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With the year-end holiday season just around the corner, the time is right for candid conversations with friends and family about gift giving preferences.

With the year-end holiday season just around the corner, the time is right for candid conversations with friends and family about gift-giving preferences.

It is anticipated that approximately $265 billion will be spent in the U.S. on gifts this coming holiday season. If even a small portion of these gift expenditures were instead contributed to college savings accounts, the funds could go a long way in helping students realize academic and career dreams.

It’s no secret that well-intentioned loved ones spend considerable time, money, and effort searching for “just the right” gifts for those they care about. It’s also no secret that many homes have become cluttered through the years with gifts that have been far too quickly outgrown in size or interest. For these reasons alone, sharing preferred gift ideas this season with friends and family is truly an act of kindness.

A college savings account contribution may wind up being the most appreciated gift idea of all on this year’s wish list, as it’s easy to give and involves no sizes to guess, no duplicates to fear, and no supply chain concerns. And whether the children in your life are a few years shy of college, deep in the college application process, or are younger siblings of soon-to-be college students, a contribution of any size to their college savings accounts can help with so many types of educational expenses when the time rolls around.

How can you request or give a gift toward college? Here are a few suggested approaches:

  • Requesting a gift: If you are a parent who has an established college savings account, ask potential gift givers to consider making a contribution of any size toward your child’s future in lieu of a more traditional holiday gift. You could proactively make the suggestion or wait until asked for gift ideas. ScholarShare 529, for example, through its Ugift® tool makes it easy for account owners to invite others to contribute by providing a unique contribution code that can be shared with gift-givers. Other 529 programs offer easy ways to invite others to contribute as well.
  • Giving a gift: If you are a friend or relative looking for a gift for a future student, ask the child’s parent if a contribution to a college savings plan would be welcomed instead of, or in addition to, a smaller, more traditional gift. If the parents have a college savings account set up, they can invite you to contribute with a contribution code or deposit coupon. Gift of College offers a first-of-its-kind gift card that can be redeemed into 529 college savings accounts, including ScholarShare.
  • Setting up an account: If you prefer not to spoil the surprise by asking about contributing to an account, or if you prefer to control the funds yourself, consider setting up a 529 college savings account of your own for a future student in your life. Keep in mind that a 529 plan account beneficiary does not need to be the child of, or even related to, the account owner, and accounts can be set up by multiple individuals for the same child. You’ll need very little time to get started. It typically takes under 15 minutes to establish an account and most accounts can be started with $25 or even less. In terms of gift contributions, there is no federal gift tax on contributions of up to $16,000 per year per beneficiary if you are a single filer, or up to $32,000 if you are a married couple. Additionally, you can also accelerate your gifting with a lump sum gift of up to $80,000 if you are a single filer or up to $160,000 if you are a married couple electing to split gifts, as long as the gift is pro-rated over five years.

Why put college on your holiday shopping or wish list?

  • It’s a win/win/win: The child, the child’s parents, and gift-givers all benefit when a contribution is made to a college savings account. The child has more resources to pursue academic dreams, the child’s parents get some extra support in reaching their savings goals, and the gift-givers benefit by having the opportunity to invest in the future of a child they love in such an easy and meaningful way.
  • There’s no buyer’s remorse and no need for returns: A gift toward education is not one that will be regretted by the giver or returned by the recipient. It’s a gift that’s sure to fit.
  • A new tradition begins: By requesting or giving a gift of education this holiday season, a new tradition can be formed for future holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions in the months and years ahead. This can lead not only to additional funds for college but to wonderful conversations about a child’s academic and career interests.

A candid conversation about gifting preferences can open the door to investments in a child’s future which can lead to endless possibilities. Such gifts are sure to be appreciated for years to come.


Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.