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Saving for Room and Board with a 529 Account


When it comes to the cost of college, room and board expenses often make up a significant portion of a student's total bill, second only to tuition. These expenses, which are the costs associated with student housing and meal plans, are expected to continue to rise. Related: Saving for Tuition with a 529 Account

Although a 529 account is a tax-advantaged way to save for educational expenses, not all expenses related to a student’s room and board meet the qualified higher education expense criteria. For the room and board expenses to count as a qualified higher education expense, a student needs to be enrolled in a college or university for at least half of the time and costs must be incurred during a school term. Related: What Are Qualified Expenses?

Students may use the 529 account to cover room and board costs for a study abroad program, but only if it's approved for course credit by their home college or university.  Related: Looking to Study Abroad? A 529 Plan Can Help

Prepaid tuition accounts, like the Prepaid529 program, can't cover room and board costs. Families using these plans might want to think about saving in a 529 account such as Invest529 for additional expenses.

For a 529 account to cover room and board, the student must:

  • Be enrolled at least half-time
  • Attend an eligible institution
  • Be enrolled in a degree or certificate program
  • Not be in a dual enrollment program

Common 529 Account Questions About Room and Board Expenses:

  • Can I use my account to pay for off-campus housing?
    Yes. For off-campus housing, you can be reimbursed from your 529 account, but only up to the school's cost of attendance. This includes rent, groceries, and utilities within certain limits.
  • Can I use my 529 account to buy furniture?
    No. Furniture and home decor are not qualified expenses and using your 529 account for them can lead to tax penalties.
  • Can I use my 529 account to buy food?
    Yes, meal plans and groceries are qualified expenses, as long as they don't exceed the official cost of attendance.

Saving for room and board in a 529 account is a flexible and affordable way to prepare for the increasing costs of college. Financial aid, scholarships, and grants can also play a crucial role in making school more affordable for students, so exploring these options is important.

Virginia529 does not provide tax, legal or investment advice. Please consult a tax, legal or investment professional.

Resources to help you learn

Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to the most common questions about 529 plans.

Smart Savers Academy

Tune in to a live episode and ask questions of the presenter, or watch a previously recorded webinar below.

Invest529 Portfolio Performance

Review and compare historical returns of Invest529 portfolios.