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Mother and son talking about their NEST plan.

The month Hunter Gilbertson was born, in August 2004, his mother, Korby Gilbertson, started saving for his college by investing in an Educational Savings Trust (NEST) 529 College Savings Plan. Hunter just wrapped up his first year at Hastings College, where he is a wildlife biology major and a member of the Shotgun Sports Team. Korby and Hunter shared their experiences investing in and using a NEST 529 account.

Why did you choose to invest in a 529?

Korby: I wanted to make sure Hunter didn’t have to work his way through college like I did. I paid for college myself, so I lived at home and worked. I went to class and then went to work. I didn’t have time for anything else. I wanted Hunter to enjoy a real college experience, including extracurricular activities and general campus life – an opportunity I didn’t have.

How did you hear about NEST 529?

Korby: I’m a lobbyist, so I learned about the program when the legislation to create it was making its way through the Nebraska Legislature. It seemed like a great way to save for Hunter’s future and get tax benefits.

How often did you contribute to the fund?

Korby: I arranged for an automatic deposit every month and would try to top it off at the end of the year. I looked at it like a car payment. The process of opening the account and contributing to it was straightforward, and I didn’t have to think much about it since it was automatic. The plan administrators do all the work of investing the funds on your behalf. There should be enough funds now to cover Hunter’s undergraduate education.

What happens if money is left in the account when Hunter finishes school?

Korby: My financial advisor said I could stop investing in the account now that Hunter has started college, but I decided to keep contributing. Other expenses always pop up, and I want to be able to cover those eventualities. If there is money left, he can use it for graduate school, or I can name a new beneficiary of the account. That said, I think he will eventually use it all.

What has the college experience been like for you so far?

Hunter: The best part has been being part of the Shotgun Sports Team. Being part of a team has made the transition to college life easier and has been a lot of fun. It was good for me to get involved on campus right away.

What’s your perspective on benefiting from your mom’s investment into a 529?

Hunter: I knew the account was there and how the money got into it, but I didn’t pay much attention to it until recently. I know how lucky I am. College is stupid expensive. I have friends who miss out on a lot – even practices – because they always have to work. One of my friends has four student loans right now. I don’t know how he will pay them all back. A lot of my friends have scholarships, but they don’t come close to covering everything.

What advice would you give other parents just starting to save?

Korby: Start saving as early as possible and make it part of your monthly budget – even if it’s just $25. Every little bit adds up. Automate your deposit to make it even easier. Don’t try to put $5,000 away at once at the end of the year because there will always be something else that comes up that you need to use that money for. It’s easier to do small amounts as you go.

And don’t count on scholarships to cover everything. Hunter has three scholarships, but they don’t come close to covering all his expenses. His NEST 529 account has saved us from taking out student loans.

If you had it to do all over again, would you use a 529?

Korby: One hundred percent! It has been great. It’s been easy to access the funds when we need them.

For more information about saving for college and NEST 529, visit our website and tune into our livestream, How to Save for College, on Facebook at YouTube at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 17.

By Regan Anson