Paying For Your Higher Education

Another way to pull funds from an IRA or a qualified retirement plan (401(k), 403(b), 457, etc.) without having to pay the 10% penalty is to use those funds for Qualified Higher Education Expenses (QHEE).  This comes up quite often, as parents are faced with the issues surrounding the dueling requirements of retirement saving and paying for college for the young ‘uns.

We’ve been talking about the components of Internal Revenue Code Section 72, and specifically here we’re talking about §72(t)(2)(E).  In this portion of the code, the provision is made for a taxpayer qualified retirement plan or IRA owner to withdraw, without penalty, amounts “not to exceed the Qualified Higher Education Expenses for the tax year”.

So, you may ask, what is a QHEE? Essentially, this includes tuition, fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution.  Also included are expenses for special needs services incurred by or for special needs students in connection with their enrollment or attendance.

Room and board also qualifies, but only to the extent that it is not greater than the educational institution’s allowance for room and board, or the amount that the institution actually charges for room and board.  In addition, with the passage of the ARRA 2009, computing equipment and services (including internet service) can be included as QHEE, at least for 2009 and 2010 (likely to be extended).

Who is the student? For the purpose of this provision, the student can be the IRA account owner, her spouse, eligible children (generally dependents), and grandchildren.

Amounts withdrawn must be no more than the QHEE for the tax year, reduced by any additional tax benefits applied: 529 or Coverdell ESA account withdrawals; QHEE covered by HOPE or Lifetime Learning credits; or any grants or scholarships received.

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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