A Coverdell ESA can be used to pay either qualified higher education expenses or qualified elementary and secondary education expenses. Income limits apply to contributors, and the total contributions for the beneficiary of this account cannot be more than $2,000 in any year, no matter how many accounts have been established. A beneficiary is someone who is under age 18 or is a special needs beneficiary.
Contributions to a Coverdell ESA are not deductible, but amounts deposited in the account grow tax free until distributed. The beneficiary will not owe tax on the distributions if they are less than a beneficiary’s qualified education expenses at an eligible institution. This benefit applies to qualified higher education expenses as well as to qualified elementary and secondary education expenses.
Here are some things to remember about distributions from Coverdell accounts:
- Distributions are tax-free as long as they are used for qualified education expenses, such as tuition and fees, required books, supplies and equipment and qualified expenses for room and board.
- There is no tax on distributions if they are for enrollment or attendance at an eligible educational institution. This includes any public, private or religious school that provides elementary or secondary education as determined under state law. Virtually all accredited public, nonprofit and proprietary (privately owned profit-making) post-secondary institutions are eligible.
- Education tax credits can be claimed in the same year the beneficiary takes a tax-free distribution from a Coverdell ESA, as long as the same expenses are not used for both benefits.
- If the distribution exceeds qualified education expenses, a portion will be taxable to the beneficiary and will usually be subject to an additional 10% tax. Exceptions to the additional 10% tax include the death or disability of the beneficiary or if the beneficiary receives a qualified scholarship.
For more information, see Topic 310 – Coverdell Education Savings Accounts.