CSF Type: Articles

Kids and Money: Financial gifts that last a lifetime

Steve Rosen directed his readers to CSF for our list of members’ variety of online gifting tools, crowdfunding platforms, e-gift cards, and downloadable gift certificates. He cited California’s ScholarShare529 as an example by allowing account holders to establish a gifting portal profile and share it with family and friends by email or social media.

CSF Chair, Vivian Tsai, interview with Ellenbecker Investment Group Wealth Advisors

Vivian Tsai, CSF Chair, is interviewed on WISN AM1130 by the Ellenbecker Investment Group in a wide ranging discussion of how COVID-19 has changed high school students’ higher education and career choices, how higher education may change with online learning, and the enduring importance of saving in 529s.

Here is the link to the actual interview:

Vivian Tsai tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette how COVID has affected the higher ed plans and finances for High School students across the country.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

High school graduates are changing their college plans because of COVID-19

Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
JUN 30, 2020
6:01 AM
Many high school students who were thrilled to get accepted to the colleges and universities of their choice earlier this year will need to change their plans and either choose a less costly option for higher education or skip this year altogether due to financial stress on their families brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

Results of an annual survey by the Washington, D.C.-based College Savings Foundation found the economic damage to families who have been laid off or forced to deplete their savings during the pandemic is altering future higher education plans for many.

“The COVID-19 health crisis is causing many young people to change and adapt their plans; but we are heartened to learn that they continue to save, which will provide some stability in this period in their lives,” said Vivian Tsai, chair of the College Savings Foundation, a national nonprofit umbrella organization for 529 college savings plans, which are tax-advantaged investment accounts designed to encourage families to save for college.

Contributions to 529 plans are allowed to grow tax-deferred. Distributions from the accounts are not taxed if used to pay expenses for K-12 public, private and religious school expenses or higher education costs.

The foundation is a trade group for 529 plan program managers, state sponsors and financial services firms that manage such accounts. The nonprofit reports there are 14.5 million individual 529 plan accounts in the U.S. with a total of $371 billion in assets that families have set aside.

The financial pressure students are faced with showed up in a number of ways in the foundation’s recent survey of 1,024 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors.

More than a third — or 37% — said their post-high school plans will be readjusted to either attend community college to save on costs or take a gap year to get back on track financially. Prior to COVID-19, 43% of those surveyed planned on going to public college; 25% to community college; and 9% to technical college and career education.
Exactly one-third of all the students — 33% — said their family finances have suffered since the pandemic took effect, with more than half — 55% — saying a parent was laid off and will have less money saved for college; and 41% expecting to take on more student loan debt than they had planned.

For the past 11 years, the annual survey of high school students has always focused on asking young people how they intend to pay for college and how much they have saved.

In light of the pandemic, the organization created a new survey that sought information about how COVID-19 has affected their lives, their college plans, their college financing and even their career choice if they are able to look that far out.

One in five high school students said the pandemic has caused them to change their career plans. 31% will change their course of study to a health services field; 29% will consider fields where telework is a viable option and layoffs are less likely; 18% will change their course of study to a public safety field; and 11% will consider working for either state or local government.

“It’s interesting that all of those fields would guarantee them an income and the ability to provide for their families when they are older,” Ms. Tsai said. “That is probably because they have seen layoffs and furloughs occur in their own homes.”

Tim Grant: or 412-263-1591. 

U.S. Parents Prize Saving over Borrowing for Higher Ed, says College Savings Foundation’s 13th Annual Survey

Parents across country say debt is biggest barrier to saving

Washington, DC – September 17 – Parents across the country have the will and the knowledge to fund their children’s higher education through savings, but still struggle with the realities of debt in meeting their goals. These are key findings of the College Savings Foundation’s 13th Annual State of College Savings survey of nearly 1,000 parents across the country and income levels.

Released during College Savings Month, the CSF benchmark survey of parental attitudes and behaviors showed that 72% of all parents know that saving is vastly less expensive than borrowing. Three quarters of them, 76%, are already saving for their children’s college costs; and those parents are getting results: 70% of savers have amassed more than $5,000 per child, and 47% more than $10,000 per child.

“Parents clearly understand the long-term impact of saving in funding their children’s education. This is vitally important in reducing families’ reliance on student debt,” said CSF Chair Richard J. Polimeni.

Indeed, the survey found that parents are challenged by debt in general and student debt in particular, which has exceeded $1.6-trillion in the U.S. 37% of respondents are still paying off their own student debt; and nearly half, 49%, plan to borrow to finance their child’s higher education.

Debt impedes the respondents’ ability to save. When asked “What would make it easier to save?” the number one answer, garnering 30% of parents’ responses, was “less debt.”

The most popular way for parents to save for higher education is the 529 college savings plan, with 41% of savers identifying it as their primary savings vehicle. 529 college savings plans enable American families to accumulate funds federal and state* tax free for qualified education expenses.

42% of families surveyed said they had a 529 college savings plan in place, either owned by parents (28%) or otherwise established for their child (14%).

“Savings is a powerful factor in ensuring that children pursue higher education. Not only do 529 college savings plans help parents save, but they also are an incentive for children to realize their own interests and dreams,” Polimeni added. Nearly two-thirds of parents surveyed, 64%, said they knew that establishing a dedicated savings plan makes it more likely that a child will pursue higher education.

This includes alternatives to the traditional 4-year college. 59% of parents think of vocational and career schools in the same way as public and private college.

Overall, the overwhelming majority of parents, 90%, intend to help fund their children’s higher education with the vast majority of parents stating that they started saving early, with 77% saving before their child was six years old.

At the same time, they want their children to have some skin in the game. 73% expect their children to contribute to paying for college, with the majority, 47%, expecting them to get a job to help with costs.

Other savings trends identified in the survey:

  • 31% are saving more than last year.
  • 66% said they would like to have the ability to make 529 contributions through an employer.

CSF’s 2019 State of College Savings survey was conducted with nearly 1,000 parents across the country and income brackets via Survey Monkey. The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals.

*Earnings are not subject to federal tax and generally not subject to state tax when used for qualified education expenses.

80% of parents are saving regularly for their children’s college, Rich Polimeni tells Kids & Money columnist Steve Rosen for

Checking the health of 529 college savings plans

Kids & Money

If you’ve opened a 529 college savings account, you may wonder if it’s looking good. You look at your account balance and think, “How do I stack up? Am I on target?”

Or maybe you’re thinking about opening a 529, but you’re hesitant because you don’t understand how they work and how much money can be put in them. Or maybe you’ve heard that you can get federal tax benefits, but you’re unsure whether your state offers income tax deductions or credits.

Where can you get the information?

Fresh data from surveys taken by several college savings organizations offer some measuring sticks on the popular 529 accounts, which are offered by nearly every state and provide tax-free benefits on distributions used for qualified education expenses.

First, some numbers:

*Total investments in 529 plans reached a record $328.98 billion at mid-2018, according to a survey by the College Savings Plans Network (

*About 300,000 new 529 accounts were opened in the first half of 2018, bringing the total to 13.6 million accounts, the savings organization said.

*The average amount of money in a 529 increased to a record $24,153, as of June 30, the network said.

*Nearly 80 percent of parents are savings regularly for their children’s college education, with more than half saving monthly, 19 percent saving quarterly, and 8 percent annually, according to the College Savings Foundation survey of about 800 families


*About 42 percent of parents said they are savings more than they were a year ago, up from 38 percent in 2017, the foundation said.

So all is well?

Maybe not. Despite the savings growth, the foundation noted that nearly two-thirds of the parents surveyed plan to borrow to pay for their children’s college, with 62 percent relying on education loans and 18 percent tapping credit cards or a line of credit.

Perhaps they started late, right? Or, they underestimated how much they’d need to cover the college tab.Whatever the reason, many parents still find the need to take on debt. One other data point deserves attention: The number of families using 529 plans to save for college.

According to the College Savings Foundation survey, 50 percent of the respondents have a 529 in place. The accounts, launched about 20 years ago, are “coming of age,” said Richard Polimeni, chairman of the foundation.

He pointed out that when the 529s were introduced, Baby Boomers’ oldest children were close to college age and therefore saving for college in these accounts were not a priority. “Now we have a new generation that has grown up with a savings account specifically designated for college,” Polimeni said.

But research from, an organization devoted to providing consumer resources on 529 plans, showed that less than 18 percent of children under age 18 have 529 plans.

Part of the problem is a lack of awareness of 529s. Savingforcollege found that less than a third of parents surveyed know about the accounts.

“With retirement plans, you learn about a 401(k) and other qualified retirement plans when you meet with human resources after being hired,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the website’s publisher and vice president of research. “But when you have a baby, the hospital doesn’t give you a guidebook about raising a baby and saving for college. You’re lucky if someone tells you about 529 plans.” That’s why Savingforcollege has started a campaign to inform parents about 529s. Information is available at

While surveys are snapshots in time and should be taken with some skepticism, it’s clear that many families are struggling to save for college or are not aware of one of the best ways to get started.

As Kantrowitz said, just having a 529 plan “sets up an expectation that the child will go to college, which increases the odds that the child will enroll in and graduate from college.”

(Questions, comments, column ideas? Send an email to

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: More Parents are Finding Ways to Save Money for College

As college costs climb, parents are doing a better job of saving for their children’s college needs instead of relying too heavily on debt.

“More parents than ever — especially between their early 20s to mid-40s — are purposely and regularly saving for their children’s education,” said Richard J. Polimeni, chair of the Washington, D.C.-based College Savings Foundation.

The percentage of parents saving money for their children’s college education hit an all-time high — 83 percent — in the 11th Annual State of College Savings survey by the foundation, a nonprofit helping American families save for higher education.’

Of those who are saving, 71 percent had put away more than $5,000 per child and 36 percent said 529 college savings plans were their primary savings vehicles.

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage setting aside funds for future college costs. Money in a 529 plan grows tax-deferred and the earnings are never taxed as long as it is used for qualified educational expenses.

The savings plans are operated by a state or educational institution. They are named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, which created them in 1996.

“We are really encouraged by these stats on saving for college,” said Mr. Polimeni, who works as director of education savings plans at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Pennington, N.J. “Student debt now stands at $1.4 trillion. That’s $37,000 per student that graduated and borrowed money.”

The survey of 800 parents across the country, evenly divided across income levels also found that parents are looking for ways to reduce college costs.

Top strategies are attending community college for two years and transferring to a four-year college [ 29 percent]; living at home [22 percent], and attending a state school [15 percent].

Tim Grant: or 412-263-1591.

First Published September 29, 2017.

Financial Advisor Covers Findings of the 2017 CSF State of College Savings Survey of Parents, Including Their Use of 529s And Advice from FAs


More parents are saving regularly for their children’s college education, and half of them are using the expertise of a financial advisor according to a new survey from the College Savings Foundation (CSF), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

Among all parents responding to the foundation’s 11th Annual State of College Savings survey, 83 percent are saving for their children’s college education—an all-time high in the history of the survey. Furthermore, 75 percent of respondents are saving systematically, 38 percent have saved more this year than last year, and 57 percent started saving by the time their child turned 5 years old.

“Overall, we’re encouraged that more people are saving than ever, they’re saving more than ever and they’re doing it systematically,” says Richard Polimeni, chair of the College Savings Foundation.

A big savings motivator, he says, is that many respondents are still grappling with their own student loan debt and don’t want their children to be similarly saddled. Nearly half of the parents who are saving for their children’s education (46 percent) are still paying off their own student loans. It’s made 90 percent of them consider other ways to finance their children’s education—namely through savings.

Among parents with their own college debt, 53 percent owe more than $20,000 and 31 percent owe between $20,001 and $30,000. U.S. student loan debt ballooned to $1.4 trillion in 2017, according to Experian, a global information services company.

The CSF survey found 71 percent of the savers have amassed more than $5,000 per child; 19.7 percent had saved $5,001 to $10,000; 17.29 percent had saved $10,001 to $25,000; 16.84 percent had saved $25,001 to $50,000; 11.88 percent had saved $50,001 to $100,000; and 5.41 percent had saved more than $100,000.

Polimeni, also the director of education savings programs at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, is glad half of the respondents are working with financial advisors. “If an advisor is going to take a holistic approach,” he says, “saving for college needs to be part of this.” Saving for college is only second to saving for retirement, he adds.

Interestingly, a greater percentage of younger parents are working with advisors for college financial planning—more than half of respondents in the 21-to-30 and 31-to-35 age groups, versus half in the 36-to-45 bracket. Further, 79 percent of all respondents (and 88 percent of those ages 21 to 30) say they’d work with an advisor if they knew it would help them save for college.

The majority of respondents working with an advisor (59 percent) say their advisor’s primary recommendation for saving for college is a 529 college savings plan. And 51 percent of the respondents are also aware they can invest in a 529 plan to fund their own educational expenses, such as graduate school.

Many parents indicate they’re considering strategies to cut college costs, such as having children start off at a community college (29 percent), live at home (22 percent) or attend a state school (15 percent). They’re thinking about vocational and career schools. And 71 percent expect their kids to contribute to college costs.

For the first time, the survey asked parents about the concept of free college. Even if free college were adopted across the U.S., 80 percent of respondents would still save for higher education. Notably, 60 percent are aware that many college expenses aren’t covered by the current proposals.

Parents are doing their homework.

How will Generation Z afford College?

Richard Polimeni, Chair of the College Savings Foundation, shares his ideas on how to effectively plan for college using a 529 college savings plan. Share this week’s episode so your community understands their college savings options, and how you can help them achieve their goals!

Did you know that the average student loan debt in 2017 was $37,172 per student? College is certainly expensive, but luckily there are people and tools available to help you plan ahead. Tune in as Richard Polimeni, the Chair of the College Savings Foundation, shares the ins and outs of 529 Plans!

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