Bright Start 529 Tax Benefits
December 31 Deadline for Contributions
Contributions may be completed online or mailed. Contributions for 2020 that are mailed must be postmarked to Bright Start no later than December 31, 2020 to be eligible for a 2020 deduction. Electronic contributions must be completed by 11:59 pm Central time on December 31, 2020 to be considered a 2020 contribution.
Any contribution made after 3:00 pm Central time on Thursday, December 31, 2020 but before 11:59pm Central time on December 31 will post to your account on January 4, 2021, but will be coded a “Prior Year Contribution” and generally should be eligible for the 2020 state income tax deduction.
Contributions addressed to Bright Start and postmarked in 2020 but received in 2021 will be invested on the day the check is received – will be coded as a “Prior Year Contribution” and should be considered a 2020 contribution for tax deduction purposes.
Contributions and any earnings grow in your Bright Start account with no federal or state income taxes deducted each year, providing the potential for additional investment growth.
Withdrawals for qualified higher education expenses are free from federal and state income tax.2
IRS Publication 970 (January 17, 2020) defines qualified education expenses as:
Expenses related to enrollment or attendance at an eligible postsecondary school. As shown in the following list, some of the expenses must be required by the institution and some must be incurred by students who are enrolled at least half-time to be qualified.
- The following expenses must be required for enrollment or attendance of a designated beneficiary at an eligible postsecondary school.
- Tuition and fees.
- Books, supplies, and equipment.
- Expenses for special needs services needed by a special needs beneficiary must be incurred in connection with enrollment or attendance at an eligible postsecondary school.
- Expenses for room and board must be incurred by students who are enrolled at least half-time (defined below). The expense for room and board qualifies only to the extent that it isn’t more than the greater of the following two amounts.
- The allowance for room and board, as determined by the school, that was included in the cost of attendance (for federal financial aid purposes) for a particular academic period and living arrangement of the student.
- The actual amount charged if the student is residing in housing owned or operated by the school. You may need to contact the eligible educational institution for qualified room and board costs.
- The purchase of computer or peripheral equipment, computer software, or Internet access and related services if it’s to be used primarily by the beneficiary during any of the years the beneficiary is enrolled at an eligible postsecondary school. (This doesn’t include expenses for computer software for sports, games, or hobbies unless the software is predominantly educational in nature.)
- For distributions made after 2018, expenses for fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the designated beneficiary’s participation in an apprenticeship program registered and certified with the Secretary of Labor under section 1 of the National Apprenticeship Act.
- For distributions made after 2018, no more than $10,000 paid as principal or interest on qualified student loans of the designated beneficiary or the designated beneficiary’s sibling. A sibling includes a brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister. For purposes of the $10,000 limitation, amounts treated as a qualified higher education expense for the loans of a sibling are taken into account for the sibling and not for the designated beneficiary. You can’t deduct as interest on a student loan any amount paid from a distribution of earnings from a qualified tuition program after 2018 to the extent the earnings are treated as a tax free because they were used to pay student loan interest.
Half-time student. A student is enrolled “at least half-time” if he or she is enrolled for at least half the full-time academic work load for the course of study the student is pursuing, as determined under the standards of the school where the student is enrolled.
Qualified Elementary and Secondary Education Expenses
These are expenses for no more than $10,000 of tuition, incurred by a designated beneficiary, in connection with enrollment or attendance at an eligible elementary or secondary school.
*CAUTION – Illinois Qualified Expenses do not include expenses for:
- tuition in connection with the Beneficiary’s enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school. The amount of cash distributions for such expenses from all 529 qualified tuition programs with respect to a Beneficiary shall, in the aggregate, not exceed $10,000 during the taxable year;
- tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for participation in an Apprenticeship Program;
- payments on Qualified Education Loans of the Beneficiary or a sibling of the Beneficiary, subject to a $10,000 aggregate limit.
- If a withdrawal is made for such purposes it may be a Federal Qualified Withdrawal and not be included in income for federal and Illinois purposes, but if an Illinois income tax deduction was previously claimed for Contributions to the Account all or part of that deduction may be added back to income for Illinois income tax purposes.
Please consult with your tax advisor.
The earnings portion of a nonqualified withdrawal may be subject to federal and state income taxes, a 10 percent federal tax penalty, and Illinois may recapture prior tax deduction benefits. Please consult your tax advisor.
Gift and Estate Tax Treatment
Contributions to an account are considered a gift from the contributor to the designated beneficiary and are generally excludable from the account owner’s taxable estate. Amounts in an account at the death of the beneficiary are includable in the designated beneficiary’s estate.
An account owner’s contributions to an account are eligible for the annual gift tax exclusion, which is currently $15,000. 529 plans also allow for a special gift tax exclusion election. In general, this rule allows you to contribute up to $75,000 for each beneficiary in a single year without federal gift tax consequences—provided that you make no other gifts to the beneficiary in the same year or in any of the succeeding four calendar years. This election needs to be made on a federal gift tax return. Under this rule, your contributions are subject to being added back into your taxable estate in the event of your death within the five-year period. You should consult your tax advisor regarding your situation.
1 An individual who files an individual Illinois state income tax return will be able to deduct up to $10,000 per tax year (up to $20,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint Illinois state income tax return) for their total, combined contributions to the Bright Start College Savings Program, the Bright Directions Advisor-Guided 529 College Savings Program, and CollegeIllinois! during that tax year. The $10,000 (individual) and $20,000 (joint) limit on deductions will apply to total contributions made without regard to whether the contributions are made to a single account or more than one account. The amount of any deduction previously taken for Illinois income tax purposes is added back to Illinois taxable income in the event an Account Owner takes a Nonqualified Withdrawal from an Account or if such assets are rolled over to a non-Illinois 529 plan. If Illinois tax rates have increased since the original contribution, the additional tax liability may exceed the tax savings from the deduction.back
2 Withdrawals used to pay for Qualified Higher Education Costs are free from federal and Illinois state income tax. Qualified higher education expenses include tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance; certain room and board expenses incurred by students who are enrolled at least half-time; the purchase of computer or peripheral equipment, computer software, or Internet access and related services, if used primarily by the beneficiary during any of the years the beneficiary is enrolled at an eligible educational institution; and certain expenses for special needs services needed by a special needs beneficiary.back