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Author: Kathy Hamor

Online 529 Education Gifting Programs Fulfill Families’ Ecommerce Needs for the Holidays, College Savings Foundation Says

Washington, DC, November 24, 2020 – This holiday season 529 Education Gifting Programs are meeting the needs of families and friends looking to ecommerce channels for holiday gifts from the comfort of their homes.  Having grown in availability and popularity over the last several years, the variety of online gifting tools, crowdfunding platforms, e-gift cards and downloadable gift certificates, make higher education savings as convenient as online shopping for material gifts, according to members of the College Savings Foundation. 

“At a time when families are carefully evaluating the costs of higher education, 529 education gifting tools can make saving easier while sending a powerful message on the value of setting long-term goals. Whether the funds will go to a community college, technical school or a traditional 4-year college, these gifting programs provide a foundation for a child to plan and prepare for their future,” said CSF Chair Vivian Tsai.  

Among CSF members’ offerings are personalized websites for crowdfunding, online registries, electronic or physical gift cards purchasable online or at national retail and grocery chains, and downloadable gift certificates.  Links and special features are included in Gifting Programs at www.collegesavingsfoundation.org

Although CSF members report 529 education plan gifting throughout the year, most say that contributions increase during the holiday season and into the New Year.  As families become more aware of them as options for graduations, birthdays and special occasions, numerous CSF members report year over year growth in their gifting program contributions. 

One benefit of online gifting is that parents can include a link to a child’s customized 529 education savings platform in an e-birthday invitation or social media site.  

“Families are pragmatic about the need to save for their children’s higher education. By sharing a link to a child’s 529 savings plan, they can educate their circle of friends about this option and empower their broader network to participate in a child’s financial and educational future,” Tsai said.

CSF members have implemented ways to make gifting easier. 

  • Alaska 529 and T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan, which have seen a 10% and 13% year over year growth in gifting last year respectively, allow account holders to access the GoTuition® online gifting portal to ask friends and family for gifts by email, evites or social media.
  • Indiana CollegeChoice 529 serving Indiana plan owners can share a Ugift® code with friends and family so they can “give a gift that won’t be outgrown.”
  • College Savings Bank, a Division of NexBank and CollegeChoice CD 529 Savings Plan, offer family and friends the option of making a deposit online.
  • Fidelity-managed gifting programs include UNIQUE College Investing Plan, MEFA U. Fund College Investing Plan, Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan and Delaware College Investing Plan. Year over year through the end of Q3, Fidelity managed plans saw a 66% increase in online gifting activity.
  • 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.
  • Gift of College offers a platform that enables crowdfunding for college. Friends, family, and employers can contribute to any 529 college savings, student loan or 529 ABLE account using the giftofcollege.com registry. Its suite of products and services includes Gift of College Gift Cards (available online and at over 3000 retailer locations including select Target stores, Save Mart, Lucky and H-E-B) and Gift of College At-Work, an employee benefit platform offering payroll deduction and employer match and contribution technology. 
  • Kansas’ Learning Quest® 529 Education Savings Program and Schwab 529 Education Plan offer gifting options through Ugift®.
  • Maryland College Investment Plan, managed by T. Rowe Price, allows account holders to access the GoTuition®online gifting portal to ask friends and family for gifts by email, evites or social media. Maryland Prepaid College Trust gift contributions are sent by mail using a Gift Contribution Slip.
  • Michigan Education Savings Program offers Ugift® and, along with MI 529, downloadable gift certificates. 
  • Nebraska’s NEST 529 Direct and Advisor College Savings Plans offer a new program called GiftED, starting in December, in which the account owner can send out GiftED invitations for holidays, birthdays or other special occasions from their computer. Contributors can 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 name. 
  • New Mexico’s The Education Plan® and ScholarsEdge® offer online access to gifting through Ugift®, as well as suggestions for how parents can broach the conversation with others about contributions to a 529 plan.
  • Ohio’s 529 Plan, the CollegeAdvantage Direct Plan, offers tools for grandparents and friends to open or add to a 529 plan. Ohio’s 529 Plan offers online gifting through Ugift®, accepts gift contributions by check and offers physical and digital greeting cards to send the child. The site also has a special page for grandparents.
  • Private College 529 Plan allows families to establish an eGifting event and prompt family and friends to contribute directly to their Private College 529 Plan account, for hundreds of colleges and universities, through a secure portal.
  • Scholars Choice® 529 College Savings Program (Colorado – home state – available Nationwide) participates in Gift of College and Ugift®, the free crowdfunding/gifting service that invites family and friends to celebrate milestones with gift contributions to the Scholars Choice Scholars Choice® 529 account. 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, allows account holders to establish a gifting portal profile and share it with friends and family by email or social media. ScholarShare 529 has experienced a 19% year over year growth this year.
  • Sootchy, Inc is a new, 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. On December 10th, 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 offer online downloadable gift coupons, and notify families of the gift. 
  • Utah’s My529’s gifting program links friends and family to a personal gift page where they can contribute with the gift code online through

gift.my529.org or download a gift notice about a contribution by check.  The gifting platform has grown by 17% over the past two years.

  • Virginia529 family and friends can access a Gift Center for digital gift cards, get co-branded gift cards available at Walmart.com or participating Target or H.E.B. Grocery locations, or download gift certificates for a variety of occasions from its website.  It saw a 58% year over year increase in gifting transactions and a 96% increase in dollars contributed.
  • WA529, Washington College Savings Plans, offer family and friends various gifting options. 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 offers multiple ways to gift, along with downloadable certificates announcing the gift. 

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

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CSF Members’ 529 Gifting Programs Highlighted in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

CSF Chair Rich Polimeni spoke to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the growth of 529 college savings plan gifting options.  The Private College 529 Plan, Virginia529, Fidelity Investments and Gift of College were cited for their growth.

Forget that new Fisher-Price pirate ship. Gifts to college savings plans spiked over the holidays.

The holiday gift-giving season was an especially merry one this year for college savers.

The Private College 529 Plan — created by a consortium of private colleges to allow families to pay for education costs in advance at nearly 300 private colleges and universities — saw a 94 percent increase in contributions at the end of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017, according to the Washington, D.C.-based College Savings Foundation.

Other 529 college savings plans also reported generous gifts pouring into individual savings accounts during the fourth quarter.

Virginia529 saw a 70 percent increase. Gifts given to Fidelity Investment education savers were up 43 percent; and Gift of College — basically a registry that gives access to 529 plans and offers gift cards for sale at Target and other retailers — saw a 35 percent gain in gift contributions at the end of 2018.

“The vast majority of the college gifting sites charge no fee, so it’s free for the client and for the giver,” said Richard Polimeni, chairman of the College Savings Foundation, a nonprofit organization that represents the college savings industry.

Not long ago, when gift cards linked to a child’s college savings plan were introduced to the marketplace they were seen as novelty items.

Parents often felt uneasy about asking friends and relatives to make contributions to their children’s college savings accounts instead of gifting toys and other items.

But families are increasingly comfortable with the notion, Mr. Polimeni said. “Online gifting tools and registries make it easier for parents to share their interest in saving and for family and friends to help them,” he said.

Every state in the country has at least one 529 plan. Some states offer more than one. There are currently about 90 plans and the vast majority offer tools for people to make online contributions to individual savings accounts.

The 529 plans — named for the section of the federal tax code that established them — are state-run programs that allow families to invest funds for college. Contributions grow tax-free and may be withdrawn tax-free to pay for education.

Contributions aren’t deductible from federal income taxes, but many states — including Pennsylvania — allow a deduction on state tax returns.

Pennsylvania allows a tax deduction up to the annual gift exclusion amount — $15,000 per contributor or $30,000 for a married couple. Pennsylvania rules are considered especially generous because the state will give contributors the deduction regardless of whether it is a Pennsylvania plan or an out-of-state plan.

It used to be much harder to make a gift to a child’s 529. Donors had to print out a form, know the account number and mail a check directly to the provider. The process was so cumbersome that many people ended up just giving cash or check directly to the parents.

Today, most 529 plans have online systems in place to allow contributions from individuals. These tools reassure contributors that the money is going where they intend for it to go.

Although funds from 529 plans cannot be used to repay student debt — without incurring a penalty — saving money in a plan can be a way of avoiding education debt.

Student loan debt affects an estimated 43 million Americans. According to Student Debt Relief, total student debt stands at $1.52 trillion; the amount borrowed each year is $106.5 billion; 60 percent of  college graduates have debt; and the average debt per graduate is $37,172.

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.

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

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 (www.CollegeSavings.org).

*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

(www.collegesavingsfoundation.org).

*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 Savingforcollege.com, 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 www.savingforcollege.com.

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 sbrosen1030@gmail.com.)

Financial Advisor (FA) reported parents’ increased levels of savings and use of financial advisors from CSF’s State of College Savings survey

U.S. Families Embrace 529 Plans; Open To Help From Advisors

RAYMOND FAZZI

The nation’s 529 savings plans appear to be winning over more parents and other college savers, and at the same time broadening opportunities for financial advisors, according to a new survey.

About 50 percent of U.S. families now have a 529 plan, which is up from 38 percent a year ago, according to the 12th annual State of College Savings Survey by the College Savings Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to promoting the 529 plan industry.

The survey also indicated the college savings market is an area of growth for financial advisors: 48 percent of respondents said they work with a financial advisor, while 74 percent said they would do so if it would help with college savings.

“529 college savings plans have come of age,” said Richard J. Polimeni, chairman of the College Savings Foundation and head of education savings at Merrill Lynch. “We are excited to see that parents are embracing proven strategies for funding their children’s higher education by saving early, often and with the advantage of 529s.”

On a broader level, the survey did find a slight dip in the number of U.S. households saving for college costs.

The survey found that 79 percent of parents across the nation are saving for their children’s college costs, which is down from 83 percent in 2017.

Of those saving, 45 percent have saved more than $25,000 per child and about 75 percent have saved more than $5,000 per child.

The survey also found that 40 percent of parents said their children had considered not going to college, which is up from 28 percent a year ago. Of these parents, about 33 percent said the reason for the hesitancy was that their children didn’t want them to pay large sums for college. Another 17 percent said it was because their children didn’t want student debt.

“Ultimately, the vast majority (85 percent) of parents whose children doubted they’d go to college said the children decided to go after all,” the foundation said in a press release. “This is a significant uptick from last year’s survey, which showed that only 48 percent of the doubting students would go on to higher ed.”

These were some of the other survey findings:

• About 72 percent of parents expect their children to contribute to their higher education costs, either through working (46 percent) or saving (24 percent).

• Having their children live at home during college was the most popular (28 percent) cost-cutting strategy among parents. Starting college studies at a community college (26 percent) and pursuing college-credit courses in high school (14 percent) were among the other strategies.

• About 57 percent of parents plan to borrow money to pay for their children’s college education, with 62 percent planning to use education loans and 18 percent through consumer credit vehicles such as credit cards.

The survey is based on responses from 800 parents of various incomes taken through Survey Monkey.

The College Savings Foundation is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization whose membership includes investment companies, 529 plan providers and other key players in the 529 plan industry.

Rich Polimeni says “529 college savings plans have come of age,” in discussing the findings of CSF’s 12th Annual State of College Savings survey of parents across the country.

As student loan debt rises, parents of college-bound kids stash money away.

 TIM GRANT

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

tgrant@post-gazette.com

While many parents report they are still making monthly payments on their own student loans, some are still making an effort to put away money to help their children avoid the same burden.

In its 12th annual survey of parents nationwide across all income brackets, the Washington, D.C.-based College Savings Foundation found that 529 college savings funds are a popular choice for households with college-bound children. 

A full 50 percent of all families have one of the savings plans in place — either in the parent’s name (33 percent) or in the name of the child (17 percent).

“529 college savings plans have come of age,” said Richard Polmeni, chair of the College Savings Foundation, a nonprofit backed by investment managers, broker-dealers, governmental bodies, and accounting and consulting firms, among others. Congress created the plans in the mid-1990s, the organization said.

“We are excited to see that parents are embracing proven strategies for funding their children’s higher education by saving early, often, and with the advantages of 529s,” he said.

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

This year’s survey found 45 percent of parents had stashed away more than $25,000 per child.

However, the percentage of parents who saved fell slightly from an all-time high of 83 percent last year to 79 percent.

Some parents may worry that savings might affect a child’s chances of receiving financial aid, which is heavily based on income. Money set aside in a 529 savings plan will not significantly bump up a family’s expected contribution.

In light of the survey’s findings that 45 percent of parents are still paying off student debt of their own, Pittsburgh financial adviser Paul Brahim believes families are better off making the sacrifice to save on the front end rather than endure the pain of servicing loan debt on the back end.

“You might remember the old Fram Oil Filter commercial from the ‘70s,” said Mr. Brahim, CEO of BPU Investment Management, Downtown. “The choice was a regular oil filter change or an engine rebuild. The ad said, ‘You can pay me now, or pay me later. But either way you will pay me.’

“Parents and grandparents have figured out that borrowing for school is a lot more expensive than saving for school,” he pointed out. “I think they know the new economy will demand new skills and they are willing to sacrifice today so their children and grandchildren have the right education for tomorrow.”

Parents also have broadened their definition of higher education beyond the traditional four-year school.

The survey found 64 percent of parents think about vocational schools and community college in the same way as they do about public and private education.

Still, some are opting out. About 40 percent of parents said their children had considered not going to college at all, up from 28 percent last year.

A third of those parents said their child didn’t want them to be paying that much money; 28 percent said their child felt that a particular career choice could be achieved without college; 18 percent said their child was indifferent to college; and 17 percent said the child didn’t want student debt.

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.

CSF’s survey of High School Students finds Skills Training more important than Majors

Dump the majors? Poll finds high school students want skills that will get them hired.

TIM GRANT

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

tgrant@post-gazette.com

The majority of high school students who will be entering college over the next three years would like to see more colleges promote education and skills training rather than only offering majors for future employment, according to an annual survey by the Washington-D.C.-based College Savings Foundation.

In its ninth annual survey of how high school students across the nation are making higher education choices, the College Savings Foundation found 81 percent would like to see colleges offer skills instead of majors; 70 percent would prefer to go to that school; and 63 percent said their career plans were affecting their school choice.

The survey of more than 500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors found they are practical consumers with an increasing number taking a closer look at technical schools, vocational schools and community colleges. More than half of those surveyed — 53 percent — are planning to attend a traditional four-year college.

But for the past four years, the number of students embracing skills-based education has been growing. This year, 36 percent have their sights set on attending a technical school; 28 percent are headed to community college; and 8 percent will attend a vocational school.

“Looking at our survey from 2015 to 2018, the number of students planning on going to community college has increased 9 percent,” said Richard Polimeni, chair of the College Savings Foundation and director of the education savings program at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Pennington, N.J.

“Similarly, we’ve also seen that trend with students electing to go to vocational or technical types of schools or programs. It’s less expensive and quicker to get into the workforce that way,” he said. “Trades are an area of growth in terms of employment.”

Generally speaking, a liberal arts education is an approach to learning that involves diverse coursework so that students develop a range of knowledge. It is designed to prepare students for a variety of career options, rather than for a specific occupation.

Another key factor in deciding where they will seek higher education is cost.

“High school students are taking responsibility for their education choices and making decisions early in life to support them,” Mr. Polimeni said. “We’re encouraged to see that saving is already an important part of their education planning process.”

Seventy-five percent of the students surveyed said costs are a factor in deciding which school to attend, and the majority — 57 percent — is already saving for high education.

The survey recorded the highest percentage ever over the nine years the poll has been taken who said they plan on working to reduce college costs — 85 percent. 

Parents, be warned. The percentage who are planning to live at home during college also has increased in the past three years. This year it was 62 percent, up from 56 percent last year and 53 percent the year before.

Tim Grant: tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.

Financial Advisor (FA) covered CSF’s survey of high school students across the country.

RAYMOND FAZZI

Advisors Should Check With The ‘Kids’ About Saving For College

Advisors focus a lot of their college savings strategies on parents, but a new survey suggests that the “kids” are also playing an active role in planning for college costs.

Eighty-six percent of high schoolers said they are planning to pay for at least part of their higher education costs, with 85 percent saying they plan to work during college and 62 percent planning to cut costs by living at home, according to a survey by the College Savings Foundation (CSF) released on Tuesday. In fact, 51 percent of the high schoolers said they’re already taking on jobs to save for college.

The survey also found that 75 percent are taking costs into account when deciding on a college, and that 57 percent of the high school students have already started saving for college.

“High school students are taking responsibility for their education choices and making decisions early in life to support them,” said CSF Chairman Richard J. Polimeni in a prepared statement. “We’re encouraged to see that saving is already an important part of their education planning process.”

The survey found that high schoolers are primarily using savings accounts and 529 college savings plans, and 65 percent of the respondents have already saved $1,000 or more for college costs.

The results were based on responses from 500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors through Survey Monkey, the foundation said.

Sixty-seven percent of high school students said they would rather receive money for education than gifts on special occasions, and 52 percent said their parents are also saving, primarily in savings accounts and 529 college savings plans. Fifty-nine percent of those whose parents were saving said their parents have saved more than $5,000 and 35 percent said their parents have saved more than $15,000.

High school students also indicated that they are well aware of the nation’s mounting student debt load, with 54 percent very or somewhat concerned about their ability to pay back student loans. Sixty-five percent think that they will or will possibly borrow money outside of a financial aid package, with 43 percent expecting to borrow more than a quarter of their education costs.

The College Savings Foundation is a Washington, D.C.- based, not-for-profit consortium of 529 plan providers whose stated mission is to help U.S. families achieve their education savings goals.

2016 State of College Savings

2016 Parents Survey

As high school students get ready for back to school, their parents are gearing up for the formidable task of paying for college. In its 10th Annual State of College Savings survey of parents across the country, in which the majority of respondents have at least one child aged 14-18, the College Savings Foundation (CSF) gained a window into the realistic choices that families are grappling with in the years prior to starting to pay for higher education.