Four-year tuition and fees for public universities will be $95,000 for kids starting school in 2028, estimates savingforcollege.com. To meet those needs, parents are seeking help from friends and relatives to pay for college.
Some new websites offer parents creative ways to solicit donations for education expenses. College savings registry sites offer an array of E-mail invitations for events, announcements for children's educational milestones, and depending on the site, profile pages that show progress toward savings goals.
For example, parents can send electronic invites to birthday parties or baby showers that mention where the child is registered for college savings. Much the same as individuals registering for wedding gifts, a user can register for monetary deposits through sites such as College Registry, GradSave, and Ugift and can send out E-mails containing contribution requests.
The awkwardness is limited because these sites are designed for parents to send E-mails to individuals who already buy their child gifts, says Tim Harrington, CEO of FiPath, the company behind College Registry. The goal, he says, is to switch gift options from toys and dolls to college funding.
Here are three ways parents can utilize college registries:
1. E-mail invites to events: When a child has a birthday, graduation, first communion, bar mitzah, or other important event, parents can send an invitation with information on how to donate to the child's 529 account, a postsecondary education savings plan with tax benefits, says Upromise Investments, Inc. spokesperson Debby Hohler. Upromise's Ugift program allows parents of children with participating 529 plans to send barcoded invitations.
To make a contribution, a gift giver can print the barcoded E-mail and mail it along with a check to the address specified in the E-mail, Hohler explains. Once received, the check is deposited into the 529 plan without any account information being revealed to the donor, she says.
[Take these steps before opening a 529 plan.]
If you don't have a 529 plan managed by Upromise, you can use a college savings registry program. GradSave and FiPath's College Registry offer ways to send E-mail invites, receive contributions online, and transfer funds to savings or 529 plan accounts.
Cecy Lawson from Evanston, Ill., sent E-mail invites in April 2012 for her 2-year-old son Danny's birthday via a GradSave link and collected a total of $680 from 14 contributors. If friends and family contribute an equivalent amount during the winter holiday season and one other event each year until Danny turns 17—such as graduation from kindergarten, preschool, or high school—his total college savings would be about $32,500, not counting any interest earned on a savings account or growth from an investment account.
2. Send announcements: E-mails don't always have to be invitations to events. Announce when your child gets a straight-A report card, makes the high school soccer team, or graduates kindergarten by sending E-mails with photo attachments, Harrington says.
Sending E-mails about accomplishments shows contributors the child is making an effort toward their education, says GradSave spokesperson Samantha McShine. She says grandparents want to know their donations are "creating a future for someone that really cares."
Parents can also announce when savings milestones are reached. According to McShine, it's common for parents to send out E-mails to contributors as a child's account grows closer to reaching its first $1,000. Contributors can see savings progress in the child's profile on GradSave and College Registry. The savings goal is based on what the parent input as the total funding amount needed for college.
[Learn how to uncover the costs of public and private colleges.]
3. Include a note in printed invitations: Weddings guests often receive registry cards with invitations. Parents can send a college savings-related one in the mail within a holiday card or an invite to a baby shower or other event. Instead of asking for a bowl or blender, Harrington says, parents can ask for something that can help their child's future.
College registry sites provide the necessary link, but parents do need to make the cards themselves.
The card insert should include the exact link that can be accessed to donate to the child's education. For instance: "Joey's registered for Christmas at [link to GradSave]." These links can also be shared on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter, Harrington says.
Reyna Gobel, frequently quoted as an expert on student loans and college costs, is the author of "Graduation Debt: How To Manage Student Loans And Live Your Life" and "How Smart Students Pay for School: The Best Way to Save for College, Get the Right Loans, and Repay Debt." She has appeared on PBS's Nightly Business Report and speaks regularly at CollegeWeekLive.