Many people who have been saving for their children’s college education over the past couple of decades since the children were born will have set up a Uniform Transfer to Minor Act. Some financial aid documents may illustrate that it could be beneficial for the assets to instead be in a section 529 plan rather than in a custodial UTMA account. Student assets are assessed more heavily in the purposes of determining financial aid from the government perspective.
Many of the assets owned by the parent are sheltered on the FAFSA. For example, life insurance policies, the net worth on the principle place of residence, small businesses owned and controlled by the family and life insurance policies, all do not have to be reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. An age-based asset protection allowance also allows the parents to shelter up to $50,000 in assets. Student assets, however, do not have an asset protection allowance and can be assessed at the flat rate of 20%. Each $10,000 that has been set aside in the student’s name will increase the expected family contribution by approximately $2000.
On the FAFSA, a student is responsible for reporting the custodial UTMA account. A 529 college savings plan, however, is reported as a parent’s asset on the FAFSA, even if the account has the student’s name on it and it is owned by the student. The favorable treatment of 529 college plans became effective relatively recently in 2009. You may be eligible to transfer money from a UTMA or other custodial account to a 529 savings plan.
You will need to set up a custodial 529 college savings plan account since the money will be transferred from a UTMA account to begin with. When the child reaches the age of trust termination, which is usually 18 or 21 depending on the state, he or she officially becomes the owner of the section 529 plan. Talking to an experienced estate planning lawyer is strongly recommended if you are interested in these plans.