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College Financial Aid Planning: Custodial Accounts vs. 529's

Under the Federal financial aid formula, financial aid is reduced 20 cents for every dollar of student assets, but only 5.6 cents for every dollar of parental assets.  In this regard, UGMA and UTMA accounts, considered an asset of the student, are less attractive as college funding vehicles than parental 529 accounts.  

However, parents can transfer balances in UGMA/UTMA accounts to "custodial" 529 accounts (as distinguished from parental 529 accounts), and these balances will then be considered assets of the parents for financial aid purposes.  However, the custodial 529 account still becomes property of the student when he/she reaches the age of termination, 21 in Utah.  In addition, only cash may be transferred to 529 plans, so capital gains taxes incurred in liquidating the UTMA/UGMA account should also be a consideration.

Obviously, if it's unlikely a student will be awarded financial aid anyway because of parental income or assets, the benefits of this strategy probably become academic (pardon the pun).  On the bright side, there are a variety of strategies for parents with many different financial circumstances to minimize college expenses.

About the Author

Paul Winter, MBA, CFA, CFP® is a Fee-Only financial advisor and fiduciary in Salt Lake City, UT. His independent wealth management firm, Five Seasons Financial Planning, provides professional portfolio management and objective financial planning services to individuals and families, and to their related entities including trusts, estates, charitable organizations, and small businesses.  

Contact Paul