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What is a Coverdell ESA?

A Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) is a valuable financial tool established by the U.S. government to assist families in funding educational expenses for their children. This trust account allows for tax-free growth of investments and tax-free withdrawals, provided the funds are used for qualified educational expenses. In this article, we will delve into the details of how Coverdell ESAs work, their benefits, and the key differences between Coverdell ESAs and 529 plans.

Formerly known as an education IRA, a Coverdell ESA is a specialized trust account designed to help families save for educational expenses. To establish a Coverdell ESA, the beneficiary must be under the age of 18 at the time of account creation, except for special needs beneficiaries who may qualify regardless of age. While multiple ESAs can be set up for a single beneficiary, the maximum annual contribution per beneficiary is $2,000.

Benefits and Usage of Coverdell Education Savings Accounts:

  1. Funding for a Wide Variety of Educational Expenses: Coverdell ESA funds can be used to pay for qualified expenses related to elementary, secondary, and higher education. These expenses include tuition, books, supplies, equipment, special needs services, academic tutoring, and even certain room and board costs.

  2. Tax Advantages: Contributions made to a Coverdell ESA are not tax-deductible; however, the earnings on the account grow tax-free. When funds are withdrawn for qualified educational expenses, including tuition and other eligible costs, the withdrawals are also tax-free.

  3. Greater Investment Flexibility: Compared to 529 plans, Coverdell ESAs offer a broader range of investment options. This flexibility allows account holders to tailor their investment strategies to potentially maximize growth over time.

  4. Compatible with Other Education Funding Vehicles: It is possible to have both a 529 plan and a Coverdell ESA for the same beneficiary. This enables families to combine the benefits of these two accounts to cover a wider range of educational expenses.

Limitations and Eligibility Criteria:

  1. Income Restrictions: The ability to contribute to a Coverdell ESA is subject to income limitations. For single taxpayers, the adjusted gross income (AGI) must be $95,000 or below, while married taxpayers must have an AGI of $190,000 or below to qualify for the full $2,000 contribution limit. The contribution limit is gradually phased out for single taxpayers with an AGI of $110,000 or more and for joint filers with an AGI of $220,000 or more.

  2. Contribution Limits and Time Restrictions: The maximum annual contribution to a Coverdell ESA is $2,000 per beneficiary. Contributions can no longer be made once the beneficiary reaches the age of 18, and the funds must be used by the time the beneficiary turns 30. Failure to use the funds for qualified educational expenses by the specified age may result in taxes, fees, and penalties on withdrawals.

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts vs. 529 Plans:

Coverdell ESAs and 529 plans are both valuable tools for saving for educational expenses, but they have some key differences:

  1. Contribution Limits: Coverdell ESAs have a contribution limit of $2,000 per beneficiary, while 529 plans do not have an annual contribution limit. However, 529 plans may have lifetime contribution limits set by each state.

  2. Qualified Expenses: Coverdell ESAs can be used for a wider range of educational expenses, including elementary and secondary school costs. 529 plans, on the other hand, are primarily focused on post-secondary education expenses.

  3. Income Restrictions: While Coverdell ESAs have income limitations for contributors, 529 plans have no income restrictions, allowing individuals of any income level to contribute.

  4. Time Restrictions: Coverdell ESA funds must be used by the time the beneficiary turns 30, while 529 plans have no age restrictions for using the funds.


A Coverdell ESA is an account which can be used to save for educational expenses. These used to be called Educational IRAs until someone realized that didn’t make sense.

A Coverdell Educational Savings Account (ESA) allows you to save money for your child’s future education costs. As opposed to a 529 Plan, which is limited to post-high school education, money from an ESA can be used as early as Kindergarten.

The funds within the account grow tax-deferred, and withdrawals are tax-free as long as they are used to pay for qualified educational expenses. The investment choices in a Coverdell ESA tend to be broader than in a 529 plan, and you can think of it like the difference between a personal IRA and a 401(k) plan at work.

One is much more structured and is not likely to give participants too much freedom for administrative reasons. The two drawbacks are that if you make too much money you won’t be able to contribute to a Coverdell, and, even if you can, the contribution limit is $2,000 per beneficiary.

You can have a 529 and a Coverdell for the same child at the same time. Coverdell’s cannot be contributed to after the beneficiary reaches 18, and the money cannot be used by them after age 30 without incurring a 10% IRS penalty. You can, however, change the beneficiary if it’s a family member who meets the guidelines.

How Can the Money in My Coverdell ESA be Invested?
What are the Contribution Limits For My Coverdell ESA?

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