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Can 529 funds be used for general living expenses while at college?

No. The federal definition of "qualified education expenses" that most colleges use doesn't include general living expenses (e.g., phone charges, transportation). To be covered, expenses must be for something required for enrollment and attendance (e.g., books, a computer), and most living expenses don't fit into this category. But gray areas exist. For instance, the grocery expenses of students living off-campus may qualify as board charges, so you should address questions like this to your plan administrator. Withdrawals for nonqualified expenses will generally be subject to income tax and an additional 10 percent federal penalty tax on earnings.

Note: Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with 529 plans before investing. More information about 529 plans is available in each issuer's official statement, which should be read carefully before investing. Also, before investing, consider whether your state offers a 529 plan that provides residents with favorable state tax benefits.