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Explore Holiday Gift Options for College Savings Plans

Reyna Gobel

It's not easy asking family and friends for money, even if it's for a child's education. But it's getting easier to suggest holiday gifts for college savings accounts without having to ask outright.

Parents can create profiles of their children with information about future goals and birthdays on a college savings registry like GradSave. They can either post the link on social media sites such as Facebook without a specific call for money or add it to invites for special occasions such as the child's birthday party.

New York parents Gerald and Jeanine Iorio put a link in their 1-year-old daughter Lola's birthday party invitation. The link allowed guests to contribute to her 529 plan, a tax-advantaged college savings account.

The link didn't say "Donate to her college savings." Instead, the link took friends and family to a page where they could see her parents' savings goals and photos with the opportunity to donate.

For the Iorios, whose friends and family often give their child checks, going to a website for college savings gave them an easier way to accept gifts for their two children.

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There are several ways gift-givers can contribute. GradSave is a way for families to collect college savings gifts and then transfer the money to a 529 plan account of their choice. However, 529 plans themselves offer simple ways to give and receive college savings gifts, which families can send in special occasion or holiday party invites.

"Almost all 529 plans have gifting options on the front page," says Betty Lochner, vice president of the College Savings Plans Network. The organization represents 529 plans in all 50 states. This year, many plans are trying to make the process of giving college savings gifts to friends and family simpler, she says. Some plans are offering coupon books for giving throughout the year and discounts on multiple gifts.

Iorio is often asked about what to get his two children for holidays and special occasions. But his fellow parents also talk about paying for college on the playground or in a bar with friends.

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"My buddies, in my generation, struggled with student loans from when we were in school," he says. "College saving is important."

The Iorios are contributing to his friends' GradSave and college savings plans this holiday season. And many of their friends are doing the same for his.

These kinds of discussions are quite common. Family members and friends will ask what kids want for winter holidays and birthdays. When they ask, Lochner recommends letting them know about college savings gift certificates and to send what they would normally spend on a present.

If the process seems too complicated for them, send them a link or offer to help them navigate the website in person.

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At Lola's birthday party, she received some of her college savings gifts in the form of gift certificates. These certificates are getting fancier, so parents can print them to have something for the child to unwrap.

In Washington, for instance, gift-givers can choose from a few designs such as winter, Hanukkah and Christmas, says Lochner. They can also add their own design or photo.

GradSave also has three printable designs for gift certificates, says Martha Mert, a GradSave spokeswoman, including a winter scene and one with Santa.

This holiday season, the Iorios plan to give a combination of college savings and toys to their friends' and families' children. They know firsthand how the gift of college savings can be a big help for families.

Trying to save for college? Get tips and more in the U.S. News College Savings 101 center.

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