By Reyna Gobel
Once you know you can contribute to an account, you can open an ESA at pretty much any bank, credit union, mutual fund company, or brokerage firm. The question is when a whole community of people can contribute to an account, who should open it and where?
Choosing Where to Open an ESA
Like any other investment opportunity, you will want to think about fees, average returns and minimum deposits. A good way to start is by talking with people and places you trust.
- Ask family members and friends who have ESA accounts where they have theirs. Then call the financial institution for details.
- Talk to your bank and financial advisors. You can take it a step further and find out if mutual funds you currently own have ESA options, too.
- Research online. If you don't know anyone with an ESA, turn to the opinions of others. Search for professional ratings and personal opinions online. Call financial institutions that are highly recommended to ask for details such as minimum opening deposit, fees involved, procedures for making deposits and average returns.
- Use all three above and then compare on paper. Take out a sheet of paper or open a computer file. Write down important information about the top three ESAs recommended. Compare benefits of each before choosing an ESA. Since the child could have this investment account for up to 30 years, you want to be as careful about choosing an ESA as you would a mortgage. Of course, if you are not happy with your original choice you can always transfer the ESA to another financial institution.
A time-cherished gift from grandparent to grandchild is a savings bond. An ESA contribution is a continuation of this tradition. (For more on this investment, see Savings Bonds For Income And Safety.)
Each contributor can open his or her own account, but the parents of the child will then need to keep track of the money in all accounts. Otherwise, they won't be able to calculate what additional funds they need to pay for their child's education. If possible, it's better for parents to open the ESA and for contributors to deposit the money into the ESA opened by the parent.
What Investments Are in an ESA?
ESAs can be comprised of any combination of investments: mutual funds, stocks, bonds, money market funds etc. The investments not allowed in an ESA include collectibles, with the exception of U.S. Treasury coins. Equally as important as the investment is making sure cash is being deposited into the ESA.
What If You Have More Than One Child?
Just like Johnny and Cindy could contribute to an account for their niece and their own child, you can contribute up to $2,000 for each of your children. If you can't afford to contribute $2,000 per child, divide what you can afford among all your children. You can do this equally or use a strategy of putting more in your eldest child's account, since he or she will need the money first. Once the eldest goes to college, you can start contributing more for your younger children.
However, pay attention to your yearly contributions if others are contributing. If total contributions from all involved exceed $2,000, there could be tax penalties that your child would have to pay. We'll look at these in the next section. (Put your kids through school without being hounded by the tax man. Check out Clearing Up Tax Confusion For College Savings Accounts.)
Takeaways for Opening a Coverdell Education Savings Account
Choose an ESA carefully. Your children may hold this investment account for up to 30 years, so you want to choose a financial institution that comes highly recommended. If you have a community contributing to your child's education, keep track of all contributions. The preferred method is by asking contributors to deposit into an account you open on your child's behalf.
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