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UNest Review: Start a Child’s College Fund Easily on Any Budget

By contributing $25 a month, you can effortlessly save for your child’s education and future.

Advertiser Disclosure: Most products in our articles are from partners who may provide us with compensation. However, opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain.

If you’re a parent, there is no doubt you’ve heard the tired cliche about kids growing up too fast. As annoying as the saying is, time does seem to slip past you faster when life is busy, and it can be easy to forgo saving for your child’s future.

UNest is an easy-to-use app and investment account that makes opening a 529 college savings plan for families quick and automated. For the cost of one monthly fast-food run, you can set and forget your child’s college savings. And, according to the UNest website, setting up a college savings account requires no paperwork, and takes just five minutes to set up using the app. 

How Does UNest Work?

Unest website
Credit: UNest

UNest lets users set up and contribute to a 529 plan, which allows money to grow tax-free and be used for a wide range of educational expenses in the future. Any U.S. citizen can create a 529 plan for themselves, current or future children or current grandchildren.

Through the UNest app, you can automatically contribute $25 to $1,250 per month into your or your child’s account. It’s never too late to start, so don’t be discouraged if your child is not a baby.

For example, opening an account today for an 8-year-old can result in the following savings with UNest (or set your own goals using the UNest College Savings Calculator that uses a hypothetical annual investment return of 8% to calculate these estimates):

  • $25/month can grow to $4,021 by 2032 (versus $3,025 in a Personal Savings Account)
  • $75/month can grow to $12,064 by 2032 (versus $9,075 in a Personal Savings Account)
  • $200/month can grow to $32,171 by 2032 (versus $24,200 in a Personal Savings Account)

When it comes to starting a 529 account, the earlier the better because you have time on your side to grow your savings. For example, if you started an account for a newborn today with $25 monthly contributions, you would have $10,602 saved with UNest by the time they are ready for college (age 19).

  • For the newborn, your $25 monthly contributions will add up to $5,700 and earn $4,902
  • For the 8-year-old, you would have to contribute $50 per month, or $6,600 to earn a $1,442 return through UNest (total saved for college would be $8,042)

UNest is also fine-tuning an easy gifting option so that others can contribute to your 529 plan at any time. Because, in reality, your child doesn’t need another LEGO set, and a small monthly contribution to their college savings can go a long way.

What If My Child Doesn’t Go to College?

While the 529 plans are popular for future college plans, your money is not lost forever if Junior decides to skip the degree. You can always change the beneficiary of the account to a family member without incurring tax penalties. The definition of a family member is quite a bit more flexible than you might think—even a beneficiary’s spouse or foster child can use the funds. Here’s a good list of everyone that can be named as a beneficiary if the original beneficiary doesn’t use the funds.

The 529 plan can also be used for non-college educational expenses, such as K-12 educational costs for public, private or charter schools. Each state has its own specific rules on how funding can be used. Ideally, the funds would be used for qualified educational expenses to avoid this fee. However, if you need to cash out your 529 plan for non-school expenses, it is nice to know that you will not be taxed on the total amount. Instead, the earnings portion of a non-qualified 529 plan distribution is subject to income tax and a 10% penalty.

It is worth noting that according to the UNest website that while 529 plans can only be used for qualified educational expenses, you can use funds invested in UNest for any expense that benefits the child named on the account.

How to Sign Up for a UNest Account

Credit: UNest

Creating a UNest account takes less than five minutes and is user-friendly. Download the iOS or Android app and follow these steps:

  • Enter an email and password
  • Choose who the savings account is for (current child, future child, grandchild, or self)
  • Enter account holder details, such as full name, birthdate, address, phone number and Social Security number
  • Choose your monthly contribution (starting at $25 per month; this amount can be changed at any time)
  • Connect with your bank instantly by logging in or set up manual entry with a voided check
  • Add more beneficiaries if needed

How Much Does a UNest Account Cost?

UNest charges $2.99 per month per account. Accounts over $50,000 are charged a 0.25% fee annually. Underlying management fees costs 0.4 to 0.6% annually. UNest says that it can save investors over $25,000 on fees for college when you use them rather than a traditional financial advisor.

Earn $100 With UNest Referral Bonuses When Available

Periodically, UNest offers a referral bonus which sweetens the deal. In the past (2020), they offered a $500 bonus for five successful UNest referrals.

Be sure to check the referral page each month to capitalize on these bonuses.

Other referral bonus offers include a $15 gift into your UNest account when you refer other parents to UNest, who will also receive $15. From time to time, according to the UNest website, additional promotions to refer friends and family may be available in addition to their standard $15 referral bonuses.

Look for UNest Sign-Up Bonuses: Earn $10

In the past, new UNest users could earn $10 when they start an account for their child with a minimum deposit of $25 per month. The $10 bonus is only valid on your first child’s account, and adding more children/beneficiaries will not prompt another $10 bonus. The $10 gifts will be paid out 7-10 days after opening your account. While there is no current sign-up bonus live now, you can see all previous bonus details here.

Why I Became a UNest User

As a fellow parent, I want to give my children the benefits that only time can have on interest-growth savings accounts. However, I also relate to how busy life gets and how even the best intentions to save can be forgotten.

UNest takes the guesswork out of saving for the future. Set it once and forget it or change how much you contribute based on your budget. Any amount saved will be useful for the future, so don’t delay savings until you feel more financially ready.

Even when the budget feels tight, usually saving $25 per month can be done painlessly. Finding an extra $25 in your monthly budget might mean skipping takeout once a month or avoiding Amazon or Target for a day, but it’ll definitely be worth it.

While we work hard on our research, we do not always provide a complete listing of all available offers from credit-card companies and banks. And because offers can change, we cannot guarantee that our information will always be up to date, so we encourage you to verify all the terms and conditions of any financial product before you apply.

Ryan M Tronier
Ryan M Tronier
Ryan Tronier is a personal finance expert and writer. His work has been published on NBC, ABC, USATODAY, The Mortgage Reports, Yahoo Finance, MSN, and more. Ryan is the former managing editor of the finance website Sapling, as well as the former personal finance editor at Slickdeals. Find him online at

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