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The South Carolina Future Scholar 529 plan is an excellent way for parents to save for college, but there are some important rules to understand in order to ensure that you make only “qualifying “ distributions, so that you don’t have a surprise tax liability.

Time Distribution

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First and most importantly, make sure that you time distributions to coincide with expenses paid. The regulations are such that money not spent within a calendar year that it is withdrawn may be subject to taxes and penalties.

For example, say Pete Sr. receives Pete Jr.’s college bill in late November of 2013 for $10,000 for the Spring semester that starts January 15th, 2014. He decides to pay the bill in December, but with the hectic holiday schedule he forgets to withdraw the 529 funds in 2013. Instead, he requests the 529 distribution in 2014. His expenses don’t match the withdrawals for 2013 or for 2014. He will not be able to claim the distribution for the 2013 as it was disbursed in 2014 and the 2014 distributions will also not be qualified, as the expenses were paid in 2013. So if $10,000 was disbursed in 2014 and $3,000 of that was earnings*, the $3,000 would be taxable and a 10% penalty would be assessed.

Reimbursement Are Qualified

Second, you want to make sure that the expenses you are seeking reimbursement for are qualified and are net of any scholarships or other tax credits. Qualified expenses include tuition, books, and mandatory fees and supplies in conjunction with enrollment in all eligible institution. The student must also attend school at least halftime.

Say Mary Alice attends USC full time and her tuition, books, room and board are $10,000 a year for one semester. She also, however, receives $2,000 of scholarships a semester. Her parents should only withdraw $8,000, not $10,000.

Rent Is Consistent

Note: Rent for off-campus apartments is qualified as long as the rent is consistent with on campus housing. If a student prefers cooking in her apartment instead of the cafeteria, she can get reimbursed for meals as long as the expenses are in line with the school’s cafeteria plan charges. She will also want to keep receipts for any food and dining expenditures in case of an audit.

Any taxable distributions are subject to a 10% penalty, but there are exceptions. The 10% penalty will not be assessed if the distribution is due to a death or disability. A more common exception is that no penalty is assessed on any tax-free scholarships or fellowships. So, although the earnings portion of any distribution will be taxed, the penalty will be waived for an amount equivalent to scholarships or grants received by the student.

So from the example with Mary Alice above, she will pay taxes on the $2,000 of earnings if her parents withdraw the full $10,000, but no penalty will be incurred.

*you don’t pay taxes or penalties on contributions, as they were already taxed. 529 contributions are made with post tax dollars.

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Most people would say that they have money “habits” and not necessarily money “traditions.” Money is often looked at as a necessary evil instead of a tool that can help you focus on your priorities in life. Take the changing of the seasons as an opportune time to change your attitude towards money. Instead of your adversary, make it your friend and form new positive traditions that align with how you would like to feel about money.

Create Financial Traditions

Tradition #1 – Maximize Retirement Savings. For most companies, the fall is “open enrollment” season for benefits. While you should be able to change your 401(k) elections at any time throughout the year, most people don’t bother to look at their retirement until it is time to confirm your elections. If you turned down or off your retirement savings when you bought your house or had a child, now is the time to commit to this new tradition and maximize your contribution. For 2010, you can put away $16,500 pre-tax, which will not only make sure you are staying on track for this important goal but also ensure you pay less in taxes. Don’t forget a SAHP either! As long as the working spouse earned at least $5,000 during the year, a SAHP can put away $5,000 in a traditional IRA, or in a Roth IRA (if your Adjusted Gross Income is less than $166,000). Think of the great example you are setting for your children and how happy they will be when they don’t have to support you in your retirement!

Tradition #2 – Find Real Holiday Spirit and Set a Holiday Spending Plan. This lackluster economy has made many families cut back their spending and re-evaluate on what they spend their money. I have seen families do very well at living within their means and then completely blow it when it comes to the holidays. Do yourself a favor this holiday season and decide in advance how much you would like to spend on gifts for your immediate family and other relatives. Set a target amount, and try your hardest to stick to it. Impulse purchases can ruin the best-laid plans, so if something catches your eye in a store… wait 24 hours and go back if you really think it is the perfect gift. Also, take time to critically evaluate whether you need to get everyone in your family a gift. Most people give relatives gifts because it is a “tradition,” but if you do not want to carry that tradition onto the next generation now is the time to make the change.

Also, have you gotten in the habit of giving new friends or their children gifts at the holidays? Instead of giving more “stuff” to each other, consider having a potluck holiday party and creating a new memory.

Tradition #3 – Keep What You Value and Get Rid of The Rest. Do you have closets in your house filled with things you do not use, a garage full of who-knows-what, or even a storage space? Start an annual tradition or semi-annual tradition of going through your possessions and deciding what you really value and want to keep. You may want to enlist a good friend to help you go through your closets and be a reality check. Also, it seems that kids are never too young to start accumulating stuff they never use. Try to make it fun by making piles to keep, donate or recycle. If the donate or recycle piles are bigger than the keep pile, reward yourself, or your kids with a fun treat like an afternoon out picking pumpkins.

While the urge to purge is deep in my bones, my daughter is getting the hang of it as well. Every few months she decides that she has outgrown something (a book, jacket, toy) and specified to whom it should go, be it a friend’s younger sibling, her school or someone who might like it more than she does.

You can always turn this tradition into a money maker by having a yard sale or selling goods through Craigslist or eBay. Also, remember that donations are tax-deductible, so you will be saving some money by paying less in taxes.

These are just a few examples of traditions we have implemented in our family. There is something comforting about having a tradition and calling it your own. Ideally, I would love my children to look back on their childhood fondly and to have developed a very positive relationship with money from an early age. As my grandmother always said, “good habits start young, but you’re never too old to learn.”

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Springtime has finally arrived! As you start to enjoy the long, warmer days and put aside a day for spring cleaning, make sure that you give your finances a spring cleaning as well!

Start by addressing those dusty old boxes or files full of well-aged financial documents that you no longer need. It’s finally time to throw out those yellowed cancelled checks, decade-old credit card and bank statements and former apartment leases with addresses that you can barely still remember. Holding on to tax returns from 2002 or earlier? It’s generally safe to get rid of your old returns and associated records if they are at least seven years old. Make sure that you shred sensitive documents to protect yourself from identity theft! (For a clear and simple guide on how long you need to retain financial documents download our free guide on What to Keep and What to Shred.)

If you rent a safe deposit box that you have not visited in a while, this is a great time to swing by your bank to make an annual inventory of its contents. Original titles, deeds and negotiable securities (i.e., older bond certificates) are best kept here. Store your original will in the box, but make sure that you have a copy at home as well. However, keep only copies of government-issued IDs and insurance policies in the vault. Make sure that an inventory of the box’s contents, as well as the keys, are in a place where your family could find them in case of an emergency. Put with it an emergency contact list for financial issues, which may include names and phone numbers for your insurance agents, estate planning attorney and investment manager.

Next, it’s finally time to track down any stray investment and bank accounts. I recently checked-in on a long-forgotten savings account and was excited to discover $200 sitting in it. However, I was shocked to discover that the bank had started charging a $5 fee each month, which far out-paced the meager 1% interest I was earning, so I immediately closed the account. If you have changed jobs in the past few years, you may still have retirement accounts sitting in your previous employer’s plan, so take the time to transfer these funds to a retirement account that you can more actively monitor and manage.

Moving on to more fun tasks, gather up any gift cards that have been taped to refrigerator since last Christmas (or the Christmas before that) and put them to use! Spending them on something for yourself is the easiest solution, but if you are never going to use that $25 gift card to the Mitten Hut from Grandma then donate it, re-gift it, or sell it on eBay or to a gift card reseller like Plastic Jungle.

Finally, incorporate a financial aspect to clearing clutter out of your home, too. Dedicate the funds you’ll earn from a garage sale to a fun activity like a night on the town or a day at the ballpark. It makes it easier to part ways with your long un-used snowboard and will help to keep you motivated as you clean out your house in celebration of springtime!

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We all want to spend money when we’re getting ready for our baby. Whether it is planning a nursery, picking out the layette, or choosing a crib, it is all so exciting! And, without planning ahead, it can also be expensive!

Getting a plan together is easier than it sounds.


Talk with your partner. Schedule some time to have a discussion about what is important to you when it comes to creating a welcoming experience for the arrival of your baby. When you are both in agreement about what you want, decision-making about each purchase becomes much easier. And, you’ll discover where you can make trade-offs with your spending.


$1,000? $5,000? Select the amount that you and your partner are comfortable “investing” in the start-up stuff for baby. Then figure out how you will pay for these items: is it from your income, on a credit card, or from your savings? Has your family offered to pay for some selections? Is someone planning to have a shower for you? There is no right or wrong answer here. However, selecting a dollar amount upfront that you are willing to invest in the “getting ready for baby” experience keeps you from looking back and saying “How did we spend so much?”


Trade-offs happen frequently when it comes to major life change purchases such as having a baby. Here’s how they work: let’s say you absolutely must have the $2,000 crib….go for it if it’s within your Number. Then, find an item that you don’t care as much about. Maybe you would select a less expensive stroller or forgo the fancy curtains.

You may feel like you have to sacrifice, but try looking at the full half of the glass. You get to have a top of line crib —- you’ve planned for it, you’ve given yourself permission to buy it… ENJOY IT!


Create a registry whether or not you are having a shower so people can buy gifts for you that you want (and you won’t have to buy everything yourself!) Find a few ambassadors to get your message out about where you have registered.

A little bit of knowledge about your finances along with some advanced planning will take you a long way to reduce your stress and free up your time to enjoy your baby’s arrival.

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Did you know that once your child turns 18, your rights as a parent cease? You are no longer able to conduct financial transactions on his behalf, can’t talk to his healthcare professionals, and can’t even discuss his grades and other records with his college office. Not only is that a potential inconvenience, it may prohibit you from being able to intervene in your child’s matters if and when he or she needs your help.

Once your child turns 18, you should strongly consider having him complete basic estate planning documents such as a Healthcare Power of Attorney and a Durable Power of Attorney. These documents are the most overlooked estate planning vehicles for younger adults.

Durable power of attorney

The Durable Power of Attorney document designates another person to make financial decisions or transact business on another person’s behalf. Your child can appoint you and or your spouse to act as an agent for their benefit. This can be especially helpful if your child is overseas and needs your assistance with her financial matters. It is also be helpful when a child has a medical problem and is unable to conduct her financial transactions.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

This document designates who the child would like to act as their agent to make healthcare decisions for them. It also specifies intentions regarding life-sustaining treatments, such as tube feeding for nutrition and hydration, and other heroic measures that would be used to sustain the young adult’s life. This directive helps provide clarity should a tough medical situation arise and also helps prevent conflict with the treating physicians and other family members.

The Healthcare Power of Attorney will generally also include a HIPAA authorization which allows medical records to be released to the designated health care agents (normally mom and/or dad). In addition, there may be a separate form that authorizes disclosure of health information to all healthcare providers.

Having a young adult child leave the house for school or work can be a scary time for parents. Getting some basic estate planning documents together will provide some peace of mind for parents that they are fully able to assist their children should the need arise.

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Approaching one of the first Mothers days’ that I have experienced from the perspective of a mother has got me thinking about the deeper meaning of life, family and what’s important. The Mother’s Day tradition started with many ancient cultures celebrating motherhood, maternal bonds and the influence of mothers in society.

This celebration has taken on a more commercial flavor in recent times, but regardless I think the occasion still plays an important role in underlining a time for reflection on the importance of mothers and their meaning, for example Mother’s Day gifts. Maybe I’m becoming more sentimental as I now have my own child, but nevertheless, I feel the need to express some thoughts on life and motherhood as it may resonate with other mothers in a similar situation.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we mothers are to have the single biggest influence on our children’s lives. From small babies to adolescence it’s us that have the biggest effect in these formative years. They are called formative years because it is during this period in their young lives when “the die is cast” so to speak and they “form” most of their personality and basic human character traits. Such lies the courage and selflessness of mothers who, despite having the enormous responsibility of establishing basic inter-human skills in our sons or daughters, we can not only rise to the challenge but access incredible meaning from this ancient, primal task.

Being together with family on occasions like Mother’s Day are so special, and they are the times that we remember the most fondly. Our relationships with others, particularly family members, are the most important aspect of our lives – they give us, and our lives meaning. But remember, while being a mother is an incredible responsibility it will also be the most fun and satisfying journey you’ll ever undertake!

Now, with Mother’s Day fast approaching and with the maternal bonds of family and motherhood firmly in mind, I wanted to share some activities that, when undertaken with sons or daughters, can provide some meaningful family interaction:

  1. Paint a mural on a wall in your house – in our house we have dedicated the laundry wall as a kind of family mural. We plan to give it a light undercoat and then me and my youngest are going to spend several hours debating what to paint, actual painting, choosing colors and constructing an amazing real-life family mural on our laundry wall. I am honestly counting down the days for this one – I can’t wait!! You will produce a lasting, colorful memory of your special day together that you will both cherish.
  2. Put on a home-made, family theatre production – who doesn’t like dressing up? Have a ball with your husband and family on Mother’s Day as you decide on a play (make it one with a simple plot), and subsequently carry it out in front of family and friends. For the super-keen, you can even make your own handmade/sewn costumes and paper mache masks.
  3. Write a letter to the future – Want your special day to have some meaning? Nothing is more meaningful than your little darling writing a letter to someone in the future. Throw open their imagination. It can be about what your child wants to be when they grow up or how they would fix the world or what they would say to someone in the future. Put it in a sealed, glass bottle and go with them and together throw it into the ocean or river. Watch their face light up as their little brain wonders who will be reading their letter, what will their name be, where will they be from etc! You will both be recalling this day for years!
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Modern bookcases and cabinets are functional to use for storage, as a home office work space or for display. Wall cabinetry is a unique home furnishing that fills your room areas with decorative elegance. Unique bookcases, cabinetry and wall units are versatile in a modern space. They are stylish and come in wide selections of designs.

Contemporary bookcases and display shelving is available in cube, corner and leaning decorative styles. Other styles include: drawers, ladder, Eco-friendly and mobile designs. These bookcases can be used to store and organize books or display home accessories. They feature decorative colors, sizes and materials that update your room spaces.

Beautiful and unique bookcases are great in a transitional, rustic, eclectic or modern decor scheme. There are modern bookcases that fit your budget and lifestyle. They are priced from $50 to over $500. A decorative bookcase can be found online or at a local home furnishings department by brand, number of shelves, height, width and finish.

Elegant bookcases come in colors such as white, brown, gray or black to enhance a modern room setting. Decorative finishes in light, medium or dark wood tones are an attractive design feature.

Transform a plain wall area with a great looking shelving unit or display cabinet. It will maximize room space, add sleek style and can be used as a dramatic focal point. Coordinate a classic decor theme with a stylish bookcase.

Artwork, art objects, vases, plants and keepsakes will look spectacular on a wood or metal shelving unit. A decorative display cabinet looks amazing when home accents are arranged by color, shape and design.

Decorative bookcase shelving offers several options for applying a simple or high impact to your room settings. They are flexible to use on wall spaces as a practical furnishing or as a part of an overall modern scheme. Here are other ways to enjoy the benefits of elegant display cabinets:

Use in a dining room to store and display dinnerware
Set next to a fireplace to draw the eye up
Decorate a room interior with a modern cabinet that has open and closed shelving
Show accents of color in a room scheme with colorful vases and bowls displayed on open shelving
Use a bookcase as casual furnishing to hold travel souvenirs and modern art objects
Add style to a room environment with a decorative display cabinet that has a clean or classic look
Modern eclectic bookcases and display cabinets come in appealing designs perfect for an Oriental, exotic or contemporary decor
Great modern display cabinets are wonderful in a living room to define or create an elegant tone
A modern bookcase or shelving unit can be used in a basement to function as decorative storage

There are many decorative possibilities for using display cabinets in your home interior. They are refreshing in decorative design, functionality and one of the best places to display your special home accessories.

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