UNest review

A mobile app that provides robo-advising for your child's investment account for a monthly fee.

UNest is a mobile app that helps parents save and invest in their children’s future. While it began as a way to save for educational expenses, it stopped offering 529 plans in October 2020. UNest now exclusively offers custodial accounts for a monthly fee.

  • Consider UNest if you want a hands-off approach to your child’s investment account.
  • Look elsewhere if you’re an active trader.
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$3 per month

Fee

What we think of UNest

UNest only offers kids’ custodial accounts — which makes it a hard sell for anyone seeking a one-stop shop for their investments. But let’s say you’ve already got yourself set up with a broker and you’re specifically seeking a platform to open a custodial account for your kid. If that’s the case, UNest could be worth a look.

UNest offers custodial accounts and nothing else. While that means it’s limited in its account lineup, that also means the UNest platform is specifically designed for parents and guardians who want to save for their child’s future. The platform is accessible via mobile app and UNest automatically invests gifts and contributions in line with your established investment strategy.

But UNest isn’t without its drawbacks. For one thing, it’s expensive — more expensive than direct competitor EarlyBird, at least. While UNest charges $3 monthly per account, EarlyBird only charges $1 per month. Plus, there are other platforms that offer custodial accounts as part of a far more robust account lineup, like Charles Schwab or TD Ameritrade. Opting for one of these platforms gives you the opportunity to house all of your investment accounts under one roof.

UNest specializes in custodial accounts

UNest offers tax-advantaged investment accounts for children. Unlike other savings accounts whose funds are reserved only for educational purposes, these funds can be used for any life event, including college tuition, their first car, wedding expenses or a down payment on a house.

Your UNest account can invest in the following securities based on your portfolio options:

  • Fixed-income and bond ETFs
  • Vanguard equity index ETFs

When can my child access the funds in their UNest account?

Children can access the money in their account when they reach adulthood, which can be anywhere between 18 to 25, depending on your state laws. Although it may have tax implications, you can withdraw funds at any time without penalty as long as it benefits your child.

UNest is best for parents

UNest is best for parents who want to save for their child’s future and prefer the convenience of a robo-advisor. UNest handles the investing side of your custodial account based on your portfolio preference, while parents can conveniently manage their contribution plans and transactions from their smartphones.

Each account requires a $25 minimum monthly contribution.

Tax benefits

You can contribute up to $15,000 per individual or $30,000 for married couples tax-free. And for any applicable earnings or gains on your UNest account, the first $1,100 of annual earnings is tax-free and the next $1,100 is taxed at the child’s rate.

Financial aid eligibility

Since a UNest account is a custodial Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) account, you must report student assets when filing for financial aid, which may reduce the financial aid amount by 20%.

One option is to transfer the money to a custodial 529 college savings plan before your child goes to college, which categorizes the funds as the parents’ asset — potentially lowering financial aid eligibility by 5.64% instead of 20%. But you may get hit with a tax bill.

7 steps to sign up for a UNest account

Here’s how to open a UNest Investment Account for Kids:

  1. Download the UNest app from the Apple App or Google Play store.
  2. Sign up by entering your email and creating a password.
  3. Select who you would like to create an account for, such as your child or a grandchild.
  4. Input details about the child, including their name and date of birth.
  5. Enter your personal information.
  6. Establish a monthly contribution plan.
  7. Fund your account with a US bank account.

Eligibility

To qualify for a UNest account, you’ll need:

  • A valid address
  • To be a US citizen or legal resident
  • A US bank account
  • A smartphone

Required information

You should have the following personal details handy during the signup process:

  • Custodian’s full legal name
  • Date of birth
  • The child’s first and last name
  • The child’s date of birth
  • Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Address
  • Bank account information

Pros and cons

Pros

Here’s a quick rundown of the benefits of a UNest account:

  • Tax advantages. Annual realized earnings up to $2,200 may be subject to no or a reduced tax rate.
  • Flexible use. You can use the funds for any purpose that benefits the child, except for everyday spending, such as food and clothing.
  • No contribution limits. While there is no limit to how much you can put into the UNest account, gifts above $15,000 per individual or $30,000 for married couples may be subject to the gift tax.

Cons

Consider the following limitations before creating a UNest Investment Account for Kids:

  • Monthly fees. Unlike other custodial savings accounts, UNest charges a monthly maintenance fee, and you must commit at least $25 a month to fund the account.
  • Irrevocable gift. The money in the UNest account belongs to the child, which means you lose control of the asset when they reach adulthood.
  • Affects financial aid eligibility. A UNest account can reduce or disqualify your child from receiving federal financial aid.
  • May have tax implications. Liquidating your account, such as transferring the funds to a 529 plan, may result in a tax bill.

Is UNest legit?

Yes. UNest was founded in 2018 and is based in Los Angeles, California. It is an SEC-Registered Investment Advisor and partners with Apex Clearing Corporation to hold your investment accounts. And since Apex Clearing Corporation is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), your accounts are insured up to $500,000, which includes up to $250,000 for cash claims.

There are currently no complaints lodged against UNest on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

UNest reviews are favorable

Most reviews of UNest are positive on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. As of October 2021, Apple users rate the platform 4.7 out of 5 stars based on over 2,800 reviews. And Android users like it too — averaging 4.3 out of 5 stars based on 1,636 reviews.

Most customers enjoy the convenience of the app and its user-friendly interface. Some users complain of difficulty connecting with customer service.

UNest is not accredited with the Better Business Bureau but holds an A- rating for responding to two complaints.

UNest support can be reached by phone and email

There are two ways to get in touch with UNest customer service:

  • Phone. Call 818-275-0041 weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.
  • Email. Get support by emailing support@unest.co.

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