funds without facing penalties. 

If you're curious about how to rollover a 529 to a Roth IRA, there are a few conditions.  

The 529 plan must have been open for at least 15 years, and the money you transfer must have been in the account for at least five years.  

These rules prevent people from abusing the tax benefits of 529 plans by quickly moving money around. 

What are the eligibility criteria for a 529 to Roth IRA rollover? 

Only some people can rollover a 529 to a Roth IRA. These are some of the key 529 rollover to Roth rules to keep in mind: 

  • The account beneficiary (usually the student) must be the one to receive the rollover into their Roth IRA. This means that if you’re a parent or grandparent who owns the 529 plan, you can’t roll the funds into your own Roth IRA. 

  • The beneficiary must have earned income to contribute to a Roth IRA. 

  • Roth IRAs have annual contribution limits. For 2024, you can only contribute up to $6,500 per year (or $7,500 if you’re 50 or older).  

  • The lifetime cap on the total amount that can be rolled over from a 529 to a Roth IRA is $35,000. 

What are the pros and cons of a 529 rollover to a Roth IRA? 

Rolling over a 529 to a Roth IRA has its upsides and downsides.  

These factors should be considered when deciding to convert a 529 to a Roth IRA: 

Pros 

  • Tax-free growth: Your money continues to grow tax-free in a Roth IRA, offering long-term benefits. 

  • Retirement savings: You can boost your retirement savings with leftover 529 funds, especially if you don’t need them for education. 

  • Flexibility: It provides another way to use your 529 funds, adding more options to your financial planning toolkit. 

Cons 

  • Contribution limits: There are caps on how much you can roll over each year and in total, which might limit the benefits. 

  • Qualified expenses: Once the money is in a Roth IRA, it can only be used tax-free for retirement expenses, not for future education costs. 

  • Eligibility restrictions: Only the beneficiary of the 529 plan can roll over the funds, which could be a problem if they don’t have earned income. 

What are the potential risks, and how can you mitigate them? 

There are some risks with a 529 rollover to a Roth IRA.  

One risk is losing educational funding. If you transfer the money and then need it for education, you could face penalties and taxes for non-qualified withdrawals from the Roth IRA. 

Assess your educational funding needs before transferring funds to make sure you don’t end up short. 

Plan carefully to avoid these risks. Consider talking to a financial advisor to ensure that a rollover fits your long-term goals.  

Are there alternatives to a 529 rollover? 

If a 529 rollover to a Roth IRA doesn’t seem like the best option, there are other ways to use leftover 529 funds.  

One choice is to change the beneficiary to another family member who might need educational funding. This keeps the money in the family for education purposes. 

Another option is to use the funds for other qualified educational expenses, like graduate school or continuing education. This can be a great way to invest in lifelong learning and career growth. 

Get expert financial advice 

Understanding the ins and outs of a 529 to Roth IRA rollover can help you make smart decisions about your savings. By considering the eligibility criteria, benefits, and risks, you can find the best path for repurposing your educational savings into a secure retirement future. 

Unbiased will connect you with a financial advisor for expert financial advice on how to optimize your savings and retirement strategies. 

Writers

Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.