Real beneficiaries of 529 tax? The debate is on

New 529 plan a mixed bag

President Barack Obama's plan to tax 529 college savings account withdrawals will largely benefit low-to-middle income families trying to pay for their kids' education, according to Vice President Joe Biden's former chief economist.

Jared Bernstein said in an interview with CNBC's "Power Lunch" on Monday the president's proposed tax will help low- to middle-income families by taking away a tax cut from people who do not need it and helping families that do.

"I have two [529 savings accounts] and I love them, so this is going to hit me," he said. "My kids will go to the best college they can get into regardless of the 529 and many people in upper-income classes can say that."

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Nevertheless, others believe Obama's plan will hurt the middle class rather than help it. "I was both surprised and disappointed by [the president's announcement]," said Joe Hurley, CEO of, a 529 account planning site. "We have millions of working families using these 529 plans to save for college and it offers a way for mostly middle-income families to invest tax-deferred and mostly tax-free to keep up with college tuition."

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Obama presented his 529 tax plan during his last State of the Union address. The plan consists of raising $1 billion over 10 years by taxing capital gains realized in withdrawals from 529 savings accounts. According to surveys cited by the White House, 70 percent of 529 account assets are held by families earning over $200,000 per year.

On "Power Lunch," Hurley said this tax will deter people from using 529 plans. "Taxing 529 plans won't pay for any other initiative because people will no longer be using 529 plans," he said. "You can't raise revenue when you don't have any contributions going into these plans."

The plan faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Congress.

—CNBC's John Harwood contributed to this report.