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Last-Minute Gift That Never Goes Out of Style

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When it comes to college savings, Americans are really counting on friends and family to meet their child's tuition needs.

In fact, 61% of Americans expect friends and family members to contribute to college funds for a son or daughter, according to Fidelity Investments.

In addition, 19% of parents want their closest friends and family members to forgo a traditional holiday gift this year and instead contribute to a college fund such as a college 529 plan.

Parents need the help, as only 34% of U.S. families are on track to cover their college savings costs. Cash gifts around the holidays could add some much-needed fuel to those college plans -- if families can convince their loved ones to pony up some cash come Christmas Day.

"Contributing to a child's college savings fund is easy to do, and a gift more valuable to their future than anything you can buy in a mall," says Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning at Fidelity. "With many families still far behind their savings goals, monetary gifts can add up over time and make a difference in the years to come."

Bernhardt says families with children of any age -- from newborns to those getting ready to head to campus -- can open a 529 in a child's name and manage how the savings are used for higher education expenses. "For parents making gifts to their own child's 529 account, direct deposit is a reliable way to help ensure savings are consistently contributed. Friends and family wanting to gift to a child's 529 account can give money to the parents, specifying it's for their college savings."

So what's in it for the gift giver? No doubt the feel of good will knowing that a college funding contribution will help the college student earn his or her diploma is a big factor.

Besides the "warm and fuzzy factor," Fidelity says, a college funding gift this holiday means one less trip to the mall and certainly no assembly or rush shipping.

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Best of all, it's one gift unlikely to be returned.