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My feeling is that one should only invest in a 529 plan if all retirement tax shelter limits are reached?

I would not agree with "all".

A couple can potentially have 35K they're putting into a 401k.
Plus their employer can potentially be putting in money, up to a combined limit (employer+employee) of $51K

Add in $11k for IRA contributions.


That's $46K that the couple has direct control over contributions. And potentially up to $113K that could be going into retirement accounts.

If a couple calculates that they can fund their retirement with $30K, and they want to put $5K or $10K into a 529, I think that's a quite reasonable plan.
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