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Investing

529 Plans vs. Roth IRA: Which is best for college savings?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

If you have children, you want to give them the very best. Often, that includes an excellent college education. However, helping your child pay for school has gotten much more expensive in recent years. In fact, the cost of attending a public, four-year college has gone up 25% in just ten years, according to data from The College Board.
If you want to contribute to your child’s education, it’s best to start saving when they’re young. Thankfully, there are several savings vehicles you can use to save for college, including 529 plans and Roth IRAs. Below, find out how these savings vehicles work and how to decide which one is best for you.

529 vs Roth IRA: How they compare

529 plans are offered either by your state or by an individual school. They are accounts created specifically for saving for education expenses. A 529 plan is an investment account, so you contribute money and choose investments; over time, the account grows with annual returns.

Roth IRAs are mainly for retirement savings. You contribute with post-tax dollars, so when it comes time to withdraw your money, you don’t have to pay taxes again. However, some people opt to use Roth IRAs for education savings, too.

But which is best for you? 529 plans and Roth IRAs differ in several key ways.

1. Tax benefits and penalties

According to Lloyd Sacks, a Certified Financial Planner and managing director of the private client group at Sacks & Associates, contributing to a 529 plan has some benefits when it comes to your taxes.

“Some states allow a deduction for contributions made to in-state 529 plans,” he said.

That deduction can help reduce your taxable income, potentially leading to a smaller tax bill.

Roth IRAs don’t offer the same benefit. However, withdrawals from Roth IRAs contributions are free from income taxes.

2. Withdrawal rules for education

If you withdraw earnings from a Roth IRA before your retirement, you typically are subject to early withdrawal penalties. However, there is an exception in some circumstances.

“If [the money is] used for qualified higher education expenses, the 10% early withdrawal penalty on earnings is waived, but you are still responsible for taxes on the earnings in this case,” Sacks said.

529 plan withdrawals can only be used for education expenses, or you will be subject to penalties and taxes. You’ll pay the full income tax on the withdrawal, plus a 10% penalty fee.

3. Investment options

With a Roth IRA, you have several different investment options. You can invest in individual securities, such as stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, exchange-traded funds, or mutual funds.

529 plans have fewer options. Depending on which state you open your 529 in, you may only have access to a small range of investment options, such as index funds. You aren’t limited to opening a 529 in your home state so it pays to shop around for the best investments options and lowest fees.

4. Contribution limits

Roth IRAs and 529 plans have very different contribution limits. If you want to save aggressively, a 529 plan allows you to sock away more money than a Roth IRA.

“For 2019, the annual contribution limit to a Roth IRA is set at $6,000 with a $1,000 catch-up contribution for those over age 50,” said Sacks. “Total 529 plan contribution limits are set by each individual state. For 2019, a single taxpayer can contribute up to $15,000 in a single year to the plan [with a 529 plan].”

5. Financial aid

What savings vehicle you choose can impact the financial aid package your child is eligible to receive. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) looks at your savings differently depending on the type of account you use.

“Retirement accounts, like a Roth IRA, are not considered assets on the FAFSA, and will not impact a student’s ability to receive financial aid for college,” said Sacks.

Because Roth IRA accounts are exempt from the FAFSA, your Roth IRA balance won’t affect what financial aid your child is eligible to receive. A 529 plan balance, on the other hand, can affect your FAFSA.

“A 529 plan will impact a student’s ability to receive financial assistance towards college expenses,” said Sacks.

However, that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. With a 529 plan, there are tax advantages to making contributions, which can be an effective tradeoff against FAFSA implications.

6. Plan B: What if you don’t use it for college?

When it comes to planning for college, it can be hard to predict where your child will be at the age of 18. If your child decides not to go to college, that can affect your finances.

With a 529 plan, you’re subject to a 10% penalty if you don’t use the money for qualified education expenses for the selected beneficiary, which can eat up a big chunk of your savings. If your child does decide not to go to school, you can switch the beneficiary to another child, another relative, or yourself. You can also use the funds to pay for trade school or even K-12 education.

A Roth IRA doesn’t carry the same penalties. If your child decides against going to school, you can keep the money in your savings for your retirement, penalty-free.

You should consider a Roth IRA for college savings if:

  • Your retirement savings are low. If you don’t have substantial savings for retirement yet, a Roth IRA can do double duty; you can save for retirement while simultaneously saving for college. If your child doesn’t go to college, you can use the funds you saved for your retirement.
  • If you’re not sure your child will go to college. Because the Roth IRA offers greater flexibility, it’s a better option if you’re not certain your child will go on to a university.

You should consider a 529 plan for college savings if:

  • You need to save aggressively. If there are only a few years left until college, or you think your child will opt for a more expensive private school, contributing to a 529 plan with higher contribution limits makes more sense than a Roth IRA.
  • You aren’t eligible for a Roth IRA. If you’re ineligible for a Roth because your income is too high, a 529 plan makes sense.
  • Your state offers a tax deduction. Some states offer tax benefits if you contribute to a 529 plan, making them a smarter option.

Saving for college

Saving for college can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to deciding on the best savings plan for you. If you’re torn between a Roth IRA and a 529 plan, the Roth IRA offers greater flexibility.

“Unless the clients fall into the high net-worth category or are fairly affluent, I usually recommend saving and investing in a Roth IRA if they are eligible to contribute to one,” said Sacks. “By utilizing the Roth IRA, a client is able to save for college expenses while also funding their own personal retirement in the event they fall short of their savings goals through other means; the funds within a Roth IRA can be used for either purpose.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Kat Tretina
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Kat Tretina is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kat here

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Investing

CNote Review 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

In recent years, finding stable, reasonable yield has been difficult for savers. A traditional savings account rarely offers an attractive yield and the bond market has been somewhat anemic in recent years. This is where CNote comes in.

CNote is a company that takes your money and invests it in community development financial institutions (CDFIs). Basically, these lenders issue loans to local governments, nonprofits and businesses owned by minorities and women. CNote invests your money with its partners and offers you a return.

CNote
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The Bottom Line: CNote offers you the chance to earn relatively stable yields that beat traditional savings accounts while allowing you to make a positive social impact in communities across the country.

  • Annual return beats that of most traditional savings accounts.
  • Investments are used for social impact.
  • CNote has no fees, but it does come with liquidity restrictions.

Who should consider CNote

CNote is meant as a savings account or bond market alternative. It’s not designed to offer inflation-beating potential returns like those seen in the stock market. Instead, it’s more likely to be appropriate for savers who are frustrated with their current yields and want a relatively stable way to boost what they’re earning each year.

Additionally, the social impact aspect of CNote could make it attractive to those looking for socially conscious ways to put their money to work. CNote’s CDFI partners invest in small businesses and community development projects, so for those who like the idea of doing good while their money earns interest, this can be an option.

However, CNote comes with limited liquidity. There are only four times a year that CNote allows for withdrawals (with 30 days’ notice), and at those times you’re limited to withdrawals of $20,000 or 10% of your balance, whichever is higher. (CNote does consider special circumstances and may allow larger or unscheduled withdrawals at their discretion.)

Those who need access to their money for goals in the medium term (four to seven years out) could benefit from CNote, but withdrawals require planning. As a result, it likely doesn’t make sense to use CNote as an emergency fund where immediate liquidity is needed.

CNote fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $1
Commission$0
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Trust
Customer supportPhone, Email

Strengths of CNote

CNote offers an interesting twist on social investing with the expectation of relatively stable returns.

  • Yield that beats traditional savings accounts: One of the stand-out features is CNote’s advertised return of 2.75% APY (or more). This is much better than most traditional savings accounts. In fact, as of this writing, CNote offers returns higher than the five-year Treasury yield. That means you could see a higher yield for medium-term savings than what’s available with other savings options.
  • No fees: CNote doesn’t charge any fees. Instead, the service makes money on the difference between what they pay you in yield and what they receive from investments made with CDFI partners.
  • Social impact investing: If doing good is important to you, CNote offers a way for you to do that. Your money goes toward helping provide affordable financing to underserved communities for projects like affordable housing, community development and minority-owned businesses.
  • Trust and business accounts: You can open a CNote account as part of a trust or use it for business purposes. Depending on your needs, this can be helpful in your asset management plan.

The service is fairly straightforward and comes with no costs, but it has the potential to help you earn a higher yield on money that might otherwise be sitting in a low-yield savings account.

Drawbacks of CNote

While CNote offers an innovative way to maintain a stable yield, there are some issues that you need to be aware of before you invest.

  • Limited liquidity: This isn’t a deposit account and your money doesn’t remain immediately accessible to you. CNote isn’t simply holding your money; instead, it’s investing your money with its partners. As a result, you need to provide advance notice before withdrawing your money — and you can only withdraw at certain times during the year.
  • Yield is still too low for long-term wealth building: Even though the yield is higher than a traditional savings account, it’s still not high enough for effective long-term wealth-building. If you’re looking for a way to build your nest egg, consider Stocks, Mutual funds and ETFs.
  • No tax-advantaged options: CNote doesn’t offer you the opportunity to invest with tax advantages. There aren’t IRA or 529 options.

If you decide to use CNote, it’s important to understand how you want to use it in your overall portfolio, since there are limitations to when you can access to your money and limited usefulness as a long-term investment vehicle.

Is CNote safe?

It’s important to note that CNote isn’t a depository institution and it isn’t protected by the FDIC. That means if CNote fails, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your money back. However, the loans made by its CDFI partners to community and municipal projects are generally considered low-risk with stable returns, on par with high-quality Bonds. Most of the projects funded by CDFIs are usually vetted heavily and CDFIs impose their own requirements on borrowers.

CNote also uses what it calls Triple Protection to limit potential losses. Because CNote isn’t a holding company, they don’t keep your money; instead, it goes to CNote’s CDFI partners. CNote only contracts with partners that use government-guaranteed programs, which offer a layer of protection. CNote’s partners are also contractually obligated to repay the loans they receive from CNote, even if something goes wrong. Finally, CNote has a loan loss reserve to help cover potential losses.

However, like any investment, there is still a risk, and you could lose capital in addition to missing out on returns.

Final thoughts

If you’re interested in boosting your yield on a chunk of capital that isn’t doing much, CNote could be an interesting place to park your cash. The returns could be fairly stable and may beat what you’ll get at with a savings account. Plus, you get the added bonus of feeling good about making a positive social impact.

However, you do need to be aware of the liquidity limitations and understand that pre-planning is needed before you access the money you invest using CNote.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit |

Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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Investing

SpeedTrader Review 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

SpeedTrader is an online broker that caters to active day traders. It offers a choice of platforms and a full selection of research and data tools, making it a competitive option. You also get direct market access with more than 25 routing options, a choice of per-share or per-trade pricing, and the ability to trade Stocks, Options, and Bonds.

However, SpeedTrader has a higher minimum deposit requirement than TradeStation and Lightspeed, which are designed for active traders as well. SpeedTrader doesn’t offer as many options for trading platforms as Lightspeed does, and you won’t have access to multiple free trading platforms with SpeedTrader — unlike with either of its close competitors.

SpeedTrader
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The bottom line: SpeedTrader offers direct market access and advanced trading features, including point-and-click trading, real-time market data and hot keys for faster order entry.

  • SpeedTrader provides a choice of trading platforms, including ActiveWeb, SpeedTrader Pro, and SpeedTrader Mobile.
  • Investors get direct market access — with a choice of more than 25 routing options — to allow for faster execution and better filling of orders.
  • Commissions and fees are affordable, especially for high-volume traders.

Who should consider SpeedTrader

If you’re a day trader who needs real-time market data at your fingertips with the ability to place and execute orders as quickly as possible, then SpeedTrader could be an ideal broker for you. SpeedTrader allows you to save multiple screen layouts, create customized watchlists, stream quotes in real time, manage multiple trading accounts in one platform, and customize 100 different hot key options for the fastest possible order entry.

SpeedTrader also provides support for institutional clients, including hedge funds. Or if you are diving into day trading for the first time, you can request free virtual practice accounts with virtual buying power to make sure you’re ready before you risk any real money.

But if you’re looking for features that cater to hands-off traders, such as commission-free ETFs, no-load Mutual funds, or robo-advising services, SpeedTrader is the wrong tool for you. Online brokers such as Ally Invest, Charles Schwab and E-Trade would be more your speed.

SpeedTrader fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $30,000
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $75 full account transfer fee
  • $75 partial account transfer fee
  • $30 inactivity fee per quarter
Current promotions

When you open a new account with SpeedTrader, you can get up to $100 in free trades or one month of free trading.

Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • Solo 401(k) (for small businesses)
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Offers fractional shares
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS
Customer supportPhone, Chat, Email

Strengths of SpeedTrader

Some of the key benefits of SpeedTrader include the following:

  • Affordable commissions: With SpeedTrader, you have a choice of how the commissions are structured. You could pay a per-trade fee as low as $2.95 if you make 500 trades or more per month or up to $4.49 per trade if you trade less frequently at under 200 trades in a month — or you could pay a per-share fee instead. Per-share fees start at just $0.0025 if your monthly share volume is at least 500,000 and goes up to $0.0044 if you trade under 250,000 shares. This is comparable to Lightspeed, which charges $0.0045 if you trade under 249,999 shares per month and as low as $0.0010 if you make 15,000,000 or more in trade volume per month. And it’s below TradeStation’s pricing of $5 per trade.
  • Tools to facilitate timely ordering: SpeedTrader is focused on allowing you to place orders as quickly as possible. That’s why you have direct market access with a choice of routing options as well as hot keys to facilitate trades. Most conventional brokers don’t offer direct market access, instead routing customer orders to centralized trading desks, which in turn route to other liquidity providers.
  • Advanced data, charting and research tools: SpeedTrader has multiple platforms, each of which offers customization and advanced tools to help active traders. Investors can create customized watch lists; view streaming quotes as well as time and sales data in real time; and choose from a full array of chart types, including candlestick and price charts.

Drawbacks of SpeedTrader

  • High minimum deposit requirements: SpeedTrader offers only margin and options accounts, and there is a minimum $30,000 deposit for U.S. and foreign clients. There is also a minimum $30,000 deposit if you want to open a day trading account.
  • Costly inactivity fees: There is a $30 inactivity fee per quarter if you execute less than 15 trades.
  • A lack of options for free trading platforms: Lightspeed offers two free trading platforms, while TradeStation doesn’t charge software fees and provides free access to its advanced trading tools. SpeedTrader, on the other hand, charges a minimum of $25 monthly for ActiveWeb unless you generate at least $199 in monthly commissions. And its other platforms are even costlier, with SpeedTrader Pro Level I starting at $49 monthly unless you generate $199 in commissions and SpeedTrader Pro Level II coming in at $104 per month if you have less than $499 in monthly commissions.

Is SpeedTrader safe?

SpeedTrader is committed to account security. It is in full compliance with all regulatory requirements, according to FINRA BrokerCheck. And client assets held with SpeedTrader are insured up to $500,000 since SpeedTrader is a member of the SIPC.

SpeedTrader clients also get additional protection through Lloyd’s of London for up to $24.5 million in assets. That means a combined total of $25 million per client is protected, including up to $1 million in cash.

This insurance does not, however, protect you if the assets you invest in lose value. There are inherent risks to investing, and you could end up losing money if your investments perform poorly.

Final thoughts

SpeedTrader, more than most other online brokers, focuses on facilitating the fastest ordering speeds possible, which is a big benefit for day traders. If speed is of the essence, SpeedTrader is likely the right choice for you. But if you’re looking for a wider choice of trading platforms and are interested in not paying a fee to use them, then you may want to consider Lightspeed or TradeStation instead.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy |

Christy Rakoczy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christy here

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