How to Get Friends and Family to Pitch in on College Savings

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By Brian O'Connell

May 13, 2019


There’s an old saying among military experts that theory is one thing, but execution is another.

So it goes in the college savings marketplace, where every dollar comes in handy, and any way to get more dollars in the bank comes in even handier.

For parents saving for college, Exhibit “A’ is the often necessary, but often awkward process of persuading family and friends to pitch in and help grow the dollars in their child’s college fund.

Let’s face it, parents need all the help they can get. According to a survey by the College Savings Foundation, 79% of U.S. parents are engaged in the college savings process.

They do so in a variety of ways – leveraging 529 college savings plans, Upromise, personal savings and investments, savings bonds, piggy banks and even Bitcoin.

Any additional cash mom and dad can get from family, friends and even co-workers can help close the college savings gap and ensure that college costs are fully met.

Getting Help

It’s not that parents don’t know how effective family and friends can be in a college savings campaign – they do. The trick is convincing individuals near and dear to the family that contributing to a child’s college fund is a good idea, and getting them to follow through on those promises.

How can parents make the case and start the process of leveraging family and friends to fund a son or daughter’s college education? These tips can get your persuasion plan rolling, and get your college savings growing:

Sell your Personal Contacts on Giving College Gift Cards

College-themed gift cards are a thing now, and actually have been for some time.

According to the College Savings Foundation, 58% of U.S. parents are fully prepared to ask for college savings gifts, and gift cards a great way to do that.

The Foundation also notes that 95% of parents said that 529 college savings gift registries and online gifting tools “would make college savings easier.”

“Parents today are comfortable with online college gifting options and willing to engage their family and their circle of friends who share their savings goals,” says Richard J. Polimeni, chair of CSF, a nonprofit higher education group.

Gift cards are growing more popular as parents get increasingly aggressive about asking for college funding help via gift cards.

According to the College Savings Foundation, more families are giving the gift of college for the holidays. Fidelity saw a 43% increase in college gift card usage in 2018, while Virginia’s Prepaid529 and Invest529 accountsexperienced a combined 70% increase in gift contributions.

Emphasize Tax Savings

While touting the ease and effectiveness of gift cards, parents can also appeal to a family member or close friend’s aversion to taxes to help fund a child’s college savings plan. Doing so at year-end is particularly effective, as any gifts proffered can result in significant tax savings to the giver.

For example, taxpayers are allowed to make individual gifts up to $15,000 per beneficiary without having to pay gift taxes. They can give twice as much by giving as a couple, and leverage 5-year gift-tax averaging to contribute a larger lump sum.

States offer state income tax savings too, typically when they’re tied to in-state 529 plans. In all, 34 U.S. states and the District of Columbia offer state income tax deduction or credit for contributions to a 529 account, as long as the plan is managed by the family’s home state. Additionally, seven states (AZ, AR, KS, MN, MO, MT and PA) offer the tax break for contributions to any state’s 529 plan

Having a trusted accountant sit down with the grandparents or other potential gift givers – with parents on hand – can spell out the estate planning advantages of contributing to a 529 college savings plan and provide a certain comfort level in the process.

Leverage the “Family” Theme via Social Media

College savings vehicles, especially many 529 plans, are doing a great job on the marketing end of their programs and parents should take full advantage.

College 529 plan and college gift card providers now offer customized web pages that track the progress of a child’s march to college, giving a flesh and blood, real world vibe to the college funding process.

Parents can also tap into Facebook and Instagram sites, injecting quotes and updates, along with images videos and avatars that tell the story of a child’s college journey. The parents’ job is to get as many family and friends as possible to follow, and include a tab or click option that allows a follower to make a college contribution.

Parents can include a custom link to contribute to each child’s 529 plan as part of the annual family update email message.

It’s an easy way to give and the personality-driven marketing campaign gives a fresh face to the collegiate experience, thus providing individuals an added incentive to contribute to the family college fund.

Get Specific

The more specific you get, the easier it is for family and friends to help fund a household college savings account.

Prior to a birthday, high school graduation or major holiday, parents should send a note out to grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, and close family friends that, in lieu of physical gifts like clothes, toys or jewelry, gifts can be made directly to the family college fund via specific college gifting services.

Start with gifting platforms like or the Ugift Program – both make it easy to contribute an active college savings fund in the child’s name.

Mom and dad can easily get the word out on Facebook, Twitter, and email or contributors can search the registry for the parent’s name to give a gift easily using a debit/credit card, or a platform gift card.

Honestly is the Best Policy

Getting friends and family involved in your college savings campaign can certainly add much-needed cash to your academic fund.

The key is to be honest, be creative, and practice that fine art of persuasion. It is, after all, all for a good cause.

At, our goal is to help you make smart decisions about saving and paying for education. Some of the products featured in this article are from our partners, but this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

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