One in three Americans planned to return at least one of the holiday gifts they received last year. In fact, the National Retail Federation estimates that consumers return as much as $95 billion worth of holiday purchases.
But this year, you can guarantee that your gift wouldn't be among those returned. Here are seven gift ideas that not only work for a range of recipients, but also pay dividends long after the new year rolls in.
Instead of giving an iPad or a luxury handbag to your loved ones this holiday season, try a gift that could pay off even more: stock in the companies behind those popular products. You can send the gift of investing to everyone on your list this year (as long as their employer has no restrictions around owning individual stocks) through a company called Stockpile.
Stockpile allows you to buy gift cards that recipients can redeem for fractional shares of stock in over 1,000 companies and ETFs. Buying a Stockpile gift card costs $2.99 for the first stock and 99 cents for each additional stock. The company also charges a 3% fee for using credit and debit cards. There's no charge for your recipient to redeem the stock or switch to another stock, but trades do cost 99 cents.
Of course, investing is not risk-free and there's no guarantee that you'll see any returns. Typically, investors see some years where they earn double-digit returns from the stock market and other years where they experience a loss.
Help your friends and family sharpen their skills or expand their knowledge base this holiday season. You never know, it could lead to a promotion or a better paying job in the new year. You can gift an online course through Udemy, which has over 130,000 classes on topics including data science, leadership and content marketing. Courses on the site typically range from $20 to $200.
If you're interested in boosting your own skill set, you can give yourself a gift by signing up for LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda) or Coursera. A subscription to LinkedIn's catalogue of online courses is $29.99 a month after a free 30-day trial. Or you can learn a specific specialization through Coursera for $39 a month.
If you have younger children on your list this year, but you still want to give the gift of education, look into opening a 529 plan or contributing to an existing account. These are tax-advantaged accounts specifically designed to help families save for education costs.
About 30 states offer tax deductions for those contributing to a 529 plan. Plus, investments made in these accounts grow tax-free. Every state has a plan for residents and several states allow anyone to participate, even if you don't live there.
You can also set up a 529 plan through financial companies such as Wealthfront and Fidelity, the latter of which actually has a college gifting service that makes it easy for family and friends to contribute by sharing a link to a personalized portal.
While saving for college can make a great gift, paying off student loan debt is also a worthwhile approach to holiday giving. It's fairly easy to contribute by using Gift of College's gift cards. This company has partnered with over 40 federal loan servicers and private lenders, including Earnest, Navient and Sallie Mae, so that consumers can simply purchase physical or digital gifts. There's a 5% processing fee, but you may be able to avoid that by purchasing the gift card at a local retailer, such as Target.
The Gift of College also allows families to gift for 529 plans and ABLE accounts, which are tax-free investment accounts designed to help manage lifelong costs for those with disabilities.
There's now a host of companies — including FamZoo, Greenlight and gohenry — that will issue a debit card to your child, teen or college student, but you can control how much they spend and where they shop through user-friendly apps. Talk about a win-win situation: You can teach your kids about responsible spending and still be the gifting hero this holiday season.
You can load money on the card, limit how much can be spent and even automate payments for chores or allowances. Specific features and prices vary: A custom Greenlight card is $9.99, and then $4.99 a month, FamZoo charges $25.99 for a six-month subscription and gohenry is $3.99 a month.
If an ongoing monthly subscription fee for plastic seems like too much of a commitment, you can always buy your loved ones a savings bond. It may sound a bit old school, but Series EE and Series I savings bonds pay interest for up to 30 years.
To purchase a savings bond as a gift, you'll need to set up an account directly with the Treasury Department, as savings bonds purchased as gifts can only be done electronically now. Keep in mind that you'll need to know the recipient's full name and Social Security number. They will also need to have a TreasuryDirect account set up.
If you're giving to a child, you'll need to have a parent or other adult custodian create a minor linked account.
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