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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 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 make monthly contributions to your or your child’s account. The minimum contribution is $25 per month, and there's a maximum annual contribution cap of $15,000 per individual (or $30,000 per married couple). 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 $3,750 by 2032 (versus $2,875 in a Personal Savings Account)
- $75/month can grow to $11,250 by 2032 (versus $8,625 in a Personal Savings Account)
- $200/month can grow to $30,002 by 2032 (versus $23,000 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 $10,024 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 $4,324
- For the 8-year-old, you would have to contribute $50 per month, or $6,600 to earn a $900 return through UNest (total saved for college would be $7,500)
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
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 child, or $5.98 per month for a family subscription (this is designed for families with multiple children).
UNest says that it can save investors over $25,000 on fees for college when you use them rather than a traditional financial advisor.
It's worth weighing the amount of money you plan to contribute monthly (as well as the length of time your account will be open) against the service's monthly fees. To return to the above examples:
If you started an account for a newborn today with $25 monthly contributions, you would have $10,024 saved with UNest by the time they are ready for college (age 19). During this time, you'll pay $684 in monthly UNest fees, which is considerably less than the $4,324 you earned for using the service.
On the other hand, if you started an account for your 8-year-old, and only contributed $25 a month until they were 19, you'd save $3,300 and earn a $450 return through UNest, bringing your total savings to $3,750. At the same time, you'd pay $396 in monthly fees to use the service, which eats up the majority of your return.
With this in mind, it's best to contribute more than the minimum required amount if you plan to create a UNest account for an older child. You can use UNest's College Savings Calculator to figure out how much you need to save to make the account worth it.
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.
Other referral bonus offers have included 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.