Parents Set to Embrace Gifting to Higher Education 529 Savings Plans, College Savings Foundation Finds

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Recent survey of parents says 46% would ask for 529 gifting contributions at holiday and other major events

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Vivian Tsai, Chair of College Savings Foundation

As the holiday season approaches, the convenience of online gifting programs will help families engage their friends and networks in setting and achieving education and career goals for their children. -- CSF Chair Vivian Tsai

As families look for gift ideas this holiday season, the College Savings Foundation (CSF) has released its annual list of 529 higher education gifting programs to 529 accounts offered by its members that span online portals, e-gift cards and registries, crowdfunding apps and cash-back programs. These offerings are supported by CSF’s recent research showing that families are using, planning for and willing to ask for higher education savings gifts for their children via the wide array creative digital gifting platforms available.

Nearly half – 46% – of all parents say they will ask for contributions to 529 higher education plans as gifts for their children for holiday or other major events, according to the national nonprofit’s recent State of Higher Education survey of 1,000 parents across the country. This includes 22% planning to ask family and friends to make a contribution to a 529 plan instead of a material gift, and another 24% who say they will do so now that they know it is possible.

Nearly one-third (29%) of all parents surveyed are using 529 gifting tools, to include 14% of all parents using 529 college savings gift registries; 9% using online gifting tools, and 6% using e-gift cards or gift certificates, the survey found.

Additionally, families are knowledgeable about these options and are willing to learn more. 44% of respondents know that grandparents, family members and friends can contribute to a 529, are already doing that and or are planning to do so. Another 45% said they didn’t know they could open a 529 plan, but will look into it.

“As the holiday season approaches, the convenience of online gifting programs will help families engage their friends and networks in setting and achieving education and career goals for their children. Long after that plastic toy from the holidays is broken, higher education savings gifts teach children about the value of long-term goals and the satisfaction of achieving them,” said CSF Chair Vivian Tsai.

Examples of gifting programs that have grown in the past year:

  • Virginia529 saw significant increases in a variety of ways that families are using its gifting programs. It had a 120% increase in dollars contributed in 2022 over last year. The average size of the gifts increased by 75%, to $243. The plan also had a 97% increase in unique gift purchasers. The vast majority of its gifting transactions occur in the holiday season.
  • ScholarShare 529, California’s official college savings plan, participates in Ugift® and has experienced a 33% increase in the number of e-gift payments made year-to-date when compared to the same time last year.
  • Washington College Savings Plans (WA529), which includes DreamAhead College Investment Plan and the state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program, has seen the latter increase 21% year over year for the period ending Q3 2022. This continues GET’s consistent growth pattern every year since 2018. Q3 2022 gift contributions are up 24% from the same quarter 2021. Total gift contributions year-to-date (2022) are up 15% over the same period last year (2021).

This continues a trend reported by some members in 529 gifting contributions from 2020 to 2021:

  • Utah’s my529 gifting program has grown in dollar amounts by 67% Year Over Year, with nearly 20% of all gifting occurring in December, and an additional 10% of the gifting in January.
  • Spryng, the online gifting platform for Franklin Templeton 529 College Savings Plan and NJBEST account holders, has seen an increase of approximately 28% in gift contributions from 2020 to 2021, with the higher number of gifts and increase in gift amounts occurring between October through December.

Many programs enable parents to offer a secure link to a child’s 529 education savings program in an e-birthday invitation, social media site or email.

See a list of gifting plans and details at https://www.collegesavingsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Member-Gifting-2023.pdf
Parents can learn more about 529 plans as well as how to open a 529 at https://www.collegesavingsfoundation.org/open-a-529/

CSF members have implemented numerous ways to make gifting easier:

  • Alaska 529 and T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan allow account holders to access the GoTuition® online gifting portal, which makes it easy to ask friends and family for contributions to your child’s college savings plan via email or social media in lieu of traditional gifts for celebrations such as graduations, holidays, and birthdays. GoTuition is a trademark of T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.
  • Backer (backer.com) is a fintech platform that makes it easy for American families to save together for future education costs. Backer has reached over 180,000 Americans, helping them avoid more than $500 million in future student debt, and features modern payment methods such as credit and debit cards, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.
  • CollegeBound 529 offered by Invesco for Rhode Island, enables family and friends to contribute to a child's CollegeBound 529 account using a Ugift® code specific to the account’s beneficiary at the Ugift 529.com site.
  • Indiana’s CollegeChoice 529 Direct and Advisor Savings Plans make gifting easy with Ugift®. Account owners share a unique gifting code that allows friends and family to make one-time or recurring contributions for holidays and special occasions.
  • College Savings Bank, a Division of NexBank, and CollegeChoice CD 529 Savings Plan, offer family and friends the option of making a deposit online.
  • Edvest, Wisconsin’s College Saving Plan, allows family and friends to contribute to a child’s Edvest 529 account using the Ugift® platform. Account owners can easily share a beneficiary’s Ugift code via email template, text message, social media, or printed/digital party invitations. Gift givers can even download a gift certificate from the Edvest website to symbolize the contribution. It has seen a 4.5% average increase year over year in its gifting program.
  • Fidelity-managed gifting programs include UNIQUE College Investing Plan; MEFA U. Fund College Investing Plan; AZ529 Arizona’s Education Savings Plan; DE529 Delaware Education Investing Plan, and The Connecticut Higher Education Trust (CHET) 529 College Savings Program. For the first three quarters of 2022, the online contribution growth was 6%, compared to the first three quarters of 2021. Families can set up a dashboard at https://www.fidelity.com/529-plans/college-gifting, which includes a personalized page where family and friends can visit to give a gift to your 529.
  • Franklin Templeton: Spryng is a crowdfunding platform where a parent or account holder can send out invitations to contribute via email or social media – along with a personal story about the beneficiary. Contributors can also download a gift announcement to share their gifting news to the family. Spryng is available for Franklin Templeton 529 College Savings Plan and NJBEST account holders. After the 529 account has been established, account owners can create a Spryng profile through their online account access. Once the profile is established, a unique URL for gifting profile can be shared with friends and family.
  • Gift of College: Beyond offering a first-of-its-kind gift card which is redeemable into most any 529 plan and student loan account and available online at giftofcollege.com, Walmart.com and in-store at retailers such as CVS, Gift of College is available in many workplaces as well. Gift of College has seen a growing number of employers offering gift cards to employees to welcome new babies and for a wide range of work milestones as a financial wellness benefit.
  • Iowa IAdvisor 529 program is a gifting program launched by Voya.
  • Kansas’s Learning Quest® 529 Education Savings Program and Schwab 529 Education Plan offer gifting options through Ugift®.
  • The Maryland College Investment Plan, managed by T. Rowe Price, allows account holders to access the GoTuition® online gifting portal, which makes it easy to ask friends and family for contributions to your child’s college savings plan via email or social media in lieu of traditional gifts for celebrations such as graduations, holidays, and birthdays. The Maryland Prepaid College Trust gift contributions are sent by mail using a Gift Contribution Slip. GoTuition is a trademark of T. Rowe Price Group, Inc.
  • MEFA U. Fund College Investing Plan offers an instructional podcast (https://lnk.to/CollegeGifting), as well as blogs to walk consumers through setting up a college gifting dashboard in four easy steps (https://www.mefa.org/blog/how-to-set-up-online-529-gifting-in-4-easy-steps), and to help families think about how to ask family and friends to give the gift of college savings (https://www.mefa.org/blog/a-pinterest-worthy-childrens-gift-idea). It has seen a 6% contribution growth for the first three quarters of 2022, compared to the first three quarters of 2021, and typically sees a spike in contributions during the holidays.
  • Michigan Education Savings Program® (MESP) and the MI529 Advisor Plan, managed by TIAA/Nuveen, offers Ugift® and downloadable gift certificates.
  • Minnesota 529 College Savings Plan: This gifting program allows friends and family to use a Ugift® code at any time to easily make gift contributions at Ugift529.com. Additionally, parents can share the Ugift code using Ugift’s email, Facebook, Twitter, or printed party invitation inclusions.
  • Nebraska’s NEST 529 Direct and Advisor College Savings Plans offer GiftED in which the account owner can send out online GiftED invitations for holidays, birthdays or other special occasions. Contributors can contribute online or mail their contributions in directly and download gift cards and certificates to notify the beneficiary. The GiftED platform provides the gift history to the account owner online including the date and amount of any contributions as well as the contributor’s name. Contributions made through GiftED are received year-round. There is increased activity during the holiday season (December/January) as well as a slight uptick around tax-time (April).
  • Ohio's 529 Plan, the CollegeAdvantage Direct Plan, offers a variety of resources for grandparents and others to open or add to a 529 plan. New for 2022, Ohio’s 529 Plan offers 529 Gift Central, a one-stop resource for gifting with Ugift®, greeting cards for holidays, birthdays and other special occasions, and other content specifically for grandparents.
  • Oklahoma 529 College Saving Plan: This gifting program allows friends and family to use a Ugift® code at any time to easily make gift contributions at Ugift529.com. Additionally, parents can share the Ugift code using Ugift’s email, Facebook, Twitter, or printed party invitation inclusions.
  • Private College 529 Plan allows families to encourage gifting through a secure member portal. Parents can prompt family and friends to contribute directly by navigating to the Private College 529 Plan gifting page from its website, with links to hundreds of colleges and universities.
  • Scholars Choice Education Savings Plan® (Colorado – home state – available nationwide), managed by TIAA/Nuveen, offers Ugift®, the free crowdfunding/gifting service that invites family and friends to celebrate milestones with gift contributions to the Scholars Choice 529 accounts. Gift givers can manage multiple gift contributions and gifting requests can also be posted on social media.
  • ScholarShare 529, California’s official college savings plan, participates in Ugift® which allows account holders to establish a gifting portal profile and share it with friends and family by email or social media.
  • Sootchy, Inc is a state-of-the-art, AI-driven platform that leverages crowdfunding through the use of My Circle and My Events to help ease the difficulties families face when saving for college or higher education. Families can download the Sootchy app in the Apple App and Google Play stores for the ability to save for their child's higher education savings and or the ability to save for their child's private school tuition.
  • Texas College Savings Plan, Lonestar529 Plan, and Texas Tuition Promise Fund managed by Orion offer online downloadable gift coupons, and notify families of the gift.
  • New Mexico’s The Education Plan® and ScholarsEdge® offer online access to gifting through Ugift® which provides a unique gift code to account owners to share with friends and family to invite them to give a gift contribution at any time through a one-time or recurring contribution. There is a gifting section on the website with downloadable gift coupons for holidays or special occasions as well as suggestions for how parents can broach the conversation with others about gift contributions to a 529 plan and a short video about how to accept gifts into your 529 account. The ReadySave 529 app also makes it easy to invite friends and family to help give savings a boost.
  • Upromise welcomes families to join to get the most out of their holiday shopping. Upromise offers free cash back rewards on all their holiday shopping, dining and grocery shopping. They can get up to $30 in bonus rewards when they open a new Upromise account and link it to their 529 plan account. Rewards are automatically transferred as contributions in the designated 529 plan when they reach $50. Upromise members are expected to redeem over $30 million in rewards to 529 plans this year alone. Over the past twenty years, Upromise members have earned over $1.1 billion in free cash back college savings rewards in the program.
  • Utah’s my529 gifting program links friends and family to a personal gift page where they can contribute with a unique gifting code shareable on social media. The giver goes to gift.my529.org and enters the code. They can also download a certificate to notify the receiver of the contribution.
  • Virginia529 family and friends can access a Gift Center for digital gift cards, get co-branded gift cards available at Walmart.com or participating CVS locations, or download gift certificates for a variety of occasions from its website. Non-account holding gift givers can contribute through a secure ID that allows for social sharing.
  • Washington College Savings Plans (WA529) offer family and friends various gifting options, including online, gift certificates or using E-pay. Washington’s DreamAhead College Investment Plan enables account owners to create a gifting page for their student with a unique link that makes it easy to share on social networks and invite family and friends to contribute. The state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition program (GET) offers multiple online ways to gift, along with downloadable certificates announcing the gift.
  • Wisconsin Tomorrow’s Scholar program, a new gifting program launched by Voya.

The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals. http://www.collegesavingsfoundation.org

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Lynthia Romney

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