Make your plans to save for college much easier with a 529 plan registry like the Freshman Fund.
Back when I was at college, I paid for my education with student loans, scholarships, and checks from my parents. With a future college student in my house, it’s never too early to start saving. As an alternative to keeping your money in high yield savings accounts, mutual fund companies or online stock brokers, the Freshman Fund is a service that allows friends and family to fund a designated student’s 529 plan through gift contributions.
What’s a 529 Plan?
According to Bankrate.com, all U.S. states now sponsor 529 plans, which are designed to help your family save for college. You can opt for either a savings plan or a prepaid tuition plan. The fund grows tax-free and withdrawals are tax-free if used for qualified college expenses like tuition, room and board, and books.
Even if your child’s grandparents live out-of-state, they can still contribute to the fund (though taxes may apply). And if your Nebraska Cornhusker decides she’d rather be a Wisconsin Badger, you can still use the funds for a college in another state. Many of the plans seem to have fees associated with them, and as with any investment vehicle, you may lose money; check the fine print and consult a qualified financial adviser before you sign up for a 529 plan.
Opening a Freshman Fund Account
Once you open a 529 plan for a child, you can have anyone contribute to this plan. Your friends and family have the opportunity to add to your child’s 529 account through contributions of their own. But if you’d like to facilitate and manage the process of funding your children’s 529 accounts in one place, then there’s an online service that will help you with this process. The Freshman Fund is what you’d call a “529 Plan Registry” which will help make it easier for your network to make those 529 contributions (say in lieu of other birthday presents).
Freshman Fund makes it easy for people to put funds into your child’s 529 plan. When you sign up, you open a free account with them. They’ll need your e-mail address, your 529 plan information, the name of your future freshman, and the child’s birth date. You’re also given options to upload your picture and your child’s picture, because as they say, people like to know whom they’re helping. Your account can list more than one child.
If you don’t have your 529 plan information handy at sign-up, you can fill in the blanks later. Freshman Fund also links to Savingforcollege.com in case you still need to find a 529 plan that suits you.
How It Works: Contacting Your Network of Givers
After you sign up, you’re encouraged to import your address book so you can notify people who might be interested in contributing to your 529 plan. Freshman Fund will even help you import contacts from Gmail, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and others. You can even add and set up birthday and holiday reminders.
When you click on a contact, you’re taken to the Notify section. There, you can add addresses to an e-mail scripted for you that invites your contacts to consider a 529 gift contribution for your child. If your contact decides to contribute to your child’s college fund, they will be guided to a Freshman Fund web page that is set up in your child’s name. The email invitation that you send out to initiate this process will contain a canned message, which you’ll have the option to modify.
What If You Don’t Have A 529 Plan?
If you don’t have a 529 plan yet, your givers can still opt to send you gift certificates from the Freshman Fund. Gift certificates you receive will be held by the Freshman Fund in your designated student’s account until you’re able to set up your student’s 529 plan. Parents and sponsors won’t be able to take the money out of the Freshman Fund, so you don’t need to worry that certificates may end up going to non-educational uses.
The Difference Between Freshman Fund and Other College Savings Services
The first time I heard of the Freshman Fund, I wondered how it compared with Upromise or Baby Mint. The difference is that Upromise and Baby Mint are rebate credit card and online shopping network companies, while the Freshman Fund is a college savings registry. The premise and brand of Upromise and Baby Mint are along the lines of “spending your way to college savings”. The Freshman Fund promotes the idea of “saving your way to college savings”.
Other key differences: Upromise only works with Upromise administered 529 accounts whereas Freshman Fund will work with any 529 plan, including those of Upromise. In the future, the Freshman Fund plans to offer a similar credit card rewards program that will allow you to apply rewards to your college savings plan.
We already know that Freshman Fund makes it easy for us to hook up our social network of friends and relatives with our 529 college savings plan. Few college freshmen probably remember the blonde dolls and superhero action figures they received for Christmas fifteen years ago, but they’d love the benefit of having help with their tuition, textbooks, and room and board.
If you run into problems, the Freshman Fund site has a Live Help button, a FAQ, and an e-mail address for support.
There were a few things that the site can improve upon. For instance, as I tested the invitation e-mail, the FROM section showed a default “email@example.com” address rather than my preferred e-mail address. Yeah, like Grandma won’t toss that into the trashcan — she’s going to think it’s spam unless I give her a heads up.
And since I restricted the settings so only logged-in users can see my student’s page, the Freshman Fund won’t let Grandma in when she clicks on links that I supply her via email. She’d have to create her own Freshman Fund account — and I can guarantee you Grandma’s not patient enough for that. I would have to take my student’s information out of lock down before she decides to contribute.
As a test, I also tried changing my student’s name, but her original name still appears on the invitation link. Since I don’t want my student’s real name visible out there, this privacy concern is something I have to think about.
If you’re a parent and you need help spreading the word on your child’s savings campaign, Freshman Fund might be the option for you. If you’re concerned about privacy issues, you may want to contact the site’s webmasters to find out more about how they handle these matters. Exploring the site will allow you to get a good feel for how it works so do try it out! For a more in-depth look at this service, check out this great interview offered by the founder of Freshman Fund, Jonah Keegan, over at Grad Money Matters.