Education Savings Account (ESA)

Self-Directed Education Savings Account

An education savings account (ESA), also known as a Coverdell savings account, is a tax-sheltered custodial plan designed to pay expenses for the beneficiary. Qualified educational expenses include tuition, books, and fees associated with qualified elementary, secondary, or higher education institutions. ESAs are a popular alternative to state 529 plans. Anyone can contribute to the account, including the designated beneficiary.

A self-directed ESA works just like a regular ESA, but allows a wide variety of alternative assets more conventional plans don’t permit. This asset class exceeds the typical offerings of banks and brokerages.

Features of an ESA

  • A self-directed ESA can invest in private lending, hedge funds, private equity, real estate, and more.
  • You do not need earned income to contribute to an ESA.
  • Contributions to this college savings plan are discretionary and not required annually.
  • Contributions can be made as late as the contributor’s tax filing date.
  • Funds can be transferred to an education savings account of any eligible family member under the age of 30.
  • Contributions are not tax deductible, but the earnings are distributed tax-free (consult a qualified advisor for guidance).

Smiling parents who set up an education savings account for their child standing next to him at his graduation.

Mom, Dad, and three daughters sit together and smile at the camera because they have an education savings account.

ESA Eligibility Requirements

  • You can contribute up to $2000 annually per child until their 18th birthday.
  • There are exceptions for special needs individuals; consult with a professional for more information.
  • This college savings plan must be opened with a cash deposit.

Distributions from ESAs

  • Distributions for qualified education expenses are tax free.
  • Funds must be used before the beneficiary reaches the age of 30 (unless the beneficiary is a special-needs individual).
  • Unused funds can be transferred to an ESA of another eligible family member before the primary beneficiary turns 30 years old.
  • If not transferred to another family member’s ESA, unused funds are distributed at age 30, are taxable to the beneficiary, and may be subject to a 10 percent penalty.

Grandparents stand with their granddaughter and smile with pride because they set up an education savings account to help her fund college.

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Contribution Limits of a Self-Directed Education Savings Account

Education Savings Accounts (ESA) 2023 2024
Per Year, Per Beneficiary $2,000 $2,000

Additional Resources about ESAs