A 529 plan is an education savings plan operated by a state or an educational institution and designed to help families set aside funds for college. It is named after Section 529 of the internal revenue code, which authorized these types of tax-advantaged savings plans in 1996. Earnings on 529 plans are tax-free if used for qualified higher education expenses. (Unqualified withdrawals may be taxable as ordinary income and subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.) The Pension Protection Act of 2006 made the tax-free character of 529s a permanent part of federal law.