What Is the Difference Between Will and Estate Planning

The Difference Between Will and Estate Planning

Estate planning and creating a will both involve an uncomfortable topic – thinking about what will happen to your money when you die – but they are separate concepts. Broadly speaking, a will is a specific legal document stipulating exactly how your assets will be distributed on your death and who will care for any dependents. Creating that document is what you may hear referred to as will planning.

Estate planning, on the other hand, is an umbrella term that covers all aspects of end of life documentation and decision making, which can include a will. Estate planning also allows you to say how you want your assets divided after your death and can help you transfer those assets in the most tax-advantageous way possible for your loved ones.

End-of-life documents, including power of attorney and living will forms, are often created as part of the estate planning process. These help ensure that your wishes are followed, even if you are medically incapacitated. (You can also access these as part of will planning; we’ll cover that in a minute.)

Creating a will and estate planning may sound complicated, but in some cases, they can be done relatively quickly, often using online templates. In other cases, it may be advisable to have an attorney manage the process.

What Is Will Planning?

Writing a will usually refers to a very specific task: A will details where you want your assets to go at your death, and who you would like to serve as guardian of your minor children. If you have pets, it may also spell out who will care for them and how. Additionally, a will names an executor. This is the person you are putting in charge of distributing your assets to the right individuals or charities.

In most cases, you’ll be creating what is called a testamentary will, which is signed in the presence of witnesses. This is often considered a good way to protect your decision against challenges from family members and/or business colleagues after you’re gone. While you can write this kind of will yourself, you may want to have it prepared by an attorney who specializes in trusts and estates, to ensure that it complies with your state’s laws. Or look for an online business that customizes its work to your location.

When you are creating a will, you may look into preparing other related documents that are usually part of estate planning. For example, you may be able to add a power of attorney form and a medical directive or living will.

Together, these documents spell out who can handle matters on your behalf if you were to come mentally or physically incapacitated. If you aren’t planning on pursuing estate planning, these are important documents to complete when creating your will. (Even young people have sudden illnesses and accidents, so these forms are an important part of adulthood.)

Many online will templates provide for these additional documents, so that your bases are covered if the worst were to happen. Creating a legal will can cost anywhere from $0 to hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on whether you do it yourself or if you work with an attorney.

Even if you die with a will in place, it’s likely that the document will go through probate — the legal process in which an executor to the will is formally named and assets are distributed to the beneficiaries you have named in your will. Yes, there are nightmare stories about the probate process, but don’t get too stressed about it. In general, if an executor (an individual appointed to administer the last will and testament of a deceased person) is named in your will and your will is legally valid, the probate process can be relatively streamlined.


💡 Quick Tip: We all know it’s good to have a will in place, but who has the time? These days, you can create a complete and customized estate plan online in as little as 15 minutes.

What Is Estate Planning?

Estate planning can be the umbrella term for all end-of-life decision making, but it’s more often used to describe your plan for how you want your property divided when you die and the financial implications of those decisions. It can involve creating the following:

•   Will/trusts to smooth the transfer of assets/property

•   Durable and healthcare power of attorney

•   Beneficiary designations

•   Guardianship designations

Estate planning aims to make sure that your loved ones receive the maximum proceeds possible from your estate.

Often, estate planning is done with the oversight of an attorney, who can provide strategies for how to minimize tax burdens for your beneficiaries when you die.

Recommended: What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

Who Needs an Estate Plan?

When people talk about estate planning, they may be referring to the decision to create a trust. Trusts can be especially beneficial for high-net worth individuals who may be worried about tax implications of their heirs inheriting their belongings. But they also have a role in less wealthy families. If your clan has a beloved lake house that you want to stay in the family, for future generations, a trust might be a possibility to investigate.

These arrangements allow a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries and can help avoid the time-consuming process of probate. Trusts may also be beneficial for people who have dependents in their care, as well as those who may worry about how their beneficiaries will spend the money bequeathed to them.

There are two other scenarios in which a trust can be very helpful:

•   People with a pet who have a specific plan of how they wish the pet to be cared for after their death. (Pets can’t own property, so leaving money to pets in a will can cause a legal headache. This can be sidestepped by creating a trust for Fluffy’s care.)

•   Those who want to minimize ambiguity in who gets what, which could be helpful in the case of people who have had multiple marriages.

The most common type of trust within an estate plan is called a revocable living trust. This may also be called a living trust because, while you are alive, you can name yourself a trustee and have flexibility to make changes. These can often be created online, although an attorney can certainly be involved, guiding the process and answering any questions.

In setting up a trust, you will name a trustee. This is a person in charge of overseeing the trust according to the parameters you state. Unlike a will, where an executor will ensure beneficiaries get the property stated, a trust allows the creator to put guardrails around gifts, and for the trustee to ensure the guardrails are followed.

For example, you can specify in a trust that certain assets do not go to a beneficiary until they reach a certain age or milestone.

Recommended: Does Net Worth Include Home Equity?

Taking the Next Step in Will Writing and Estate Planning

There’s a lot of overlap between “creating a will” and “creating an estate plan,” and that ambiguity can lead to difficulty beginning the process. But creating a legal will, including guardianship documents for minor children, can be a good first step. Also, make sure you have power of attorney forms in place and any advanced directives; these can guide decision-making on your behalf if you were ever mentally or physically incapacitated.

Then, you can have peace of mind and can “ladder up” to creating a more complex plan that encompasses more “what ifs.” Estate planning, with the possibility of trusts and transfers, can complete your end-of-life planning.


💡 Quick Tip: It’s recommended that you update your will every 3-5 years, and after any major life event. With online estate planning, changes can be made in just a few minutes — no attorney required.

The Takeaway

Creating a will and an estate plan are two different ways to address your end of life wishes. A will is a document that says who inherits what and how you want minors, dependents, and even pets cared for. It may have additional documents that spell out your wishes if you become incapacitated.

An estate plan, however, is a more comprehensive way to spell out the allocation of your assets after you die. It typically includes finding ways to make the process run more smoothly, quickly, and with lower tax payments for your beneficiaries. Starting the process now, whether with online templates or by consulting with an attorney, is important. While no one likes to think about worst-case scenarios, the sooner you get the paperwork done, the better protected your loved ones will be.

When you want to make things easier on your loved ones in the future, SoFi can help. We partnered with Trust & Will, the leading online estate planning platform, to give our members 15% off their trust, will, or guardianship. The forms are fast, secure, and easy to use.

Create a complete and customized estate plan in as little as 15 minutes.


Photo credit: iStock/AnnaStills

Coverage and pricing is subject to eligibility and underwriting criteria.
Ladder Insurance Services, LLC (CA license # OK22568; AR license # 3000140372) distributes term life insurance products issued by multiple insurers- for further details see ladderlife.com. All insurance products are governed by the terms set forth in the applicable insurance policy. Each insurer has financial responsibility for its own products.
Ladder, SoFi and SoFi Agency are separate, independent entities and are not responsible for the financial condition, business, or legal obligations of the other, Social Finance. Inc. (SoFi) and Social Finance Life Insurance Agency, LLC (SoFi Agency) do not issue, underwrite insurance or pay claims under Ladder Life™ policies. SoFi is compensated by Ladder for each issued term life policy.
SoFi Agency and its affiliates do not guarantee the services of any insurance company.
All services from Ladder Insurance Services, LLC are their own. Once you reach Ladder, SoFi is not involved and has no control over the products or services involved. The Ladder service is limited to documents and does not provide legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique and using documents provided is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice.


Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Insurance not available in all states.
Experian is a registered service mark of Experian Personal Insurance Agency, Inc.
Social Finance, Inc. ("SoFi") is compensated by Experian for each customer who purchases a policy through Experian from the site.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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How Much Does It Cost to Make a Will?

How Much Does It Cost to Make a Will?

With costs as low as $10, making a will doesn’t have to be expensive, but you may want to spend more to get exactly what you need.

Granted, the prospect of writing a will can feel boring, morbid, and as if it will be a big drain of time and money. While there’s no doubt that thinking about a world without you in it isn’t “fun,” the peace of mind that people can obtain from making a will, the right will, can be invaluable.

Whether you choose to go with an online template that will guide you through the how-to’s of creating a will or work with an attorney, it’s important to know your options. Let’s dive into that now and see how much making a will costs and which approach is best for you.

How Much Does It Cost to Make a Will?

The cost of a will varies from free to thousands of dollars, depending on whether you do it yourself or work with an attorney. Some people with a fairly straightforward situation (basic assets, one child) may find that an online template provides everything they need at a low cost. In general, however, people with high-net-worth or a complex personal situation, such as needing to provide for a disabled family member, may find it advantageous to work with an attorney.

You may wonder if you need a template at all. Can’t you just take pen to paper to share your wishes? In some states, the answer is yes: A handwritten will is legal. But there are good reasons to not write up a will on a piece of notebook paper. Not only can these take longer to go through probate — a legal process that vets the validity of a will — but a template may help make sure all bases are covered and legally valid.

There are templates online that are free, but some that are state-specific and go into greater depth (say, by guiding you through more questions about your situation) may cost from $40 up to over $100.

If you work with an attorney, you may pay $1,000 or more to create a will. But working with an attorney may be beneficial if you have a complex situation. For example, an attorney can help you create a trust, which can be one way to avoid probate and may provide tax advantages for your heirs. They may also have recommendations for the most tax-advantageous way to set up a will and can also answer any questions that may come up as you make the will.

Regardless of how you create a will, it’s also important to ensure that your will is legal in your state. This may mean having the will notarized or witnessed when you sign. It can also be a good idea to make several copies of the will, and let your executor know where the will can be found.

You also may need to update your will. You can do this via a codicil (this is akin to a PS to your will), but in many cases, it may make sense to create an entirely new will to avoid confusion. You may consider updating or redrafting your will whenever a major life event occurs, such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a new child. If you’re working with a lawyer, ask them how they will handle potential changes and how much they will charge.


💡 Quick Tip: We all know it’s good to have a will in place, but who has the time? These days, you can create a complete and customized estate plan online in as little as 15 minutes.

The Cost to Have a Lawyer Write a Will

Having a lawyer write a will may be the most expensive option at $1,000 or more, depending on where you live and the complexity of the will. However, this path can have its benefits.

Creating an Estate Plan

Working with a lawyer can ensure you cover all bases and potentially create an estate plan. This can maximize tax-savings opportunities for your heirs. As part of this, a lawyer can be helpful in setting up a trust. A trust can be a tax-advantageous way to distribute assets upon your death and help avoid the possibly long and winding process of probate.

Negotiating a Large or Complicated Estate

You also may want a lawyer if you have a large or complicated estate, with a variety of assets, which could be investments, real estate, and the like. Also, if you have a complicated family situation, a lawyer can be very helpful in creating a will that addresses these situations. In this case, scenarios include divorce, remarriage, step-children, or complex (possibly contentious) relationships.

Developing End of Life Documents

When drawing up a will, a lawyer also can make sure that you have all end-of-life documents in place. While “will” can be used as a catchall term for end-of-life documents and directives, other important documents can include:

•   A medical power of attorney

•   A living will or advanced healthcare directive

•   Do-not-resuscitate orders

All of the above documents reflect what would happen if you were no longer able to advocate for yourself and needed someone to make medical decisions for you.

Before you work with a lawyer, make sure you’re clear on the fee structure: Will they charge by the hour? How much will it cost to update things in the future? Is there anything you can do on your own to help save money?

Recommended: What Happens If You Die Without a Will?

Cost Of Writing a Will Yourself

Online templates range from free to several hundred dollars, depending on the complexity and the range of documents provided. Online templates can help guide you through itemizing your assets and can be simple to update if necessary. Here are some details to note:

Online Templates Can Offer a Speed Advantage

Online templates may advertise that wills can be completed in 15 minutes or less. This can be true as long as you have relevant information at your fingertips. Prior to beginning a will (either online or with a pro), it can be helpful to itemize assets and discuss guardianship and executor plans with the people you hope to name prior to starting. This will make the process run more smoothly.

Online Templates May Need Witnessing

Once an online template is filled out, it will likely need to be signed and witnessed to be made legal. Keep this in mind: If you are thinking you can complete your will 100% online and don’t need to leave your home, you may be in for a surprise.

Some online services offer attorney services for an additional cost. This can be a hybrid option that allows you to have a lawyer answer any specific questions while doing the majority of the work yourself.

What’s the Difference Between a Trust and a Will?

You may see the terms trust and will used interchangeably. That’s wrong; a trust is not a will! A trust is a customized estate planning tool that can be helpful to heirs in addition to a will. If you hold assets such as real estate or have a positive net worth, a trust may make sense.

A trust can help your heirs:

•   Avoid probate, the legal (and sometimes lengthy) process in which property is distributed

•   Potentially limit tax implication of any gifts or inheritances

Trusts can be complex, but a fairly simple trust can be created through online templates. Having a trust can help ensure that your assets not only go to the people you intend them to go to, but that your heirs are provided for exactly in the way you intended. The time spent making the trust can pay off in peace of mind, both for you right now and for your heirs in the future.


💡 Quick Tip: It’s recommended that you update your will every 3-5 years, and after any major life event. With online estate planning, changes can be made in just a few minutes — no attorney required.

Does a Will Need to be Notarized?

You’ve taken the time, created a will, and printed it out. You’re done, right? Not so fast! A will usually does need to be signed and watched by a witness.

What’s more, while a will does not always need to be notarized to be valid, it may be in you and your beneficiaries’ best interests to do so. When a will is notarized, it is considered “self-proving,” which helps confirm that you had the mental capacity to create the will and were not under any duress. It proves the validity of the document and therefore can help avoid probate. Notarizing a will is typically a fairly minor expense of up to $15.

While it can be tempting to put off the notarization process (we know, it can be a hassle to find a notary nearby), getting it done immediately ensures that there are no loose ends if the worst were to happen unexpectedly. It can also be a good idea to make sure the will is printed out and put in a safe place, like a bank safe, and that your executor knows where to find it.

What Should You Never Put in a Will?

There are some things you want to sidestep when creating a will. Here are some considerations that can make the probate process more difficult.

•   Certain types of property, including property owned jointly, life insurance, or other accounts with a beneficiary already named.

•   Specific funeral or end of life wishes. The will may not be read until weeks or months after death.

•   “Rules” about who gets what. A will is not the place to put limitations on gifts, such as money only being available if someone were to marry or turn a certain age.

•   Providing money to pets. However, you can set up a trust to ensure that a pet is provided for.

•   Provisions for taking care of a dependent beneficiary. These kinds of long-term care needs can also best be set up in a trust.

In short, a will can’t cover all the what-ifs, but in many cases, a trust can do so. If you’re not sure how to appropriately manage your estate, consider consulting with a lawyer.

The Takeaway

Creating a will does not need to be expensive or time-consuming to be valid. While a trust may make sense for complex needs or if you have a positive net worth, having a will drawn up in the short term can cover your bases, ensure guardianship wishes are met if you have kids, and provide peace of mind now and in the future. Whether you spend $10 or over $1,000 creating one, if you have assets and/or dependents, now is a good time to act!

When you want to make things easier on your loved ones in the future, SoFi can help. We partnered with Trust & Will, the leading online estate planning platform, to give our members 15% off their trust, will, or guardianship. The forms are fast, secure, and easy to use.

Create a complete and customized estate plan in as little as 15 minutes.


Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

Insurance not available in all states.
Experian is a registered service mark of Experian Personal Insurance Agency, Inc.
Social Finance, Inc. ("SoFi") is compensated by Experian for each customer who purchases a policy through Experian from the site.

Coverage and pricing is subject to eligibility and underwriting criteria.
Ladder Insurance Services, LLC (CA license # OK22568; AR license # 3000140372) distributes term life insurance products issued by multiple insurers- for further details see ladderlife.com. All insurance products are governed by the terms set forth in the applicable insurance policy. Each insurer has financial responsibility for its own products.
Ladder, SoFi and SoFi Agency are separate, independent entities and are not responsible for the financial condition, business, or legal obligations of the other, Social Finance. Inc. (SoFi) and Social Finance Life Insurance Agency, LLC (SoFi Agency) do not issue, underwrite insurance or pay claims under Ladder Life™ policies. SoFi is compensated by Ladder for each issued term life policy.
SoFi Agency and its affiliates do not guarantee the services of any insurance company.
All services from Ladder Insurance Services, LLC are their own. Once you reach Ladder, SoFi is not involved and has no control over the products or services involved. The Ladder service is limited to documents and does not provide legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique and using documents provided is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice.


Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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What Is Supplemental Life Insurance?

What Is Supplemental Life Insurance?

Supplemental life insurance is typically an additional policy that you can purchase to augment the group life insurance policy obtained via your employer.

These policies can provide extra peace of mind when it comes to protecting your loved ones, but is more insurance always better? You may wonder whether purchasing this kind of policy is a good idea or not worth the added expense. Let’s take a closer look to see whether supplemental life insurance makes sense for your situation.

Understanding Supplemental Life Insurance

Supplemental life insurance is a policy taken out in addition to basic coverage, which might be term or permanent life insurance. You can often purchase a supplemental policy through an employer to augment what they offer as an employee benefit. However, these policies don’t have to be secured through your job. We’ll learn more about that in a minute.

Some of these policies come with a death benefit, a lump sum payment that goes to the beneficiaries you’ve named (the loved ones who will inherit the money). Others may be a different kind of policy; say, one that pays funds that are earmarked to pay for funeral expenses. Depending on the details of your life, these add-ons may be an inexpensive way to boost your protection and sense of security.


💡 Quick Tip: With life insurance, one size does not fit all. Policies can and should be tailored to fit your specific needs.

Do You Need Supplemental Life Insurance?

Deciding whether or not to buy a supplemental policy is a very personal decision. To help figure out the right answer for your situation, it may help to ask yourself and answer a few questions. Let’s consider some of those here.

Does Your Employer Provide Life Insurance?

Because supplemental insurance is meant to enhance the life insurance policies you already have, check to see if your employer offers basic life insurance as a benefit. If so, how much? Many times, employers offering this insurance will provide a multiple of the employee’s current salary. Other times, it’s significantly less — $10,000 to $25,000 worth of coverage is common. Those are figures that many people will find too low to provide the kind of protection they’d like.

If you feel you don’t have enough protection, you may want to look for ways to boost your coverage so that in a worst-case scenario, you know your loved ones will have enough money to cover their expenses. Perhaps your employer offers supplemental policies that will get you to the level of life insurance coverage that you desire. Otherwise, you can also look on the open market for primary or supplemental policies.

Have Your Compared Life Insurance Rates?

If you haven’t compared prices of life insurance rates in a while (or ever), you might want to give it a try. Just because an employer offers life insurance, including supplemental coverage, you may not want to buy it. You may discover that you can get enough life insurance through a standard policy without adding a supplemental one.

You can quickly get quotes by calling an insurance agent or, to save even more time, from a website that provides them from multiple companies. When looking at the quote that gives you the best coverage for the most affordable premiums, would you still need a supplemental policy? The answer may be no. There’s a good deal of competition in the marketplace and great deals to be found.

Recommended: How to Buy Life Insurance in 9 Steps

How Is Your Health?

First, let’s understand that your health rating is a key factor in buying life insurance on the open market. Rates tend to be lower when you are healthier and younger. Health is typically assessed by the insurer asking you questions about your medical status and possibly having you submit to a brief health exam that involves the collection of blood and urine samples.

While plenty of life insurance policies require health exams and/or medical records, many insurers also offer lab-free options that don’t require medical exams (although you’ll almost certainly need to answer health-related questions). These are often the kind employers offer employees. Typically, these policies are for people who fit into certain age groups and other categories in which they’re likely to be healthy. These lab-free policies are often available for up to $1 million.

Now that you know how this works, understand the implications of your health status. If you have an underlying health condition, are a smoker, or have other qualifying factors, you would probably pay more for life insurance if you went shopping on the open market. In these cases, buying a supplemental policy through your job could be a good way to get coverage at a relatively low cost.

Do You Need Portable Coverage?

Before you sign up for a supplemental policy, consider whether it’s portable. “Portability” is your ability to keep certain benefits if you switch your place of employment or leave the workforce entirely — in this case, your life insurance. If you’re thinking about changing jobs or have reason to believe that you may not work at your current employer for much longer, it’s important to know if your life insurance is portable.

How Much Supplemental Life Insurance Should You Buy?

A common recommendation is to carry 10 to 15 times your annual income in life insurance coverage. Your goal is to choose a policy that would replace the income you would have brought in if you weren’t around to provide for your family. So, if you multiply your salary by those numbers and then subtract what you have in your “regular” life insurance policy, that can be a starting point to determine how much supplemental insurance makes sense.

If you make $50,000 a year and multiply by 10 or 12, that’s $500,000 to $600,000 in coverage you want to purchase. (You might want to bump it up a bit to account for inflation.) So, if you have a term life insurance policy for $500,000, you might decide to get a supplemental policy for $200,000.

Now, factor in your outstanding debt. Life insurance payouts can be used to pay them off, including mortgage loans, car loans, student loans, credit cards, and so forth. So, if you have these debts, you can add their outstanding balances up and consider adding those amounts to your life insurance needs. If, for example, these debts total $300,000, you might bump up the supplement policy example above to $500,000.

Recommended: Life Insurance Definitions

Types of Supplemental Life Insurance

We’ve been focusing on one kind of supplemental insurance, a popular option that lets you increase the overall life insurance coverage you own. This kind of policy would pay a lump-sum death benefit to your beneficiaries. If you purchase this, it’s an employee benefit that can increase the amount of coverage that you own (although you may be responsible for part of all of those premiums albeit at a group rate).

But let’s consider some other possibilities that may be offered:

•   Supplemental spouse life insurance. This kind of insurance provides a death benefit if the employee’s spouse dies and may also be called supplemental family life insurance. Employees may also have the option to buy supplemental child life insurance to cover the death of a child or other dependent who qualifies.

•   Accidental death and dismemberment. This provides coverage to your beneficiaries if you are killed or lose physical function in a type of accident that’s covered in the policy. Depending on the kind of work you do or the pastimes you pursue, this may or may not suit your needs. With AD&D insurance, you could receive a benefit, say, if you were to lose your eyesight, your hearing, or limb in an accident. But it won’t provide any benefit if you die due to other medical conditions, which are more likely to occur.

•   Final expenses. These policies pay a small benefit (typically between $5,000 and $35,000) to cover end-of-life expenses, such as funeral and burial costs. Some people like to have this kind of coverage, which means your loved ones wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for these charges.

How Much Coverage Can You Get Through Work?

It’s worthwhile to evaluate what life insurance options are available through your work. Employers may offer lower rates since they get a group insurance rate. Also, it’s also possible that your employer would pay part of your premiums. It’s typically easier to get insured through a group plan. While you may need to answer medical questions, it’s less likely that you’ll need a medical exam for group insurance.

Group plans through your employer, though, are usually not portable. This means that if you leave that employer, the coverage ends and then you’ll need to shop around again — now at an older (although not necessarily old) age and perhaps with new health conditions. Plus, these plans aren’t as customizable as you might get on your own.

How Much Does Supplemental Life Insurance Cost?

If your employer offers this benefit as part of a group policy, the cost may be minimal, especially if the workplace subsidizes the premiums.

Otherwise, it can make sense to get personalized quotes, given that age, gender, health conditions, amount of the policy, term, and more can impact the price. There are online calculators that can help you do the math and see how the numbers add up.


💡 Quick Tip: Term life insurance coverage can range from $100K to $8 million. As your life changes, you can increase or decrease your coverage.

The Takeaway

To recap: What is supplemental life insurance? It’s a policy that enhances a person’s primary life insurance policy. It helps to ensure that they have enough financial benefit to protect their loved ones if they weren’t there to provide for them.

While supplemental policies through your employer can be affordable, they may not deliver the level of coverage you need. Take a close look at your options, and take advantage of the simple online tools that can help you find the kind of policy you need at the right price.

SoFi has partnered with Ladder to offer competitive term life insurance policies that are quick to set up and easy to understand. Apply in just minutes and get an instant decision. As your circumstances change, you can update or cancel your policy with no fees and no hassles.


Explore your life insurance options with SoFi Protect.


Photo credit: iStock/Kemal Yildirim

Coverage and pricing is subject to eligibility and underwriting criteria.
Ladder Insurance Services, LLC (CA license # OK22568; AR license # 3000140372) distributes term life insurance products issued by multiple insurers- for further details see ladderlife.com. All insurance products are governed by the terms set forth in the applicable insurance policy. Each insurer has financial responsibility for its own products.
Ladder, SoFi and SoFi Agency are separate, independent entities and are not responsible for the financial condition, business, or legal obligations of the other, Social Finance. Inc. (SoFi) and Social Finance Life Insurance Agency, LLC (SoFi Agency) do not issue, underwrite insurance or pay claims under Ladder Life™ policies. SoFi is compensated by Ladder for each issued term life policy.
SoFi Agency and its affiliates do not guarantee the services of any insurance company.
All services from Ladder Insurance Services, LLC are their own. Once you reach Ladder, SoFi is not involved and has no control over the products or services involved. The Ladder service is limited to documents and does not provide legal advice. Individual circumstances are unique and using documents provided is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Tips for Avoiding the 529 Withdrawal Penalty

Tips for Avoiding the 529 Withdrawal Penalty

There are typically no withdrawal penalties associated with leaving leftover funds in a 529 plan after college. In fact, 529 plans allow you to withdraw up to $10,000 per year, per student.

But still, the earnings portion of a non-qualified 529 plan distribution can be subject to income tax and a 10% penalty for 529 withdrawal.

Keep reading to learn more about what a 529 plan withdrawal penalty is, which 529 withdrawal penalty exceptions exist, and a few other college financing options for students and parents without 529 plans.

What Is a 529 Plan?

A 529 plan is a college savings investment account that comes with unique tax benefits if it’s used to pay for qualified education expenses. It can help cover the costs of a beneficiary attending college, K-12 school, an apprenticeship program, or even to pay back student loans.

When someone uses a 529 plan to save up for college, the funds generally have little impact on their ability to receive financial aid.

In addition, there are several other benefits to using a 529 plan:

•   Funds in the account are invested and grow over time.

•   Depending on the type of 529 plan, beneficiaries can prepay for college in advance to lock in current tuition prices before they go up.

•   529 college savings accounts are listed as assets when the beneficiary applies for Federal Student Aid.

•   Certain 529 plans let beneficiaries deduct their contributions on their state income taxes.

•   529 plan contributions can be considered “completed gifts” to the beneficiary, allowing families to use them as estate planning vehicles. For 2023, the annual gift tax exclusion can be applied up to $17,000 per donor, per beneficiary and in 2022 the annual exclusion was $16,000.

What Are Qualified 529 Plan Distributions?

Let’s start with the education expenses that are considered qualified within a 529 plan:

•   Tuition and associated fees

•   Room and board (if the student is enrolled at least half-time)

•   Books

•   Technological equipment and computers

•   Equipment for special needs

•   Student loan payments

•   Up to $10,000 per year, per beneficiary in eligible K-12 expenses

•   Apprenticeship program tuition and fees

•   Up to $10,000 in K-12 tuition expenses (per year, per beneficiary)

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What Are Non-Qualified 529 Plan Distributions?

Non-qualified 529 plan distributions describe any portion of a plan withdrawal in which the funds were not used to pay for qualified education expenses like the ones listed above.

As such, here are some of the education expenses that are considered non-qualified:

•   Costs associated with transportation

•   Costs associated with college application and testing

•   Costs associated with extracurricular activities

•   Health insurance costs

•   Any cost that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of the qualified education expenses listed above

Are Distributions Taxable?

Generally, contributions can be withdrawn tax-free because taxes are paid at the time of contribution. The earnings portion (the money earned from investments) of a non-qualified 529 program plan distribution could be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty on top of any associated income taxes that may be due. It would be taxable to whomever received the payment, whether that’s the account owner or the designated beneficiary.

If the non-qualified distribution is not paid out to either the designated beneficiary or the eligible educational institution, it’s assumed to have been given to the account owner who will be subject to the 10% withdrawal penalty and tax.

What Is a 529 Early Withdrawal Penalty?

A 529 early withdrawal penalty occurs when investment gains are withdrawn from a 529 account before the beneficiary incurs any qualifying expenses, or if they withdraw funds for any of the non-qualified reasons listed above.

When this happens, the IRS can assess a steep early withdrawal penalty of 10%.

In California, an extra 2.5% state income tax penalty is imposed on the earnings portion of non-qualified 529 plan distributions.

Can I Make a Withdrawal From 529 Without Penalty?

In certain cases, it’s possible to execute a withdrawal from 529 without penalty, such as if:

•   A plan beneficiary passes away, becomes disabled or decides to attend a U.S. Military Academy.

•   A family must pay income tax on a portion of their 529 withdrawal due to their claiming the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) or the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC).

•   A plan beneficiary receives certain other types of educational assistance, such as a scholarship exception.

529 Withdrawal Penalty Exceptions

Here are a couple of circumstances in which a 529 withdrawal penalty may not apply to a non-qualified distribution.

Scholarship

It may come as a surprise to learn that the 10% 529 early withdrawal penalty doesn’t apply when a beneficiary no longer needs to use their 529 funds because they received a scholarship.

This particular 529 withdrawal penalty exception allows funds to be withdrawn from the 529 plan without penalty up to the amount of the scholarship itself.

While this is one way to avoid a penalty for 529 withdrawal, account owners will still owe taxes on the earnings after the initiation of the withdrawal if they are used on non-qualified expenses.

Death or Disability of Account Beneficiary

If the 529 account beneficiary passes away, the withdrawal fees are generally waived.

The additional fee is also generally waived in the event that the designated beneficiary becomes disabled. According to the IRS, someone is considered disabled if they are able to prove that they are unable to participate in any significant gainful activity due to a physical or mental condition.

Recommended: Student Loan Disability Discharge Eligibility

Beneficiary Enrolls in a US Service Academy

If the designated beneficiary enrolls in a U.S. service academy, such as the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, the withdrawal fee may be waived. Note that the exception to the withdrawal fee only applies so long as the distribution amount does not exceed the cost of attendance as defined by the IRS.

Time Limit

There’s a decent amount of debate around the timing of a 529 plan distribution when it’s based on a scholarship. There are no clear instructions from Congress or the IRS, which means tax professionals and other financial experts may vary in their guidance. If you have specific questions, consider consulting with a tax professional who can provide a personalized recommendation.

What if My Child Doesn’t Go to College?

If you’re a parent who’s saving for your child’s college tuition and they don’t decide to go to college, there are certain specifications and limitations around what else the 529 funds can be used for.

For example, in some states, 529 funds can be used to cover K-12 expenses or professional schools.

That said, if the beneficiary decides to take a gap year to travel or join the armed forces, the funds can’t be withdrawn for personal use by the parents for something like a major renovation.

Still, there are a few ways to take advantage of 529 savings when the intended dependent doesn’t want to attend a college or university:

Changing the Beneficiary

In instances where the account owner has more than one dependent, they may be able to change the beneficiary of the existing 529 plan from one child to another. All they need to do is fill out the associated paperwork, which can typically be found on the 529 plan provider’s website, or give them a call and have them send it in the mail.

Apprenticeships

In 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act expanded the scope of qualified educational expenses for 529 plans to include student loan repayment and registered apprenticeships.

If an apprenticeship is registered and certified with the U.S. Secretary of Labor , it is considered a qualified higher education expense and, as such, associated program fees, supplies, books, and equipment may be considered qualified higher education expenses as well.

Recommended: What Is an Apprenticeship? Do They Pay? Pros & Cons

Repay Student Loans

As briefly mentioned above, student loan repayment is now included as a qualified education expense for 529 plans. Under the SECURE Act, it is possible to use a lifetime maximum of $10,000 from a 529 plan to pay down student loan debt. This money can be used to repay student loan debt that belongs to the 529 plan account holder, their spouse, children, or grandchildren.

Other College Financing Options

If you or a dependent missed the boat on setting aside funds in a 529 college savings plan, there are still plenty of options to secure financial support.

If you’re looking for another way to pay for your child’s college education, you might consider:

•   Federal student loans. There are many types of federal student loans funded by the federal government and, in order to qualify, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form every year you want to receive federal student loans. Federal loans offer an array of flexible payment options, the ability to earn student loan forgiveness, and the option to defer payments or put the loan into forbearance.

•   Parent Plus loans. A Parent Plus Loan is a federally funded student loan that can be taken out by parents to help their undergraduate dependents pay for college. There are no annual or lifetime borrowing limits and, with the Parent Plus Loan Forgiveness Program, borrowers are eligible for an income-contingent repayment plan or relief from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. There is no federal program that allows for parents to transfer a parent plus loan to the student.

•   Private student loans. A private loan for students can help cover the cost of a college education based on the borrower’s credit score and can be obtained from a variety of private lenders.

When you opt for a private student loan with SoFi, you can check your rate instantly, apply in minutes, and there are no hidden fees. While private student loans can help fill funding gaps for students who are paying for college, they don’t always offer the same borrower benefits or protections as federal student loans, such as the option to pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness or deferment options. For this reason, they are generally borrowed only after all sources of financing have been thoroughly reviewed.

Recommended: A Guide to Unclaimed Scholarships and Grants

The Takeaway

A 529 plan is a college savings investment account that comes with unique tax benefits if it’s used to pay for qualified education expenses. Qualified expenses include tuition, fees, school supplies, and room and board. Non-qualified expenses include health insurance, extra-curricular activities, and fees for applications and testing — to name a few.

When someone withdraws funds from their 529 plan for non-qualified expenses, they are subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty. In some cases, though, there are 529 withdrawal penalty exceptions, including when a plan beneficiary passes away, claims a specific tax credit, or receives a scholarship.

In cases where a dependent decides not to go to college, 529 plan account owners have the option to change the plan beneficiary to another dependent, use the funds for a dependent’s apprenticeship, or cover K-12 expenses.

Other college financing options include federal student loans, Parent Plus Loans, and private student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.


Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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How to Study for the LSATs

No doubt, law school is a major undertaking requiring a lot of hard work as you train for a challenging and rewarding career. And a key part of getting accepted into law school can be scoring well on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). What’s more, a high LSAT score can potentially increase a student’s scholarship and other funding opportunities to pay for law school.

But getting an LSAT score you’re proud of can take some planning and preparation. To help with that, this guide will break down how to study for the LSATs. In addition, you’ll learn some helpful study tips, test-taking strategies, and important dates to remember.

What Is the LSAT?

The LSAT is a standardized test that many law schools require. It is considered to be a good predictor of how well a student will perform in law school.

The test contains four sections, and test takers typically have about three hours to complete it. The LSAT score range goes from 120 to 180, with the average score currently being approximately 152.



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What Does the LSAT Cover?

The LSAT is administered in two distinct sections. One section is a multiple choice exam that is divided into categories including logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and reading comprehension.

There is also a writing section that is administered separately from the multiple choice portion of the LSAT. Test takers are allotted 35 minutes for each of the four sections required for the exam, and there’s a 10-minute break between sections two and three. These sections are:

•   Logical reasoning, 24 – 26 questions

•   Logic games (aka analytical reasoning), 22 – 24 questions

•   Reading comprehension, 26 – 28 questions

•   Experimental section (typically used to develop questions for future LSATs), 22 – 28 questions

•   Writing. This section is administered separately from the multiple choice portion of the exam, but test takers will still be limited to 35 minutes.

The writing section gives test takers a prompt to articulate a stance on. The written section is available to test takers eight days prior to their testing date.

It can be taken at any time during this testing window and is proctored online using secure software. Although this section is not used to calculate the score, it is still sent to law schools and used to some degree for admissions.

The experimental portion of the exam is also unscored. This section is used internally for measuring the difficulty and effectiveness of LSAT questions. However, test takers will not be aware of which section is experimental.

The LSAT can be taken in person or remotely via a proctored online portal.

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What Is a Good Score on the LSAT?

As mentioned above, the LSAT scoring system ranges from 120 to 180, with a current average of 152.

What qualifies as a good score will vary depending on your outlook and how competitive the law schools are that you plan on applying to. For instance, if you want to attend one of the top-tier law schools in America (that is, one of the top five programs), you will likely need at least a 170 on the LSAT.


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How Do I Prepare for the LSAT?

Preparing for the LSAT can involve time and energy. There are a variety of methods. Some people choose just one and stick with it. Others combine a couple of techniques. There’s not one best way to study for the LSAT; it’s a personal choice.

Preparing for the LSAT has become a full-fledged industry, with a slew of specialized tutors, study guides, and courses offering their services. Among the options:

•   LSAT preptests

•   LSAT prep books

•   Test prep companies and tutoring

•   Official LSAT Prep on Khan Academy

•   Study groups with other students/prospective test takers (such as prelaw students at your college).

Read on to learn more about a couple of the methods.

Taking Official LSAT Prep Tests

How to study for the LSAT? Get organized before you start planning your applications for postgrad education. One popular option to consider is signing up for the LSAT Prep® on LSAC’s LawHub.

LSAC stands for the Law School Admission Council, a nonprofit that supports access, equity, and fairness in law school admissions.

By signing up, you can get access to four full practice tests. If you want further practice, you can purchase a service known as LawHub Advantage. This provides one year of access to more than 75 full Official LSAT PrepTests® for $115.

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Tailoring a Study Plan To Your Needs and Goals

Following your first pretest, you now have a starting point to build from to reach your target score. In some cases, you may excel in one section and struggle in another.

Does reading comprehension have you stumped? As part of your LSAT preparation, brushing up on vocabulary and dedicating more time to related practice questions could be a better use of your time if you already have a knack for logic games.

If your GPA is on the lower end of the spectrum, you might want to set a goal for scoring higher than a law school’s median LSAT score to help improve your candidacy.

As noted above, you have an array of options in terms of how to prepare for the LSAT. For some prospective test-takers, paying a tutor or for a prep class can help keep them accountable. For others, the social aspect of joining a study group at their college can be the right fit. And still others may prefer online learning as they work towards law school admission.

Making a LSAT Study Schedule That Works For You

The amount of time you plan to study for the LSAT may be influenced by how much you’d like to improve your score, based on the pretest.

•   A general bare minimum baseline is around 120 hours. Those that are interested in a significant score boost or other factors may require more time.

•   Kaplan Test Prep generally recommends that students spend between 150 and 300 hours, spread out in 20 to 25 hour weekly increments, preparing and studying for the LSAT.

•   Many LSAT takers are also juggling other responsibilities, like finishing an undergraduate degree, working, and taking care of family.

•   Consider all of your responsibilities and demands on your time as you build your study schedule. The goal is to set a schedule that will help you prepare effectively and prevent burnout.

•   Bridging a narrower gap between your initial score and target score may require less study time to achieve, but individuals with higher LSAT scores may be more likely to secure scholarships to help pay for school.

•   If you’re still in undergrad, think about taking an elective course that is geared towards the LSAT, such as logic, to simultaneously help stay on track for graduation and preparing for the LSAT.

Simulating Actual LSAT Testing Conditions

While day-to-day studying can be broken down into shorter segments to work on logic games, vocabulary, and mastering concepts, it may be helpful to take several LSAT sample tests in full.

Creating realistic testing conditions is as simple as following the 35-minute time limit per section, sitting at a desk, and getting up on a Saturday morning to take it. Not only could this approach provide a more accurate LSAT score sampling, but also build endurance and time management skills in a test environment.

In between practice tests, allowing time for review and doing more practice problems can also help gauge growth and identify which section needs the most improvement.

LSAT Test-Taking Tips

As much as the LSAT is about mastering logic and thinking analytically, test takers can also benefit from an in-depth understanding of the LSAT itself. On top of finding and adopting the best ideas for how to prepare for the LSAT, these test-taking tips could be helpful.

Answering Every Question

Unlike the SAT, the LSAT does not deduct points for incorrect answers. That’s right: You’re not penalized for getting something wrong. Since leaving questions blank could potentially result in losing out on coveted points, it may be worth allotting the last 30 seconds of the section to fill in an answer bubble for remaining questions.

If you’re stumped by a difficult question, you might benefit from entering in your best guess and moving on to dedicate time and effort to questions you feel more confident answering.

Keep in mind that once a section ends, you are not permitted to go back and answer questions or correct responses.

Using Process of Elimination

Multiple-choice questions on the LSAT can contain similar answers that can trip up test takers, especially when rushing.

Given the test’s emphasis on logic and analytical thinking, employing a process of elimination strategy can help get rid of flawed answers one by one and avoid choosing a well-crafted, misleading answer.

Relax… It’s Okay to Retake the LSAT

Given the importance the LSAT plays in law school acceptance, it may come as no surprise that many people retake the test.

One benchmark study found that, at a given test administration, about 26% were second-time test takers. Another finding was that second-timers in a given year typically raise their score by two or three points. (Keep in mind that law school admission committees will likely receive all of your test scores.)

If you’re worried about your nerves getting the best of you, planning to take the LSAT well-ahead of admission deadlines could help alleviate some stress since you’ll have another chance or two to retest if needed.

There are limits to the number of times the LSAT can be taken within certain timeframes, including five times since 2018 and seven tests in a lifetime. It’s possible to cancel test scores if you are unhappy with how you did, but canceled scores will count towards the totals mentioned here.

Important LSAT Dates

When figuring out how to start studying for the LSAT, it might be helpful to map out a timeline of test dates and law school admission schedules. There are multiple options and locations for testing dates, as well as law school application deadlines to be aware of.

If you’re hoping to pursue your J.D. within a year or two, it may be easier to work backwards from when you actually need to apply to law school. Deadlines for law school applications can vary, with many regular-decision dates falling between February and March and early-decision ones in November or December.

Many experts recommend taking the LSAT in June so there’s time to retake it in the fall, if needed. Scores are generally sent three weeks after the exam on a pre-specified release date. The current schedule of 2024 test dates runs from January through June; for updates, visit LSAC’s site.

Paying for Law School

Education is an investment — both in time and money. Typically, law school spans three full-time academic years, and the rigorous schedule can make it challenging to work outside of summer internships. Here’s some important information about paying for law school:

•   While the payoff can be considerable for legal professionals, the upfront cost can be a heavy lift. When thinking about how to pay for law school, know this: Using the most recent data, the average total cost of law school is $220,335, according to the Education Data Initiative. The average in-state tuition for public universities was $9,610, while the average for private universities reached $53,034.

•   When law school scholarships and financial aid are not enough, students can take out federal or private student loans to help pay the difference for law school. Coming up with a plan to pay for law school early could help put you on track to tackling law school debt and focusing on your budding law career.

•   Students or graduates still paying for their law school (and potentially undergraduate) student loans could opt to refinance and combine payment under one loan. This may make payments simpler and/or more affordable, but it’s important to note that if you refinance for an extended term, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan. In addition, refinancing federal student loans means forfeiting federal borrower benefits and protections, so it won’t be the right choice for everyone.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.



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Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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