www.taxprofessionals.com - TaxProfessionals.com
Posted by Pat Raskob

Secure Futures: The Best Tax-Free Investments for Children

Secure Futures: The Best Tax-Free Investments for Children

Investing in a child's future is a gift that keeps on giving. One way to help secure their financial well-being is by making tax-free investments on their behalf. These investments not only offer the growth potential but also provide valuable tax advantages that can help maximize returns over time. This guide will explore the best tax-free investment options for children, including college savings accounts, custodial accounts, and more.

Why Invest for Children? 

Investing in children is a long-term strategy that can provide a range of benefits, including: 

  • Education Funding: Tax-free investments can help cover the rising costs of education, making it easier for children to pursue higher education without accumulating excessive student loan debt. 

  • Financial Security: Building a financial cushion for children can provide them with greater financial security as they transition into adulthood, helping with major life events such as buying a home or starting a family. 

  • Teaching Financial Responsibility: Involving children in the investment process can educate them about financial principles, fostering financial literacy and responsibility from a young age.

  • Wealth Accumulation: By starting early, investments have more time to grow and compound, potentially leading to significant savings. 

Tax-Free Investments for Children

A. 529 College Savings Plans

What Are They? 529 College Savings Plans are state-sponsored investment accounts to fund higher education expenses. They offer tax advantages at both the federal and state levels.

Tax Benefits:

  • State Tax Deductions: Some states offer tax deductions or credits for contributions to their 529 plans.

  • Tax-Deferred Growth: Investments in a 529 plan grow tax-deferred, meaning you won't pay taxes on the gains as long as the funds are used for qualified education expenses.

  • Tax-Free Withdrawals: When you withdraw funds from a 529 plan for qualified education expenses (tuition, fees, books, etc.), those withdrawals are tax-free at the federal level.

Flexibility: 529 plans offer flexibility regarding beneficiaries, allowing you to change the beneficiary to another family member if the original beneficiary doesn't use all the funds.

Contributions: Contribution limits vary by state but often exceed $300,000 per beneficiary.

Investment Options: Most 529 plans provide a range of investment options, from conservative to aggressive, allowing you to choose an investment strategy that aligns with your goals.

Considerations: While primarily designed for education expenses, 529 plans can also be used for K-12 private school tuition, and some states have expanded the use to include apprenticeship programs and student loan repayments.

Custodial Accounts (UGMA/UTMA)

What Are They? Custodial accounts, established under the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA), allow an adult (the custodian) to manage investments on behalf of a minor.

Tax Benefits:

  • Tax-Efficient Gifting: Contributions to custodial accounts are considered gifts and are subject to gift tax rules. However, an annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 per individual in 2021) allows you to gift that amount to the account without triggering gift taxes.

  • Tax Benefits for Minors: Children may benefit from lower tax rates on unearned income, and a portion of the income may be tax-free up to a certain limit.

Control: While the custodian manages the account, the assets legally belong to the child. Once the child reaches the age of majority (18 or 21, depending on the state), they gain control of the account.

Flexibility: Custodial accounts can hold various assets, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate.

Considerations: Be mindful that once the child gains control of the account, they can use the funds for any purpose, not just educational expenses.

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

What Are They? Coverdell ESAs are tax-advantaged accounts designed specifically for educational expenses. They can be used for elementary, secondary, and higher education expenses.

Tax Benefits:

  • Tax-Deferred Growth: Similar to 529 plans, investments within a Coverdell ESA grow tax-deferred.

  • Tax-Free Withdrawals: Qualified withdrawals, used for educational expenses, are tax-free.

Contribution Limits: The annual contribution limit for Coverdell ESAs is $2,000 per beneficiary (as of 2021), and contributions are not tax-deductible.

Income Restrictions: To contribute to a Coverdell ESA, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must fall below certain limits, making it important to check eligibility.

Investment Options: Coverdell ESAs typically offer a range of investment options, allowing you to choose investments that align with your goals and risk tolerance.

Roth IRAs for Kids

What Are They? Roth IRAs are individual retirement accounts, but they can also serve as tax-free investment vehicles for children, especially if they have earned income from a job.

Tax Benefits:

  • Tax-Free Growth: Investments within a Roth IRA grow tax-free, and qualified withdrawals are also tax-free.

  • Contribution Flexibility: Contributions to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn anytime without penalties or taxes, making it a flexible savings option.

Eligibility: To contribute to a Roth IRA for a child, they must have earned income equal to the contribution amount. Additionally, there are annual contribution limits ($6,000 in 2021).

Education Expenses: While Roth IRAs are designed for retirement savings, they can also be used for education expenses without the 10% early withdrawal penalty. However, any earnings withdrawn for education may be subject to income tax.

Long-Term Growth: One advantage of using a Roth IRA for education savings is the potential for long-term tax-free growth. Even if the child doesn't use all the funds for education, they can continue to grow the account for retirement.

Best Practices for Tax-Free Investments for Children

Start Early

One of the most significant advantages of tax-free investments for children is time. Starting early allows investments to compound over many years, potentially resulting in significant savings by the time the child reaches adulthood.

Diversify Investments

Diversification is a key strategy for managing risk. Consider spreading investments across different asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents, to reduce exposure to any investment's volatility.

Stay Informed

Keep track of the investments and regularly review the account's performance. As the child grows, you can adjust the investment strategy to align with changing goals and risk tolerance.

Teach Financial Literacy

Involving children in the investment process can be an educational opportunity. Share insights about how investments work, involve them in decisions when appropriate, and help them develop financial literacy from a young age.

Consider Professional Advice

Consider consulting with a financial advisor or investment professional specializing in education savings and tax-efficient investing for complex investment strategies or larger portfolios.

Understand Tax Rules

Stay up-to-date on tax rules and regulations, especially regarding tax-free withdrawals and eligibility criteria for different types of accounts.


Investing in tax-free accounts for children is a thoughtful and strategic way to secure their financial future. Whether you choose a 529 plan, custodial account, Coverdell ESA, or Roth IRA, these investments provide valuable tax advantages to help your child achieve their educational and financial goals. By starting early, diversifying investments, and staying informed, you can make the most of these tax-free investment opportunities and set your child on the path to financial success.



Pat Raskob
Contact Member