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Tax Policy and Education Policy: Collision or Coordination? A Case Study of 529 and Coverdell Savings Vehicles

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  • Dynarski, Susan

    (Harvard U)

Abstract

529 saving plans and Coverdell Educational Savings Accounts are marketed as attractive vehicles for college savings. The main finding of this paper is that college savings plans can actually harm some families. The joint treatment by the income tax code and financial aid system of college savings creates tax rates that exceed 100 percent for those families on the margin of receiving additional financial aid. Since even families with incomes above $100,000 receive need-based aid, the impact of these very high taxes is quite broad. I find that an aid-marginal family with funds in a Coverdell is worse off than if it did not save at all. Simulations show that $1,000 of pretax income placed in a Coverdell for a newborn and left to accumulate until college will face income and aid taxes that consume all of the principal, all of the earnings and an additional several hundred dollars. This perverse outcome is the product of poor coordination between the income tax code and the financial aid system.

Suggested Citation

  • Dynarski, Susan, 2004. "Tax Policy and Education Policy: Collision or Coordination? A Case Study of 529 and Coverdell Savings Vehicles," Working Paper Series rwp04-011, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:harjfk:rwp04-011
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    File URL: http://papers.nber.org/papers/w10357.pdf
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    1. Aaron S. Edlin, 1993. "Is College Financial Aid Equitable and Efficient?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 143-158, Spring.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dynarski, Susan M. & Scott–Clayton, Judith E., 2006. "The Cost of Complexity in Federal Student Aid: Lessons From Optimal Tax Theory and Behavioral Economics," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 59(2), pages 319-356, June.
    2. Vicki L. Bogan, 2014. "Savings Incentives And Investment Management Fees: A Study Of The 529 College Savings Plan Market," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 32(4), pages 826-842, October.
    3. Susan M. Dynarski & Judith E. Scott-Clayton, 2008. "Complexity and Targeting in Federal Student Aid: A Quantitative Analysis," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 22, pages 109-150 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Turner, Nick, 2010. "Why Don’t Taxpayers Maximize their Tax-Based Student Aid? Salience and Inertial in Program Selection," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt0pb3f440, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.

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