Dear Mary: We've been putting money in a 529 plan for our daughter's college education for the past several years. She recently told us she wants to attend beauty school instead. Now that the surprise has worn off, we're concerned about penalties when we withdraw the money. How much will we lose, and is there any way to avoid it?
-- Rebecca, Illinois
Dear Rebecca: I've got great news for you. That money can be used at any accredited trade or vocational school -- not only colleges and universities -- to pay for tuition, room, board, fees, books and supplies.
If you have more than the total cost of the vocational training and related costs, you can withdraw the balance. Federal law imposes a 10 percent penalty on earnings for non-qualified distributions. This means that you will get back 100 percent of your principal and 90 percent of your earnings.
Another option is to change the beneficiary to another child or qualifying family member to keep the account going and avoid (or at least delay) taking nonqualified withdrawals, if your daughter's education doesn't require those funds. Your particular fund may have additional provisions, so be sure to check with the fund manager.
You can learn more about 529 college savings plans at savingforcollege.com.
Dear Mary: A couple of months ago, I left my wallet on the bus. I immediately called the bus company and was told the driver had turned it
-- Brian, Washington
Dear Brian: Yes, you should be very concerned. With identity theft so prevalent, you should see this as an emergency. First, call your credit card company to learn why your statement is late. While you're on the phone, report the incident. Request a new card and the old one reported as stolen. Verify that your mailing address has not changed.
Your next calls should be to the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian (888-397-3742), Equifax (800-525-6285) and TransUnion (800 680-7289). Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert. Now all creditors will have to get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name. At the same time, request copies of your credit report. Review these carefully to make sure there are no new accounts in your name that you did not authorize.
If you have not already set up online access to your bank and credit card accounts, I suggest you do that right away. Now you can monitor your account every day. Even though I'm fairly confident that nothing is amiss (the mail is often delayed), you are wise to stay on top of things, if for no other reason than to make sure your credit card payment will not be late due to a late-arriving statement.
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