How best to invest for your grandchildren? It’s a question that many grandparents ask themselves when considering what to do with their savings and investments. If the answer is “well,” then you should be focusing on investing strategies that will best benefit your grandchildren.
Many grandparents spend time trying to figure out how best to save money, but fail to invest it in ways that would help their grandchildren. This is a huge mistake.
In this article, we’ll discuss the best investments for grandchildren and how you can start investing for them today!
Why Invest for Grandchildren?
The cost of raising children has climbed considerably in recent years, along with account balances for many grandparents who have benefited from a series of strong economic cycles since the 1950s and years of compounding returns.
While not always feasible, many grandparents choose to invest for their grandchild’s future to help them get a head start in life.
Investing – and saving – are two of the most important things you can do for your grandchildren, especially as college tuition costs continue to climb.
Fortunately, these investments don’t have to be big or complicated; there are plenty of ways that every grandparent can help without breaking the bank.
By starting early and investing steadily, the money you grow for them can benefit them financially, personally and professionally.
What Costs do Grandkids Face?
The cost of college tuition is sky-high these days. In fact, for many families it’s the most expensive cost they’ll ever have to face! And that cost just keeps rising every year.
What this means for grandparents with grandkids destined for higher education, trade schools, apprenticeships or other training programs required for developing high income skills (or soon headed there) is that you need to be saving and investing now if you want to avoid taking on costly student loans.
And, before you invest in anything else for your grandkids, take a look at their cost of college. This may be the single most important investment decision that will impact them throughout their lives.
The best investments for grandchildren are those that pay off long-term costs like these and protect against future ones too!
Consider making some of the best investments for grandchildren to give them a head start and not fall into a financial hole early in life.
Best Investments for Grandchildren
Investment Accounts for Grandchildren: Taxable
1. Custodial Accounts
Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) accounts and Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts are custodial accounts that allow you to put money and/or assets in trust for a minor child or grandchild.
As the custodian, or trustee, you manage the account until the child reaches the age of majority (18 to 21 years of age, depending on your state). Once a grandchild reaches the age of majority (adulthood), they become the account owner and can do as they please with the funds.
This means they don’t have to use the money for educational expenses if they don’t wish.
While no contribution limits exist for grandparents to give money to grandkids, they can contribute up to $15,000 per year per individual ($30,000 per married couple who files jointly) to avoid triggering the gift tax.
One consideration when deciding if a custodial account makes sense for the child is that the balance in a custodial account will count against your child’s assets on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
Students are expected to contribute a higher percentage of savings versus what their parents might be able to, usually 20% vs. a maximum 5.6% of savings for the parents.
In the table below, you can see some of the best custodial accounts to consider for opening a taxable account. M1 Finance also allows you to open a custodial IRA, an account discussed later in the article.
|App||Rating (out of 5)||Fees||Best For||Promotions|
|Acorns Early||4.8||$1/month - $5/month||Automated investing in the background into diversified investments; Round Ups||$10 sign up bonus when making first deposit at account opening|
|Greenlight + Invest||4.7||$7.98/month||Teaching investing fundamentals with guidance from parents; allows individual and index fund investing||First month free|
|EarlyBird||4.0||$1/mo if over $200 invested; $2/gift paid by gifter||Simple gifting and investing in a UGMA account for reasonable fees||$10 for opening an account|
|Stash||4.7||$1/month - $9/month||Everyday people looking to start managing their finances||$5 stock bonus for making a deposit of $5 or more|
|M1 Finance||4.3||$0 trading or automated investing; $125/year on M1 Plus subscription for custodial account||Fee-free active trading and automated investing, Custodial IRAs||$30 sign up bonus with $1,000 deposit|
|UNest||4.5||$3/month - $6/month||Age-based investments in custodial investment account||Matching bonus with $25 initial deposit ($25 bonus)|
Investment Accounts for Grandchildren: Tax-Advantaged
2. 529 Plans: Save for College and Qualified Education Expenses Tax Free
A 529 plan is a special tax-advantaged investment plan that lets families save for the current and future costs of schooling for a beneficiary.
Traditionally, these plans could only cover the qualified educational expenses for college but tax reform broadened the eligible expenses to cover K-12 costs as well.
When thinking of one of the best ways to invest $1,000 for a child or more each year, consider a 529 savings plan. These can help your grandchild financially while limiting your own tax liability when you liquidate the investments held in the account.
Plans have high limits on how much you can contribute to them. Contributions are made after-tax this way and grow tax free from federal income tax like a Roth account if the funds get used for qualified educational expenses. Most states also allow tax-free withdrawals as well.
You can contribute up to the annual federal gift tax exclusion amount each year, which is $15,000 per person per individual ($30,000 for married couples who file jointly) in 2021.
Like with custodial accounts above, this “annual exclusion” represents the maximum amount you can transfer as a gift to each person without incurring a gift tax.
If you can, you might consider “superfunding” your grandchildren’s 529 plan by contributing five years of gifts all at once per grandchild per person. This provides an ample amount of money upfront without incurring the gift tax.
Understandably, not every grandparent can swing such a contribution, especially for multiple grandkids ($150,000 per grandchild if both grandparents contribute) to cover the entire cost of college.
But, if it’s possible, this let’s the money compound over multiple years from when your grandkids are young kids.
Be aware, though, using this option carries complicated rules, so consider getting the help of a tax professional to navigate these contributions successfully.
Also, 529 plans recently got the greenlight to improve how you can use the funds held within the account appropriately (i.e., without incurring the 10% withdrawal penalty).
The SECURE Act created multiple provisions intended to improve retirement planning and savings plans. The new rules from this law allow 529 plan funds to go toward paying off up to $10,000 in student loans as well as pay for expenses related to registered apprenticeship programs.
529 Plans come in two types:
College Savings Plans
College Savings Plans replicate similar mechanics of other tax-advantaged savings plans like 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).
These differ from the types you see in retirement plans though, because these have underlying investments that become more conservative as your grandchild nears college age, not retirement.
These plans get administered at the state-level.
One option to consider for opening a 529 College Savings Plan is through the company Backer. The company provides top-tier 529 Savings Plans which can collect gifts from family and friends through social savings.
You can share an invite code for friends and family to make contributions to a 529 Savings Plan for birthdays, holidays or other noteworthy events (like making honor roll!).
Prepaid Tuition Plans
While not available in every state, prepaid tuition plans (also called guaranteed savings plans) allow you to freeze today’s tuition rate for when your grandkid attends college in the next 18 years.
Essentially, these prepaid tuition plans act like a presale on college tuition and can be an alternative manner for building college savings.
The tuition program pays back the state’s eligible institutions to any beneficiaries in college. If your grandchild ends up attending a school out of state or at a private institution, you can transfer the value or apply for a refund.
3. Traditional and Roth IRAs
An individual retirement account, or IRA, is a tax-advantaged savings account where you keep investments such as stocks, ETFs, bonds, mutual funds and other asset types.
These accounts typically start with young adults because they require the account owner to have earned income.
However, if your grandchild has a summer job or other form of documented income, you can open a custodial Roth IRA (or traditional) for them and match their contributions up to the annual contribution limit.
Then, you can help your grandchildren to choose the best investments that grow with tax advantages from their start as young children and onward into adulthood.
If you’d like to contribute from your IRA toward their education expenses, you can. While you don’t need to begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) until reaching age 72, you can begin as early as when you reach age 59½.
In fact, you can also start earlier if necessary. You can withdraw money from your traditional or Roth IRA before age 59½ without paying a 10% additional tax if the funds go toward paying for qualified higher education expenses for yourself, your spouse, your children or grandchildren in the year you make the withdrawal.
This waiver only applies to the 10% penalty as you’ll still need to pay income taxes on the distribution unless it is designated as a Roth IRA.
Though, using these accounts to pay for your child or grandchild’s college education can come with its own set of drawbacks:
- It takes money out of your retirement fund — taking already limited funds you can’t contribute again unless you still work — so make sure you are well-funded outside of the IRA.
- IRA distributions can have unintended consequences such as compromising eligibility for need-based financial aid in the year following withdrawal.
If you want to avoid dipping into your retirement savings, you may be able to set up a Roth IRA in your grandchild’s name. Though, this comes with a catch.
Namely, the grandchild (and not you) must have earned income from a job during the contribution year.
You have the ability to fund the annual contribution to the maximum amount so long as they have enough in earnings to cover what you deposit. In fact, the IRS doesn’t mind where the money originates, so long as it doesn’t exceed what your grandchild earns in a year.
For example, if your grandchild works as a lifeguard and earns $1,000 for the summer, you can let your grandkid keep the money and you contribute to their Roth IRA instead.
That way, your grandchild can do something else with their earnings while you still set aside money in their retirement account.
Remember, they need to have earned income for anyone to contribute to their custodial IRA.
4. Coverdell Education Savings Account
Coverdell Education Savings Accounts are a type of investment account which make it easier to pay education expenses for your grandchildren.
Much like 529 plans above, Coverdell ESAs have money grown tax-free at the federal level (most states allow this as well) if used for qualifying education expenses.
These accounts also allow for funds to go toward qualified education expenses of K-12 grade schooling in addition to college costs. If used for nonqualified expenses, you will incur a 10% penalty as well as tax on any gains recognized in the account at the time of sale.
You cannot deduct Coverdell contributions and you must make them before your grandchildren reach the age of 18 (or later if they qualify as a special needs beneficiary by the Internal Revenue Service).
You can set up more than one ESA for a single beneficiary, but like IRAs, the maximum contribution applies across these multiple accounts (not per account) and is limited to $2,000 per year.
Investments for Grandchildren
You can use UGMA or UTMA accounts to hold many different types of assets. Commonly, you can open a custodial brokerage account to begin investing on behalf of the child.
You can use this as an opportunity to teach your grandkids about investing, the importance of thrift, or general money management skills. To get them interested in investing, consider creating a portfolio of stocks for kids, with companies they’ll likely recognize from their daily lives.
Companies could include Apple, Google, Tesla, McDonald’s, Disney and many more. With a strong portfolio of blue chip stocks, your grandkid’s account balance could grow steadily and consistently across multiple years.
Be mindful that these accounts do carry some tax breaks related to investment income but must still pay above certain levels due to the Kiddie Tax.
This tax requires parents to pay the marginal income tax rate on all unearned income realized in the account. This rule applies to all unearned income for kids under 19 or full-time students under 23.
This doesn’t make the child pay higher taxes than their current wages. The IRS allows the first $1,100 of unearned income to be tax-free, the second $1,100 to be taxed at the child’s rate and then any balance above that at the parents’ rate.
This means that if you put $1,000 into a Greenlight UTMA/UGMA Investing account each year for your grandchild and they earn under $1,100 in dividends, it’s tax free. However, if it’s $1,700, there will be taxes due on $600 of that amount.
If the account has $2,500 in dividends, $1,100 will be untaxed, $1,100 will be at the child’s tax rate and $300 at the parents’ rate.
If your grandchild later sells any stocks held in their account, they will be subject to capital gains tax. Though, if held for longer than a year, they may qualify for slight tax breaks by having the gains fall subject to long-term capital gains tax and not short-term capital gains tax.
The former tends to have more favorable rates while the latter incurs the same rates as you pay on ordinary income.
2. Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
Exchange traded funds (ETF) have become increasingly popular over the last two decades. These act like mutual funds by holding an underlying, diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, or other investments but trade openly on the stock market exchanges.
Because of this feature, they often have better liquidity than mutual funds because they trade throughout the day.
ETFs can represent both passive and active investment options. Passive ETFs tend to be index funds which track a broader market index but also a specific sector or group of related assets.
Because they attempt to replicate the performance of a public benchmark or sector, management expenses are negligible and mostly come down to the stock trading commissions you might face if not using a free stock trading app to invest.
Active ETFs can charge much higher management fees because they actively trade in and out of securities to achieve some stated investment objective.
3. Mutual Funds
Mutual funds allow you to pool your money with that of other investors, which creates a larger collection of stocks, bonds and other investments. This is often referred to as a portfolio.
When a mutual fund’s securities’ values change, the net asset value (NAV) is adjusted accordingly by calculating how much more—or less—the fund would have to sell its investments for in order to fulfill shareholder redemptions.
This price changes based on the value of the securities in your portfolio at the end of each market trading day.
Mutual fund investors don’t actually own the underlying securities, just the mutual fund shares themselves.
Mutual funds come in two types: passively managed and actively managed mutual funds.
In the case of active mutual funds, a portfolio manager or team of managers decides which investments to buy and sell. The primary goal of portfolio management is to outperform a comparable benchmark, justifying using their investment vehicle instead of simply investing in an index fund.
Passively managed mutual funds simply attempt to recreate the performance of a benchmark like a stock index.
You can invest in mutual funds through IRAs for your grandchildren and allow them to reap the long-term rewards of compounding returns in a diversified investment.
4. Savings Account
Starting to save can seem daunting, but parents and grandparents can address that head on by making it an easy task for kids through repetition and understanding.
If you’ve already conquered the ability to save, be that family member who helps your grand kids learn about the importance of opening a savings account early and developing good money habits as early as possible.
If you want to help your grandchildren build a savings account balance or even help them open an account through a banking app for minors to handle money from their allowance or a part-time job, you’ve got options to make building savings a habit.
Doing so will provide them with an opportunity to earn some interest on their savings account, while also learning how to bank. Many even come with debit cards for kids and teens that allow parents to monitor spending and set guardrails for how they spend.
When choosing a youth savings account, you’ll want to pay attention to the following items:
- interest rate
- any fees or minimum balance requirements
- how the grandchild can access the funds
- how the account can grow with them as they mature.
Where to Open Investment and Bank Accounts for Grandchildren
Now that you know more about the types of investment accounts available for you to open on behalf of your grandchildren, you might want to consider which investment options to pick.
Thankfully, there are many all-in-one money apps for kids, allowing your grandkids to start saving, learn about spending and also how to invest money for the first time.
M1 Finance ($30 bonus) – Best for Custodial IRAs
- Available: Sign up here
- Price: Free trades, $125 subscription to M1 Plus required for custodial account
M1 Finance is an all-in-one personal finance solution that allows new investors to set up an account in seconds.
If you want to use this as a kids investing app, you’ll need to apply for an M1 Plus subscription. The company has a limited time offer of the first year for free ($125 value).
The service offers investors the ability to create Portfolio Pies, or a diversified portfolio that rebalances to help you achieve your money goals.
M1 Finance is a service designed for self-directed investors by offering flexible, customizable and automated financial solutions. The platform manages your money intelligently based on how you want.
Consider signing up for an M1 Finance custodial account or custodial IRA today.
- Available: Sign up here
- Price: Free 1-month trial, $7.98/mo after for Greenlight + Invest
Greenlight + Invest is an investment account for kids that comes paired with a debit card.
It’s easy to use and can double as a savings account and banking apps for teens. The app will teach the basics of investing, how to invest in stocks and ETFs, etc.
It works best if parents and/or grandparents are involved in the process because it requires linked accounts from the custodians’ banks or brokerages.
The all-in-one plan teaches them important financial skills like money management and investing fundamentals — with real money, real stocks and real-life lessons.
You can use the investing feature to:
- Buy fractional shares of companies your kids admire (kid-friendly stocks)
- Start investing with as little as $1 in your account (with fractional shares)
- No trading commissions beyond the monthly subscription fee
- Parents approve every trade directly in the app on individual stocks and ETFs with a market capitalization of $1 billion+
Consider opening a Greenlight Card + Invest account to start investing in a custodial brokerage account for your kids today. The first month is free to trial the product and see if it meets your needs for giving one of the best investments for grandkids.
Acorns Early ($10 Bonus)
- Available: Sign up here
- Price: Acorns Lite: $1/mo, Acorns Personal: $3/mo, Acorns Family: $5/mo
Acorns offers a custodial brokerage account for parents and grandparents interested in opening an investment account for their family called Acorns Early.
Acorns Early offers investment portfolios of various risk levels for kids, so you can feel confident in the account you’re opening up for your little one. This app can be a great way to teach minors how to invest money.
The best part about Acorns is that it doesn’t require any minimum deposit to get started and allows you to contribute money on a regular basis.
One of the best ways to start saving for your grandchild is through a savings and investing account product like Acorns Early.
Other Assets to Give Your Grandkids
1. Savings Bonds
When my grandparents invested for me in the 1990s, they did so by purchasing savings bonds in my name. My parents followed suit and used these to set aside money for me to pay for the costs of college.
Once I reached college age, I had worked hard enough to earn scholarships and financial assistance to pay for private college without need for this savings.
The college costs I encountered thankfully made the college savings they had accumulated for me unnecessary, allowing me instead to cash out these bonds and begin investing in the stock market as a teenager.
But for grandparents who want to save money for their grandkids with these zero risk financial products, you can still do so directly through TreasuryDirect.gov.
You will no longer receive physical bond certificates to hold but can still cash them at a financial institution if you have some unredeemed savings bonds for a beneficiary.
These savings bonds grow tax free from state or local taxes, but you must still pay federal taxes on them when redeemed.
Rates on these bonds have fallen dramatically in the last decade but if you can manage to hold on to them for at least 20 years, the Treasury guarantees to double the original amount paid as a minimum level of return.
Consider investing in savings bonds if you plan to start at least 20 years in advance and want a riskless investment. Otherwise, you’ve got better options listed above for growing an investment portfolio your grandchildren can use to their advantage.
The annual exclusion refers to $15,000 in gifts you can give to as many people as you want annually.
Married couples can combine their annual exclusions to give up to $30,000 ($15,000 x 2) to as many individuals as they like per year–tax-free.
As a grandparent, you can provide a financial gift for a child up to the annual exclusion each year without paying taxes. These gifts can help to pay for college or other higher education costs.
If you make financial gifts in excess of the annual exclusion, they count against the lifetime exemption from estate taxes, which comes to $11.7 million per individual and $23.4 million per couple in 2021.
If you have concerns about the lifetime exemption as a grandparent, you can help your grandchild pay for college while limiting your own tax liability.
You can do this by making a payment directly to their public college, private school or any other type of higher-education institution.
If grandparents pay educational expenses directly to the school, these costs do not count toward the annual exclusion.
This can protect against exceeding the annual exclusion and lifetime exemption while still paying for college tuition and other college expenses charged by the school.
Paying for the beneficiary’s college costs like this provides tax advantages as well as potentially lowering the possibility of coming into contact with the federal gift tax or estate taxes.
As an example, even if you send $25,000 a year to your grandchild’s college, the amount over the annual exclusion of $15,000 ($10,000 in this instance) would not count against the lifetime exemption.
How to Gift Stock
You can gift stock directly without needing to sell before gifting the shares to your grandchildren. If you want to invest for your grandchildren, a variety of options exist.
However, transferring stocks from your account to theirs involves some additional steps that may not be obvious beforehand.
- Capital Gains Taxes
When you sell stocks for more than your cost basis, you are liable for capital gains taxes. If you transfer appreciated stock, you nor the recipient will encounter capital gains. Your basis and holding period transfer with the stock position.
- Gift Tax Rules
Next, you’ll also need to understand a bit about gift tax rules. For most individuals, this won’t pose a problem so long as the annual amount of gifted stock falls below $15,000 per person (or $30,000 per married couple filing jointly).
- Financial Control
Finally, you’ll also want to consider how to maintain control over these positions. Giving stocks as a gift means relinquishing control of the stock to the recipient.
One way to invest for your grandchildren is through a trust. You can place limitations on the funds given in this type of investment scheme.
Consider this resource for learning more on how to gift stock.
Investing for a Grandchild: Saving for Their Future
To ensure that they will be more successful than their parents, grandparents need to invest in the future success of their grandchildren.
Properly investing is a way for grandparents to demonstrate that they are committed to seeing generations succeed rather than struggle even if this means changing some things about their lives.
By providing financial support to their grandchildren, grandparents can empower them with the resources they need to live a better life.
A long-term goal for many parents and grandparents is that one day both children and grandchildren will be able to sustain themselves without any outside help. Investing in a grandchild’s future shows you are committed to this goal.
About the Site Author and Blog
In 2018, I was winding down a stint in investor relations and found myself newly equipped with a CPA, added insight on how investors behave in markets, and a load of free time. My job routinely required extended work hours, complex assignments, and tight deadlines. Seeking to maintain my momentum, I wanted to chase something ambitious.
I chose to start this financial independence blog as my next step, recognizing both the challenge and opportunity. I launched the site with encouragement from my wife as a means to lay out our financial independence journey and connect with and help others who share the same goal.
I have not been compensated by any of the companies listed in this post at the time of this writing. Any recommendations made by me are my own. Should you choose to act on them, please see the disclaimer on my About Young and the Invested page.