On December 18, 2015, Congress approved the “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015”, which includes provisions that impact 529 plans. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law the same day.
Previously, 529 rules treated computers as a Qualified Higher Education Expense only if the beneficiary’s college required them as a condition of enrollment or attendance. Under the new law, computer equipment and related hardware qualify even if they are not specifically required by the university, college, or technical school the beneficiary attends, although they must be used primarily by the beneficiary while enrolled in school. The new law defines desktop computers, laptops, and other related technology as a Qualified Higher Education Expense. The costs for Internet access and computer software related to a beneficiary’s studies also qualify.
The new law is retroactive to expenses incurred since January 1, 2015. So if your beneficiary purchased a computer or related technology any time in 2015 to use while in college, funds from a 529 account can be used to cover the cost if the withdrawal was made by Thursday, December 31.
The PATH Act also gives 529 account owners a 60-day window to re-contribute refunds from Eligible Educational Institutions into their accounts. The law is retroactive for withdrawals made during 2015.
Under the new law, account owners have 60 days from the date of the refund to redeposit a refund of Qualified Higher Education Expenses into the same 529 account from which the money was withdrawn. For example, if a beneficiary receives a refund from an Eligible Educational Institution because he or she withdrew from school due to an illness or other unforeseen circumstance, the refund may be returned to the beneficiary’s 529 account and would not be deemed a non-qualified withdrawal or be subject to any taxes or tax penalties.
The re-contribution cannot exceed the amount of the refund.
The law is retroactive to January 1, 2015.
Account owners who received a refund of Qualified Higher Education Expenses between January 1, 2015, and December 18, 2015, the date the law was enacted, have until February 16, 2016 — 60 days from the enactment date for the PATH Act of 2015 — to redeposit the money.
Account owners who receive a refund of Qualified Higher Education Expenses on any date after December 18, 2015, have 60 days from the date of the refund to redeposit the money.
It is recommended that account owners keep a receipt of refunds in order to have documentation of the amount of the refund and the date it was issued.