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Smart Savers Blog

How Grandparents Can Help Save for College


As you might imagine, September is a great month to consider your child’s future ---and your finances. Besides being “back-to-school” season, it’s also National College Savings Month.

Most parents believe their children will go on to receive higher education after high school, but according to a recent survey from the College Savings Foundation, while 72% of all parents know that saving is vastly less expensive than borrowing, 49% of parents expect to borrow for their children’s higher education.

On the bright side, parents are increasingly saving in 529 plans, where their money is tax-free when used for qualified educational expenses. And in the face of soaring college costs, grandparents are also joining in on the mission to get children through college with less debt.

For New Kent, Va. resident Joanne Wilkerson, her commitment to saving for her high school-age grandson came with an unexpected surprise!

The recently retired, proud grandmother of four went online in May to complete an Invest529 application for one of her grandsons, but what started as the typical flexible, tax-advantaged college savings account changed when she was notified that she had won the program’s “Plan 4 the Future” Sweepstakes and with it two years of college tuition courtesy of Virginia529!

“I still can’t believe it,” she said. “I’ve never won anything in my life! As soon as I found out I called my daughter, and then I called my grandson. I don’t think any of us grasped it at first. I just remember it sinking in and going, ‘did she say I’d won FOUR semesters of college tuition?”

Although Wilkerson admits that winning the grand prize --- and Virginia529’s last Prepaid529 contract --- was a dream outcome when saving for college, she said saving for college through Invest529 has always been her planned strategy for supporting her grandchildren’s educations.

“I saved for my daughter using Invest529 twenty years ago because it sounded like a good program that worked within my budget,” she said. I didn’t have to have a bunch of funds upfront, I could start with $25 and that’s what I did. It was easy then, and it is now.”

It helps that it’s easy to manage the account and transfer to other family members, Wilkerson said. Particularly since her grandson has only recently begun his freshman year and is still unsure of what his future holds.

“When I started the account for my daughter, I wasn’t sure what her future plans were going to be, either,” she said. “I like that I could transfer the account or funds to one my other grandchildren. My goal is just to help them with their schooling, whatever that looks like.”

Wilkerson said she hopes that other grandparents can share in the pride of helping their grandchildren achieve their dreams. That’s why she said it makes sense to use a 529 plan to put aside money for a grandchild’s post-high school expenses, whether it’s by opening an account or contributing to an account a parent has opened.

“I just want my grandchildren to be happy and to be able to support themselves,” she said. “If they can do those two things while doing something they’re happy doing, I’ll be thrilled.”

“I believe in this program. It’s a very good program and people should take advantage of it.”

This September, remind the grandparents in your life that instead of buying clothes and toys children will outgrow, they can make contributions on birthdays, holidays, graduations and any other important moments in their grandchild’s life to help put away money for college.

Resources to help you learn

Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to the most common questions about 529 plans.

Smart Savers Academy

Tune in to a live episode and ask questions of the presenter, or watch a previously recorded webinar below.

Invest529 Portfolio Performance

Review and compare historical returns of Invest529 portfolios.