LANSING — Just in time for the holidays, the Michigan Education Savings Program (MESP) has unwrapped a new program that allows family and friends to contribute toward a child’s college education with only a few stirrings of a computer mouse.

MESP’s e-gifting program allows account holders – such as parents – to send a tactful, prewritten email inviting grandparents, aunts, uncles and other gift givers to contribute to a child’s existing MESP college savings fund.

The email contains a link that, when clicked on, takes the family member or friend to a secure web page, where he or she can use a credit card or e-check to make a gift of $25 or more to an existing MESP account.

The e-gifting program conveniently allows family and friends to make contributions without having to know or enter the number of the account or the investment option to which they’re contributing.

“We’re proud to make it as easy as possible for people to provide a gift that can literally last a lifetime,” said Michael Noone, president of TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., which manages MESP on behalf of the state of Michigan. “A contribution to a college education fund will continue to make a difference in a loved one’s life long after he or she outgrows clothes or wears out a toy.”

Noone notes that, if preferred, family and friends can also send a check or money order (with the account number and investment option they’re contributing to clearly indicated) or even open their own MESP account for a child.

The entire process of making an e-gift requires only a couple of minutes to complete, and account holders receive a confirmation that a contribution was made. Also, family and friends who contribute can download and complete an MESP Gift of Education Certificate, which they can wrap, frame or place in a card to present to a child as a gift.

All contributions are invested according to the investment allocation the account owner has established. Friends and family members can only contribute to the account; they can’t choose how the money is invested.

Contributions to an MESP account may also qualify for estate and gift tax benefits as well as state of Michigan income tax deductions. Those making contributions should consult a tax adviser for details.

MESP is administered by the Michigan Department of Treasury, which chose TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., to manage the plan in November 2000. Today, the plan manages more than $3.5 billion on behalf of the nearly 114,000 families who are saving for college with an MESP account. TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., is one of the nation’s largest 529 program managers and currently manages 11 state programs, including Michigan’s.

MESP is one of three Michigan Section 529 plans, all of which offer Michigan taxpayers a state income tax deduction on contributions and potential tax-free growth on any earnings if account proceeds are used to pay for qualified expenses. MESP can be used at any eligible college, university or trade school in the nation and some abroad for a variety of qualified expenses, including tuition, mandatory equipment, fees, certain room and board costs and books. Limitations apply. See the MESP Disclosure Booklet for details.

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