For many of us, investing for retirement seems like a complicated and intimidating process. Just thinking about how much there is to learn about the stock market can be enough to become convinced that you’d be better of waiting to invest. You certainly don’t want your hard-earned money to disappear because you made silly investments, right? Better off waiting to start investing until you’ve studied up and know what you’re doing, right? Someday you’ll be ready to start investing.
But while you’re waiting for someday to arrive, you’re missing out on the magic of compound interest and building your retirement portfolio. If only there were a way you could invest wisely today even if you aren’t an investing whiz yet.
Well, Acorns lets you do just that.
Just download the app and Acorns will take care of the rest. No need to spend months learning stock market lingo or brushing up on Modern Portfolio Theory. Acorns will recommend optimized portfolios based on your investing profile and manage them for you.
Interested? Well, before you sign up, let’s take a closer look at exactly what Acorns has to offer so you can decide if the investing app is right for you.
Acorns is an award-winning saving and investing app that you can manage from your smartphone. Acorns is probably best known for its “Round-Up” feature that allows users to link their credit and debit cards so the app can track their transaction history, round up to the nearest dollar and invest the spare change. You don’t have to use the Round-Up feature to invest with Acorns, but it certainly makes investing effortless.
Who is Acorns for?
Acorns is a good fit for anyone who:
- Is new to investing and looking for guidance
- Struggles to save money
- Wants a low-maintenance way to manage investments
- Is a college student
- Likes free money just for opening an account
How Much Does it Cost?
Acorns doesn’t charge any trade fees or penalties for withdrawing funds and there aren’t any deposit or minimum account balance requirements.
(UPDATE: As of April 2018, Acorns has changed its fee structure. Acorns previously charged $1/month until you had $5,000 invested and charge an annual fee of 0.25% after that. Now the 0.25% annual fee only kicks in after your balance hits $1 million!)
Acorns costs $1 a month until your account reaches $1 million.
Acorns’ new pricing structure is definitely a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t change the fact that a dollar a month is actually quite pricey if you’re a newer investors with a lower account balance. Take the following example: Let’s suppose you sign up for Acorns and invest a total of $25 during your first month. That dollar-a-month fee means you’re paying a staggering 4% fee to invest. Other investing platforms such as Wealthfront, Betterment, and M1 Finance charge 0.25%, which means your account balance would have to reach $400 before you’d pay $1 in fees for an entire year!
The good news is your expense ratio will gradually decrease as you make contributions and your account balance grows. But the bad news is that it might take a while to build up your account using a spare change investing strategy.
Now, it isn’t all bad news when it comes to Acorns fees. The good news is that once your Acorns investments exceed $400, your fees will actually be lower than those charged by most other leading robo-advisors. Although, it’s also worth mentioning that those competitors can better justify their fees because they offer more advanced features than Acorns does.
Finally, let’s see how Acorns stacks up against its primary competitor in the micro-investing space, Stash. Stash begins charging a 0.25% fee when accounts reach $5,000 or more. For the sake of comparison, if you had a $10,000 balance your annual fees would total $25 with Stash and just $12 with Acorns.
How Is the Fee Paid?
Unlike other investing platforms that sell shares of your investments to cover your monthly subscriptions fees, Acorns simply transfers your payment from your linked checking account at the end of each month. That means fewer taxable events and more money in your Acorns investment account.
Free for College Students
Acorns is doing its part to introduce younger generations to investing by waiving account management fees for college students. Here’s what it takes to qualify for four years of free investing with Acorns.
- You must be under 24 years of age
- You need to sign up with a valid email address ending with .edu
- List your employment status as “student”
How Acorns Works
One of the best things about Acorns is its automated approach to saving and investing. Acorns make it effortless by letting you set up automatic contributions. So instead of thinking about how much money you want to save and how you want to invest it, Acorns manages everything for you so you don’t have to think about it. And like just about anything else, the less you have to do, the more likely it will get done!
Acorns offers users several different ways to automate their contributions.
The Round-Up feature transfers the spare change from purchases you make with a linked debit or credit card to your Acorns investment account.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you spend $7.59 when grab a bite to eat at your favorite burrito joint. Acorns will round that purchase up to the nearest dollar and transfer $0.41 from your bank account and add it to your Acorns investment account.
If you really want to jumpstart your account growth, you can set a multiplier to boost your Round-Ups by up to 10x. So instead of transferring 41 cents for that burrito purchase, you could automatically invest up to $4.10 for that transaction.
While you don’t have to use the Round-Up feature to invest with the app, it can make the investing process simple and painless. And you probably won’t be missing the pennies, nickels and dimes that are set aside with every transaction, but you’ll certainly appreciate having built a strong portfolio that required almost no effort at all.
For those who prefer more consistent contributions, Acorns also allows users to make recurring or one-time deposits. You can schedule recurring deposits on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
One of Acorns’ most unique concepts is its Found Money feature. Acorns has partnered with over 100 companies who will automatically contribute to your Acorns investment account when you make a purchase (think Ebates but for investing). To qualify for the reward, simply use the debit or credit card linked to your Acorns account to make a qualifying purchase. After that, the partner will deposit your Found Money reward into your account within 60-120 days. You can find a complete list of partners and offer details on their website.
Getting Started with Acorns
Signing up for an Acorns account is pretty straightforward. To get started, just follow this simple four-step process:
1. Sign Up!
You can sign up for Acorns on their website or by downloading the app to your smartphone. It’s free to install.
2. Link a Round-Up Account
Link your bank account by logging into your bank using your banking login credentials. This is the account that Acorns will monitor for Round-Ups. Once you link an account you can specify which transactions you want to be used for Round-Ups.
3. Connect Your Checking Account
This account is different from your Round-Up account. Your checking account will be used to transfer funds into your Acorns account.
4. Create an Investment Account
Acorns will ask you to provide some basic personal information such as your name, phone number, and date of birth. After that, Acorns will guide you through a brief questionnaire to help your investor profile. Your responses will help Acorns provide you with customized advice and a portfolio recommendation that fits your needs.
Building Your Portfolio with Acorns
After you’ve completed the sign-up process and have set up your investment account, it’s time to explore your portfolio options. Acorns will recommend a portfolio based on your investor profile, but you’re free to check out each of the pre-built portfolios and decide for yourself what suits you best.
Like most robo-advisors, Acorns investment portfolios are based on Modern Portfolio Theory. This theory hypothesizes that diversifying investments into different asset classes is actually more important than the individual investment selections that form your overall portfolio.
Acorns builds a diversified portfolio by investing in seven ETFs that correspond with several distinct asset classes. At the time of publication, those ETFs include:
What is Acorns Later?
Acorns recently announced that it will allow users to invest in a specially designed individual retirement account (IRA). According to Acorns, Acorns Later should launch by mid-2018. At time of publication, Acorns only offers taxable accounts, but you can sign up for their waitlist to receive updates about the new feature. When Acorns Later launches, users can upgrade their account and pay $2 a month.
Is Investing with Acorns Safe and Secure?
Acorns maintains bank-level security to safeguard your personal information. All data transmitted on the website or the app is secured with 256-bit encryption.
As with any investment account, your returns are not guaranteed. That means you can lose principal contributions. Your Acorns investments are SIPC insured, which means you are protected up to $500,000. Of course, investments in the stock and bond markets are not FDIC insured.
No Minimum Deposit. There’s no minimum deposit requirement to open an account and it only takes $5 to start investing.
Found Money. Getting cash back to use for investing is a nice perk you won’t get with other robo-advisors.
Round-Ups. Automatic round-ups make saving and investing easy. You’ll be surprised how fast those pennies can add up!
Free for College Students. Acorns will waive account fees for up to four years for any college student.
Referral Bonus! Acorns is offering Dollar Build readers $5 when they sign up!
Account Management Fees. The account management fees are high compared to other robo-advisor platforms. The fees are especially troublesome for investors with lower balances.
Not Ideal for Long-Term Investors. Acorns is a solid tool for casually growing your taxable investments, but it shouldn’t be your primary investment account.
Limited Portfolio Options. With just five pre-built portfolios, your options are limited compared to other robo-advisors.
Is Acorns Right for You?
If you are serious about saving and investing, then Acorns probably isn’t right for you. Sure, the spare change investing feature brings a new dimension to investing, but it comes at price. Paying $1 a month to automatically invest you pennies simply doesn’t make sense when there are more affordable options on the market. And if you’re just starting out as an investor, you’re better off investing in tax-advantaged accounts like an IRA or 401(k).
That isn’t to say that Acorns isn’t a useful app, because it definitely can be. If you’re somebody who struggles to save and invest, then it might be worth it to pay a little extra to automate those functions.
And if you’re a college student – well, you’ve got nothing to lose. Four years of free investment management can be just the nudge it takes to start investing. Plus, the Round-Up feature is a great way to start investing without drastically changing your lifestyle. Although a spare change approach to investing probably won’t get you all the way to retirement, college students will certainly be in a better position for retirement after four years of rounding up purchases.
If you’re still on the fence, don’t forget about the Acorns $5 sign up bonus and referral program. These programs give you some free money to play with as you take Acorns for a test drive. And if you decide Acorns isn’t for you, it won’t cost you anything to close your account or transfer funds elsewhere.