With the holidays just around the corner, you’re probably considering what to buy the children in your life. You might browse the crowded toy aisles, or even peruse the gift card rack.
But what if you could buy them a gift card that contributes to their future? Consider it the perfect gift for a student and a wise investment decision.
I recently had a chat with Wayne Weber, founder, and CEO of Gift of College, a gift-based 529 contribution service that is quickly growing in popularity.
What Is Gift of College?
Maybe you’ve grown tired of buying plastic toys for the children in your life. If so, you can easily understand how Gift of College came to be. The premise of the company is to facilitate contributions to 529 accounts–essentially allowing you to “give the gift of college” or financial aid rather than wasting money on unnecessary junk.
Related: The Complete Guide to the Best 529 Plans by State
Many parents already contribute to their children’s college savings accounts on a regular basis. But where Gift of College really shines is with friends and family.
It allows generous, future-minded folks to send monetary gifts directly to kids’ 529 accounts either through the account owner’s account directory or through convenient gift cards.
Gift of College doesn’t end with pre-planning for a child’s education. Giftees can also use their contributions to pay down student loan debt.
If you have student loans or know a college student who is working to pay down their tuition and other educational balances, look into Gift of College. Making a dent in those seemingly-endless student loan payments would be much handier than a new sweater.
Related: How to Pay Off $20,000 in Student Loans in One Year
How It Works
Using Gift of College is quite easy:
For the student/gift recipient: In order to allow loved ones to contribute to your educational expenses, you’ll need to set up a free account. From there, you can link to your existing 529 account or any outstanding student loan accounts. Once the accounts are linked, you can disburse funds to these accounts as you receive gifts.
Once you sign up for an account, your name will be added to Gift of College’s online registry. This means gift-givers can simply visit the site and enter your name to find your account. They can add funds directly through the site.
If you receive a Gift of College gift card, as the beneficiary, you can log in to your account to add the funds you were given. The process is simple, and you’ll incur no fees when moving the money to your account.
Related: 6 Steps for Giving a 529 Account this Christmas
For the gift giver: If you’re looking to contribute to a child, family member, or young adult’s education, you can do so in two ways.
The first is through a direct contribution. If you know the recipient already has an account through the site, simply enter the username or search for them in the site’s user registry. Once you find the correct account, click on it to begin the contribution process. Then enter the amount you wish to give, your funding source (credit or debit card), and you’re done!
If you’re not sure whether the child has an account yet, or if you want to give physical gift cards that can only be used for educational expenses, you’re in luck. Simply go to your local Toys’R’Us, Babies’R’Us, HEB, or any number of stores across the country and pick up gift cards.
You can load each card with any amount between $25-500, making this a great gift option for any level of generosity.
What It Costs
The cost of giving the gift of college varies depending on the contribution route you take.
If you choose to send funds directly online, through the Gift of College website, you’ll pay a 5% fee on the total amount sent. This fee is also capped at $15. So, the more you give, the less your fee is by percentage.
If you choose to pick up gift cards, the fees are very similar to many of the Mastercard or Visa-branded gift cards at the register. You can load each card with as much as $500, and the retail fee per card is $5.95.
This means if you wanted to give a child $1,000 toward their educational expenses, you’d pay a total of $15 by contributing directly through Gift of College’s website or $11.90 by buying two gift cards. However, if you wanted to give them $2,000 toward their 529 plan or student loans, you’d pay $15 in fees with a direct contribution through GiftofCollege or $23.80 by purchasing physical gift cards.
Be sure to do the math and see where you’ll pay the least in fees before purchasing your gift or gift cards.
CardCash Gift Card Exchange
One really neat feature through Gift of College is the CardCash Gift Card Exchange program.
If you're like me, you probably have unused gift cards lying around from a raffle or even a well-meaning friend, but you'll likely never use them. So, what do you do with them?
You can either sell them through an online buyback site or use the Gift of College exchange program to turn that into even more money for educational expenses.
Simply log in to choose the store name and dollar amount of your gift card. You'll then be offered an exchange dollar amount for trading in the card. If accepted, that trade-in amount will be available for contribution to your linked 529 or student loan accounts once the trade is processed. You may also receive a tax benefit.
In the Workplace
Gift of College isn't just a great resource for friends and family. Employers are also using it to give the gift of college savings and student loan or tuition repayment to their employees.
Employers can purchase gift cards or contribute online to employees' accounts the same way relatives can contribute to a child.
Employers can also use the program to facilitate employee contributions to their own accounts through automatic payroll deductions. They can also use Gift of College to match contributions, give bonuses, or gift holiday rewards. Gift of College makes it easy by directly linking to the company's payroll service, too. Account statements are easy to access as well.
Why It's Genius
Contributing to a child or young adult's educational expenses can be tough. If you want to ensure that funds go into a 529 savings account or student loan balance, it usually means going back and forth to obtain account numbers. If you're a parent and want to solicit contributions from loved ones to your child's college savings, it can be uncomfortable to ask.
Gift of College makes it easy for everyone. You can buy a gift card and hand out tangible gifts this holiday season. Birthdays are made simpler by just logging onto the website and directly contributing to an established account.
Parents don't have to worry about cashing checks, transferring money to accounts, or asking the grandparents to send college funds instead of more Legos. Gift of College makes the entire education-saving experience an easy, quick, and comfortable one for all.
Do you contribute toward educational savings for the holidays? How do you think that Gift of College would make that process easier?
Listen to our interview with Gift of College founder, Wayne Weber.