By Roby Smith, Iowa State Treasurer

December 12, 2023

We’ve all been there … staying up late to ensure each child has the same number of gifts and making sure the presents match their unique personalities. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. But it doesn’t have to be. This year, give the gift of education with a 529 account. Plus, you might even find it’s easier than wrapping a present. Here, I’ll show you!

Step 1: Gather your materials.

Anyone can start saving for a child’s (Beneficiary’s) education with a 529 account, and it doesn’t take much to get started. All you need to have on hand is your and your Beneficiary’s date of birth and Social Security number. 

Step 2: Measure and cut your paper [investments].

Each state offers a variety of professionally managed investment options. Do your research and determine which plans measure up to your comfort level and savings goals. Don’t forget to check your home state to see if they have additional tax benefits. Once you’ve found the right plan for you, make the cut and start saving! 

Step 3: Make adjustments.

Sure, this might not be a step in everyone’s gift-wrapping how-to, but it is for those of us who tape down our paper only to realize it’s not what we expected. The same could be said about adjusting your investments. Change the investment portfolio of new money at any point and make investment changes to existing money up to twice per calendar year. 

Step 4: Flip the box [Beneficiary] and complete the other side.

If your original Beneficiary decides to take a different route, or they have leftover money after they pursue their education adventures, flip it! Transfer the money to an eligible family member (sibling, cousin, grandchild, etc.) so they can use the money to finish their post-secondary education. Or, use it for your own education dreams! 

Step 5: Add the bow.

Much like a bow can make a present stand out, saving in a 529 plan lets the child in your life know their talents, ideas and dreams stand out to you. Whether they want to attend a two- or four-year university, apprenticeship program, trade school, or graduate school, you can pay for the things that help get them to the finish line. Finally, a gift that lasts!  

Bonus tip! 

Worried about making your gift fun to open on the big day? Consider a handwritten note and pair it with their favorite treats, hide it in a series of nesting boxes, or do a fun scavenger hunt.  

About the Author

Iowa State Treasurer Roby Smith is the administrator of Iowa’s 529 Education Savings Programs, College Savings Iowa and the IAdvisor 529 Plan, with over $6 billion invested and more than $4.9 billion in qualified withdrawals.