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Acorns Review: Is Acorns Worth It?

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I remember being excited when I finally qualified for the retirement plan at the pizza joint I worked at in college.  But when I found out I’d need to contribute a big chunk of my weekly paycheck just to participate, my excitement fizzled.  I didn’t have that money to spare.

I knew that it would be best to start investing as soon as possible, but the options available to me either required high minimum contributions or a starting balance in the thousands.  If only the Acorns platform had been around back then, I could’ve gotten a head start on my retirement savings.  

Even though this tool wasn’t available when I first started investing, I wanted to do an Acorns Review to show how this platform can help those starting out on their investment journey.

acorns

Things to Consider Before Using Acorns

Acorns is an investment tool that can allow you to quickly set up a variety of investment accounts and fund them using nothing more than your spare change.  These low minimum investment amounts open investing up to everyone, including those strapped for cash or those with unpredictable income.  

The Acorns model of automated investing with small dollar amounts has the ability to help a variety of people begin their investing journey.  

Ideal customers include:

  • Those who have limited income
  • People who struggle with personal finance (i.e. building up savings)
  • Self-employed individuals with an unpredictable income 
  • College students (and young adults with limited investment knowledge)
  • Those without employer-sponsored retirement accounts

All of these people can potentially benefit from Acorns either with the low money barrier to open an account or with the set-it-and-forget-it automated investing style.  

As with all financial products, there are going to be certain individuals who would not benefit from opening an Acorns account. This includes people that already have substantial investment portfolios, those whose employers offer retirement investing, or high-income earners who qualify for premium investing products/services.  For individuals that are not a good fit for Acorns, there are several alternatives out there to explore including other investment apps, large investment firms, and financial advisors.  

Additional Questions to Consider Before Opening an Acorns Account

How much spending do you do and how?  

The Acorns Round-Ups feature utilizes credit cards and debit cards for purchases.  If you make the majority of your purchases with cash, then the Round-Ups feature won’t benefit you.  Likewise, you won’t see much of a benefit if you have a low number of monthly expenses.    

Do you want to be hands-on or hands-off with your investing?

If you like to be in full control of your investments, then the Acorns hands-off approach likely won’t suit you.  But if you prefer to leave investment choices to the experts, then you may like Acorns risk tolerance guidance and automatic rebalancing.

Do you have an existing retirement plan, or are you already retired?   

If you already have an active retirement plan, then you may want to do some additional research to determine if opening an Acorns investing or retirement account is right for you.  Likewise, if you are already retired, then opening an Acorns retirement investing account won’t help you.

Do you have children? Are you looking for a 529 plan?

If you don’t yet have children, then you won’t be able to take advantage of the Acorns family plan, but you may still find the personal plan beneficial.  If you do have children but are looking to open a 529 where the money is dedicated for use in education, then Acorns, who only offers a UTMA/UGMA account, won’t be the best platform for you.  

Are there specific stocks that you want to invest in?

If you are interested in purchasing specific stocks then you should be aware that Acorns only supports ETFs.  So you will have very little if any control over what stocks make up your portfolio.

acorns

Quick Overview of Acorns

Acorns is an app that allows you to automate your investing using your spare change and other small investment amounts.  The unique Round-Ups feature automatically rounds up the price on all of your purchases to the next dollar, and then transfers this spare change into your investment account.  So a $1.79 candy bar purchase would automatically send 21 cents to your investment account.  

Now imagine that small bit of change added to your account every single time you make a purchase. Even starting with just small amounts, you can gradually see your investment account grow into a sizable chunk of change, or as Acorns puts it, “From Acorns, mighty oaks do grow”. 

Acorns has expanded its services from the early days when I first checked them out and now offers retirement accounts, UTMA accounts, and even their own checking account with Visa Debit card in addition to a basic investing account.  But at the core, their goal seems to have remained the same, to offer a low barrier entry to investing.  

With no account minimums, high contribution requirements, or a bunch of hard-to-navigate financial-speak, Acorns provides an investment service that could best help out those just starting on their investment journey.  

But even though over 9 million people currently use Acorns, the investment platform won’t be well suited for everyone, especially those who already have large investment portfolios.  

Acorns Features & Benefits

Now let’s take a closer look at the benefits that opening an Acorns account offers, as well as the downsides.

Pros

  • Automated investing
  • Guided risk strategy 
  • Spare change roundup
  • Multiple investment account type
  • Checking account
  • Education resources
  • Bonus earning options
  • Rollover existing account

Cons

  • Monthly fees
  • Unable to select investments
  • Limited to ETFs
  • No benefits for high dollar investors

Automatic Investing

When you open your chosen Acorns investment account, you start by linking any credit cards and debit cards that you use to make daily purchases.  As you make purchases, Acorns will use the Round-Ups feature to automatically transfer the spare change into your investment account.  

Acorns also offers the traditional option of recurring investments taken from your bank account.   These recurring investment amounts can be as little as $5 a month. That’s cheaper than a medium pizza.  

All of the Acorns investment accounts utilize ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds).  This allows small dollar totals to be invested in a fractional manner.  Let’s say that a certain ETF is trading at $10 a share.  Using fractional investing, you can have just $2.50 invested in that ETF, giving you ¼ of a share.  

Each portfolio allows you to set your goals and specify your risk tolerance. Acorns will then suggest the most appropriate risk level (moderate, aggressive, etc.) and your money will be distributed appropriately.  As your investment account grows, the investments will be periodically rebalanced to ensure everything is on track.  No manual rebalancing needed.  

Multiple Investment Account Types

Acorns offers four types of investment accounts: a traditional investment account, a personal retirement account, an investment account for your child(ren), or a sustainable portfolio.  Regardless of which plan you choose, the method of investing is the same.  

Traditional or Sustainable

Acorns’ basic product is a personal investment account. Think of it like a savings account offering aggressive growth. Based on your goals and risk tolerance, Acorns guides you towards the best investment strategy. 

The regular investing account utilizes ETFs holding a wide variety of traditionally traded stocks.

This can include big-name companies such as Starbucks, Amazon, Disney, and more.  The companies your money will be invested in are chosen by the ETF portfolio manager.  

If you are looking for an investment option that helps the environment, then you might want to take a look at the Sustainable portfolio option.  Sustainable is a newer option offered by Acorns, where all investments are made with ESG ETFs that adhere to certain environmental, social, or governmental standards.  

And if you already have an Acorns investment account, they offer an easy (and free) option to switch to a Sustainable portfolio.

Retirement

Acorns Later offers multiple types of retirement plans.  This includes a Roth IRA, a Traditional IRA, and a SEP IRA.  Which one of these accounts is most appropriate for you will depend on your specific circumstances including your savings goals, retirement plans, employment type, and more.  Acorns will help you choose the appropriate plan.  

Acorns also allows you to roll over an existing 401k or IRA into your Acorns retirement account.  You can build your investment portfolio using spare change or recurring investments and you receive periodic statements on your portfolio’s progress.  

For access to this account type, you will need to sign up for the Acorns $3 a month plan (Personal).    

Kids

Acorns investment portfolio for kids, also called Acorns Early, is not a 529 plan.  Instead, they use a UTMA/UGMA type of account that allows the funds in the account to be withdrawn for non-education-related purchases. The funds can be used for anything that directly benefits the child, including birthday parties or summer camps.  And once the child reaches the age of transfer, they can use the funds for whatever they want.  

Acorns charges a $5 a month subscription fee for access to this type of account(Family plan).  But you can create a separate account for each of your children under this subscription for no additional fees.  

Acorns Earn

If you utilize the Round-Ups feature offered by Acorns, then you are already being rewarded for making purchases (in the form of automatic investments).  But Acorns takes this one step further and offers you potential earning bonuses for shopping with certain retailers.  

This feature works a lot like a cashback app does.  When you make a purchase at a select website (using the Acorns app or browser extension), you will earn a certain amount of cashback.  But instead of this money going into your checking account, it is transferred directly into your investment account.  

As an example, let’s say you purchase a new dishwasher from Home Depot for $396.65.  Acorns might offer a 1% investment bonus on Home Depot. So the Round-Ups feature will net you a $0.35 investment and the 1% bonus will give you an extra $3.96 cashback as an investment deposit.  

Acorns Earn also has job listings.  So if your biggest roadblock to investing is the amount of money you make, this feature could help you find a better-paying job so that you can boost your investments.  I could have definitely used a tool like this when I was making a pittance at that pizza joint. 

Also under Earn is Acorns’ referral program.  For each friend you encourage to join, you get $5 free towards your investment account.  Acorns routinely offers referral bonuses as well so you have the opportunity to boost your referral earnings. 

Acorns Banking

As a part of their Retirement and Family plans, which are $3/month and $5/month respectively, Acorns offers a free checking account.  This checking account comes with a Visa debit card that can be used at 55,000+ ATMs nationwide as well as anywhere that Visa is accepted.

This checking account comes with features that are pretty standard to online banking including mobile check deposit, sending money, fraud protection, and FDIC insurance.

And because the checking account is through Acorns, it is automatically tied to your investment account(s).  This could help to streamline the investment process for those who struggle with managing or saving money every month.  

Learn About Money

Sometimes, the only thing standing in the way of starting something new is fear of the unknown.  To help people gain confidence in investing as well as gaining a better understanding of finances in general, Acorns offers Education Resources.  

These resources include articles on a wide variety of money topics, including tips for saving money, defining a recession, and how to calculate your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income).  

Acorns has also partnered with CNBC to create the Grow magazine which provides articles, stories, and advice written by experts in various financial fields.   

Alternatives to Acorns

Acorns is not the best choice for everyone.  Whether it is the monthly fees charged that worry you, or the inability to choose your own stocks that is making you hesitate, there are other similar platforms/services out there for you to choose from.  

Below, we’ll take a look at three of the top alternatives to Acorns and evaluate how they compare.

Robinhood

This investment platform is well-known for offering commission-free trades, which means that you can pick your own stocks.  Much like Acorns, Robinhood also offers fractional share investing, letting you purchase big-name stocks even if you don’t have enough money to cover a full share(s).  

One major difference with Robinhood is that they only offer a basic investment account; no IRA or UTMA options are offered.  But there is a wide variety of investment choices including stocks, ETFs, crypto, gold, and options.  

So if you are looking for a service that gives you near infinite control over managing your portfolio, then maybe check out Robinhood as an alternative to Acorns.  

Robinhood

  • Basic investment account only
  • Choose your own stocks 
  • Checking account offers 0.30 APY
  • No fees
  • Invest in gold, crypto, and more

Acorns

  • Offers IRAs and UTMAs
  • Unable to select investments
  • Basic checking account
  • Monthly fees
  • Limited to ETFs

Stash Invest

Stash is an investing platform that is very similar to Acorns.  They offer IRAs and UTMAs in addition to a basic investing account, and their service charges a monthly subscription fee just like Acorns.  

When comparing the two, the difference is in small things.  Stash charges a higher fee for their premium subscription, but this subscription includes double cashback (in the form of investments) on spending and features access to life insurance.  And Stash’s basic plan includes access to their checking account while Acorns requires a mid-tier subscription for checking.   

So if you are looking for a low-cost subscription that includes a checking account, or an account that can boost your cashback (stock back) earnings, then maybe Stash is worth looking into.

Stash

  • $9/month for access to UTMA
  • $1/month access to checking 
  • Checking offers early payday
  • Premium account offers 2x stock back
  • UTMA/UTGA limited to 2 children

Acorns

  • $5/month for access to UTMA
  • $3/month for access to checking
  • Limited to ETFs
  • Bonus earning for shopping certain retailers
  • UTMA/UGMA unlimited for no extra fee

Betterment

The key difference in Betterment’s investing services are the fees.  Instead of subscription-based, they charge a low 0.25% annual fee.  So if you open a retirement account, and invest $10k, your fees for the year would be $25 instead of the $36 for Acorns.  

They also offer a premium account for individuals with $100k plus invested that has additional benefits like access to certified financial planners and a free high-yield bank account.  And Betterment extends a completely free checking account that you can open even if you choose not to invest with them.  

If you are looking for a balance-based fee on your investment account, are interested in a free checking account, or looking for a service that can manage your existing high-dollar portfolio, then Betterment might be the alternative that best suits you.

Betterment

  • Completely free checking account
  • Set 0.25% annual fee 
  • Set up a trust
  • Offers joint checking and high-yield checking
  • Premium account for large portfolios

Acorns

  • $3/month subscription for checking
  • Subscription fee that varies with account type
  • Open a UTMA/UGMA
  • Basic personal checking only
  • No premium option

Is Acorns Worth It?

The sooner you start investing the better.  I knew that even as a young college student who was woefully oblivious on nearly all personal finance topics. This was thanks to a high school teacher who introduced me to the groundbreaking idea of compounding interest.  

But even though I knew I should invest early if I wanted enough money in retirement, it seemed impossible to find the spare cash to start doing so.  

With a tool like Acorns, the entry into the investing world has opened wide.  There are no minimum account values to get started, you can set very low-value recurring investments, and they even provide tools to help you gain a greater understanding of personal finance.  

While my retirement savings and college fund savings for my little one are in okay shape now, I often wonder how much better they would be if I had gotten an earlier start.  

Yes, the Acorns platform would have been more than worth it for the younger me.  And even though it can’t help me now, it is still a worthwhile tool for those out there who haven’t yet started investing.

If you want to learn more about the Acorns platform and explore all of their features yourself, check out their website or download their app to get started.