I am considering starting an account to help fund my girlfriend's niece's education. I am looking at contributing a small amount each month. I would also like to maintain control of the money and be able to withdraw it (for my own use) in case of emergency, or in case she doesn't need the money or decides not to go to college.
The purpose of this question is to compare using a 529 vs a Roth IRA as this savings vehicle, although I am open to other vehicles as well. Note that the Roth would NOT be considered retirement savings, I have a 401k as well.
One advantage of not using a 529 is that if the niece goes to a private high school, I couldn't use 529 money for it, but I could use Roth money.
One advantage of a 529 is that I can use all of it (including earnings) for qualified expenses tax-free, but if I wanted to withdraw earnings from the Roth I would have to pay a penalty (right)?
Assuming two endgames:
1) Niece goes to college and uses all the money 2) Niece doesn't go to college, or I need the money myself
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a 529 vs a Roth vs (any other option that I may not be considering)? And which one might you recommend?