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Acorn has been in the news a lot lately thanks to CEO Noah Kerner, who has been called a pioneer in fintech for the mobile investment app that invests your change. Round-up investing has never been as easy as it is now thanks to this mobile investing app.
The start-up has become more and more hopeful of an IPO, but for now, its robo-advisor tools are becoming more popular with millennial investors as all eyes focus on investing with AI.
However, fintech is becoming much more than an investment app. With recent investors like Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez investing in Acorn’s technology, the CEO looks to help everyone invest without even thinking about it.
While the app has grown extremely popular, there are some drawbacks to this innovative new investing strategy. We show you why Acorns may not be the right pick for certain portfolios.
Acorns Ratings and Quality Scores
Investor Warning: Investing with Acorns involves risk, including loss of principal. Any references to past performance, regarding financial markets or otherwise, do not indicate or guarantee future results. Forward-looking statements, including without limitations investment outcomes and projections, are hypothetical and educational in nature. The results of any hypothetical projections can and may differ from actual investment results had the strategies been deployed in actual securities accounts. Prospective investors should consult their own financial and legal advisors about risks associated with securities and the suitability of investing in such securities.
Acorns Pros and Cons
- There is no minimum investment to get started
- You can invest your spare change through round-up investments
- Service is free for college students
- Access fractional shares, gift cards, and over 7,000 stocks and bonds
- Five investment portfolios ranging from conservative to moderate to aggressive
- Fees are pretty high for small balances and could impact small business owners adversely
- No tax-loss harvesting or tax services of any kind
- No financial planners or human advice available
- Very little investment options in comparison to other robo-advisors and brokerages
- No socially responsive investments and very little flexibility on selections
Quick Summary of Acorns Features
- $0 to open account, $5 required to start investing
- $1 a month for taxable investment accounts, $2 a month for IRA account and tax-advantaged accounts, $3 a month for checking account plus retirement and investment accounts
- To close your account, investors must pay $50 per ETF to have ETFs transferred to another broker
- No charge to sell investments and transfer money
Score: 8.5/10 Acorns is made to be low-cost, so it’s no surprise that they required deposits and monthly subscription fees. While it may not seem like a lot, it could be if you only invest $50.
- Acorns has average expense ratios that start at 0.03% and go to up to 0.18%
Score: 9/10 The expense ratios can be a little high for Acorns with certain funds, but overall, the company keeps their ETF investment costs low.
- Individual non-retirement accounts
- Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs
- Online checking account with debit card
Score: 6/10 You really do not get to diversify your accounts as much as you would think. There aren’t many retirement or savings plans options either.
- 7 different ETFs chosen based on risk tolerance
- Uses small round-up investments from your accounts to invest in ETFs
- Investments are Vanguard S&P 500, Vanguard Small-Cap, Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF, Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock, Vanguard REIT, iShares iBoxx Investment Grade Corporate Bond, and iShares 1-3 Treasury Bond
- Offers fractional shares
Score: 8/10 There are over 7,000 stocks and bonds available with Acorns, and you can invest in fractional shares.
- No tax-loss harvesting or tax efficiency benefits
Score: 0/10 You won’t find any of the bells and whistles like with Betterment or Wealthfront using Acorns. This is pretty bare-bones when it comes to investing services and tax strategies.
- Available and free for all accounts
- Investors pick from five portfolios and Acorns automatically rebalances, reinvesting dividend payments regularly
Score: 7/10 Threshold-based rebalancing helps keep investors on track, but it’s not as sophisticated as other robo-advisors like Betterment and Wealthfront.
- Not available
Score: 0/10 The service is pretty low-cost and does not ask for much of an investment, but there are no options, not even premium ones, to help out beginner investors. Since this app is based on novice investing, wouldn’t it be better to have some broker assistance or financial planning for an additional cost?
Socially Responsible Investing
- Not available
Score: 0/10 If you want this feature, you’ll need to head somewhere else. While you have some flexibility with the “Change Your Potential” tool, it’s not based socially responsible factors.
Instead, you can pick and change investments to simply boost account value. Other options and research into SRI factors are not available.
How Much Does Acorns Cost?
We hate to see it, but Acorns is not exactly cheap unless you invest more than $5. Even though Acorns markets itself as a low-cost way to save, there are a ton of fees, and they can lead to bigger costs depending on your account balance.
For example, you will pay $1 a month for “Acorns Core,” which is a taxable account, $2 a month for “Acorns Later,” and $3 a month for “Acorns Spend.” While you gain access to more services and accounts, is it work paying almost $40 a year if your change does not make you more than $10?
It’s difficult to find any other robo-advisor that charges a flat fee like this because it can be very problematic for low balance accounts.
Here is a visual of what your fees are when converted to percentages of assets:
|Account Balance||Acorns||Acorns Later||Acorns Spend|
The fee system is meant to make accountholders invest more, but other competitors such as Better and Wealthfront only take 0.25% of your total account balance. In addition, Stash offers a $1 flat fee for a brokerage account plus a bank account that comes with a debit card. And, if you upgrade to the $3 a month plan, Stash offers you a traditional or Roth IRA, in addition to your other accounts.
There are also other fees that are problematic for Acorns users. For example, if you decide that you want to move your investments out of Acorns and to another brokerage, then you must pay $50 per ETF to transfer any investments.
While this fee is sometimes charged by other brokerages, it’s extremely high for Acorns. For example, if you are invested in all 7 ETFs, then you would spend $350 to move your money. Most firms only charge investors $75 for transfers no matter what the ETFs.
Overall, Acorns may seem sweet and innocent, but there are some steep costs if you are not constantly investing more into your accounts.
What We Like About Acorns
Acorns works by rounding up your change and investing your dollars through modern portfolio theory. This means that diversification is more important than the actual stock selection. This can benefit investors by investing in the best stocks, markets, bonds, and other options available.
The company is also headed towards an IPO, so it has to be doing something right. CEO Noah Kerner believes that Acorns users do not need much to invest, and that’s the beauty of it.
While Acorns feels like it’s affordable, the fees may not be for everyone. However, they do offer some financial breaks to certain users.
College Students Get Free Account Management with Acorns
It makes sense that Acorns would market itself to college students. After all, most of them are probably not thinking about investing, but the lure of turning change into pocketfuls of beer money is a big draw. These millennial investors do not have a whole to invest, which is why round-up investing makes so much sense.
Acorns aptly waives fees for this group as long as students register with an .edu email address. College students get the most advantages when they use this service because it’s completely free, and at graduation, they may have a nice pile of money after fours of rounding up their change.
It’s easy to save money with Acorns. It’s not complex. The app connects to your accounts for you and rounds up your change, investing in stocks that will likely earn you a small profit.
Sometimes the hard part about saving is actually investing in yourself. Acorns makes this easy to do by automating the process for you. Investors don’t even have to think about it, and so money simply grows over time.
How does Acorns do this? The app connects to your linked accounts and moves all change from every purchase into your investment accounts.
You can connect as many debit cards as you need to, but all the round-up investments come from a linked checking account. Acorns will round up to the nearest $1 and offer you the option to transfer your change into your portfolio.
It’s best to set this process to automatic so that each purchase is earning you an investment, but you can also select manually and view your purchases, then select which roundups you want to send to your investment accounts.
Acorns also allows users to invest larger sums manually as well. For example, you can set up a recurring direct deposit that happens daily, weekly, or monthly. These transfers can be as little as $5.
Acorns offers a cash back program that is pretty intuitive and amazing to help their investors grow money out of thin air. The Found Money program allows you to use your Acorns debit card with our chesting account and earn cash back at certain partners.
These cashback partners include:
- Warby Parker
Whenever you use your card with a linked payment method at these stores, then your cash back is automatically invested in your portfolio. Again, Acorns excels at allowing you to invest money when you didn’t know you even had any.
Expertly Created, Nobel Prize Winning Portfolios
It’s easy to sign up for an Acorns account, whether you are online or on your phone. The guide takes you through each step, and then you fill in your reasons for investing.
Based on your answers, Acorns creates a customized plan with a recommended portfolio that was created by experts, which includes a Nobel Prize-winning economist.
There are five different options that you can select for investing:
- Long-term investment (retirement)
- Short-term investment
- Major purchase
Once you log in, you can connect your accounts and start earning money from your round-up investments. You can see what index funds you invest in as well and how the market is doing.
Set Up Your Retirement Using Your Change
This is the best part of Acorns and what it was meant to do. Many younger investors and beginners shy away from long-term investing due to all of the planning and paperwork over setting up an IRA. With Acorns, you can set one up in seconds, and you don’t have to worry about funding it.
The interface makes it extremely easy to link your accounts and start rounding up your spending. As soon as you have $5, it’s transferred into your IRA, and the robo-advisor adjusts your shares accordingly. It could not be more simple to grow a little nest egg.
Where Could Acorns Improve
We do think that the fees are quite atrocious from Acorns since advertising suggests that it rounds up your change without much cost. However, the fees have actually proven to be quite significant to those who do not invest more than their change and also do not deposit any other sums manually into their investment accounts with Acorn.
There are a few more things that Acorns should consider changing:
Difficult to Transfer Accounts
Acorns does not want you to take your accounts away, but that should not be a reason to punish. If you have to leave Acorns, you may not be able to take your investments with you unless you can pay $50 per ETF that you have invested in.
We believe Acorns does this to prevent customers from “stealing” their strategy after a week and just paying a small fee to transfer over like so many do in other brokerages, but it just seems wrong to charge hundreds of dollars or lose everything to cash out.
No Human Advisors
For beginners using Acorns, everything seems so simple, but what if you don’t know what you want to invest in? Are you making the right move by putting your money into those stocks and bonds?
The robo-advisor will select stocks and bonds based on your answers to a questionnaire, but what if you don’t want to invest in something? What if you aren’t sure how to buy stocks?
You can’t change your selections, and your investing options are extremely limited. You have 7 different asset classes to choose from, but once your picks are made, Acorns expects you not to look into it any further.
That is the goal of a robo-advisor: to provide completely hands-off investing. However, most robo-advisors do include a human touch to ensure that investments are in line with the client’s needs.
There are No Tax Benefits
Tax-loss harvesting is not included with your Acorns account. There virtually is no tax assistance, including no advice or education articles about it.
In fact, Acorns will only send you something about taxes during tax season when you receive a 1099 in the mail. Most robo-advisors today include this service to help reinvest earnings and save clients from capital gains tax.
Even though Acorns is like other robo-advisors in that it takes inspiration to invest from your questionnaire, the app also uses your data such as income, age, and goals to recommend one of five portfolios. These portfolios range from aggressive to super conservative, meaning only bonds. You can accept the portfolio given to you or you can opt for a different one that is more suited to your risk level.
There are just five portfolio options to choose from. With an aggressive portfolio, most of your investments are in stocks. On the opposite end, conservative portfolios stick to bonds. Here is a quick comparison:
The portfolios on their own are actually much smaller than what you would receive at places like Betterment or Wealthfront. These are portfolios consisting of low-cost Vanguard and iShares ETFs that only cover around five to seven different asset classes. These typically include real estate, small-cap stocks, large-cap stocks (international and domestic), emerging markets, and corporate bonds.
While this can diversify your portfolio, it feels too restrictive to actually have a well-rounded portfolio. If you want more options, then Betterment is likely better because of its many options and larger asset class array.
Acorns Platform, Mobile Access, and Ease-of-Use
Acorns is easy-to-use on the web and on mobile. The navigation is quick and simple, allowing you to review investments, check your accounts, and see your “Found Money.” There is no minimum to open, so as soon as you earn $5, it is automatically put into your diversified portfolio.
On mobile, Acorns users will have an even easier time investing their money and seeing their savings. When you login, there are three panels including Past, Present, and Potential.
These panels give you more insights into your portfolio. Each tab offers more information including analysis and current values of your accounts as follows:
This tab refers users to an overview of their current accounts. You can use this panel to make fast changes to your round-ups, deposits, and see the most recent offers from Acorns’ Found Money partners. It’s the best way to gauge the overall health of your investments with Acorns.
If you want a more in-depth analysis, then the Past tab is the best way to look at all of your previous round-up transfers, check on deposits, look at your earned FoundMoney, and more features.
For example, if a user has earned money from dividends or referrals, then these will be shown in the Past tab, too. It’s easy to see how your investments are compounding and also how quickly your accounts are earning you more money.
Most investors want to grow their money. The potential tab is where you can see the projected value of your accounts based on your current selections for investment.
If you do not like the projects, you can tap “Change Your Potential,” which will let you alter some investments in order to boost your account value. However, beginner investors do not get much education here, so they have to be careful not to change too much.
In addition to these features, Acorns also offers a blog that provides some knowledge of different investing terms and savings. You can also catch up on the latest investing news and learn what trends are currently swaying the stock market.
There are also a number of different frequently asked questions if you get stuck. Overall, the blog and education section are pretty extensive and will help you learn more if it’s your first time investing in anything.
What Type of Investors Should Use Acorns
Acorns appeals to the beginner investor who does not want to fully understand the market in order to participate. If you don’t have the time to figure out investing, then Acorns will seem simple and quite low cost. Since it mostly relies on the mobile app, it’s mainly geared towards millennials who want to grow money from their purchases with round-up investments.
If you are a college student, Acorns has significant benefits, and it’s free. You can save for the future one purchase at a time, and it helps you start planning for a new house or even retirement.
Passive investors get a kick out of Acorns because you can set it and forget it. Once you return to check on your investments after a couple of weeks, you may be surprised to see that your round-up investments have earned you $20 to $50 or more.
Investors who don’t have a lot of time also appreciate Acorns because there’s nothing to it. This is one of those completely hands-off investment tools that does not even require you to manually make deposits or check on your investments to ensure that they stay within your risk tolerance. Everything is automated and easy.
Interested in seeing how Acorns compares to other robo-advisors? Check out our Acorns vs Betterment comparison.
Frequently Asked Questions About Acorns
Should round-up investments be central to your investing strategy?
Some people have a hard time saving money even when they make a lot of it. The idea with Acorns is that you don’t even have to think about your savings to start saving.
However, we don’t think that round-up investments are central to a strong investing strategy. You add up your earnings slowly, and Acorns does not offer enough asset classes and flexibility to really provide the best portfolios.
Millennials don’t feel like they have enough money to start investing, but Acorns make it seem easy and almost free to do so. It’s better than not investing your change and earning more each month.
We did the math, and if you invest on average $50 a month through your round-up investments with Acorns, using a 7% market return, then you will have over $3,200 after five years. In comparison to simply sending your change to a savings account at a bank, you probably would only earn $2,500 in five years.
Can you invest larger sums with Acorns?
Yes, it is possible to deposit larger sums manually into your Acorns account, but should you? If you have extra money to play with and your returns have been generous with your Acorns portfolio, you may see nothing wrong with adding $10,000 to your account. In fact, your costs in fees drop considerably when you invest larger sums like this.
However, their investment options simply do not offer what you can achieve with another robo-advisor like Betterment or even a full-service brokerage where you can make more with your money. Acorns has less ways to diversify than most other brokerages, and you don’t have any flexibility to customize asset allocations unless you pick from one of the other five portfolios.
In addition, there are no broker-assisted trades or financial planning help. You are on your own with Acorns, although their education area continues to expand. It’s still not comparable to a service like Betterment or Charles Schwab that would help you with advice.
What are Acorns gift cards?
Acorns announced a new gift card portal in 2019. You can choose the amount and send to your recipient so that they can have that automatically invested in their Acorns account.
There are some restrictions including that you must be a legal US resident and be over the age of 18.
Does Acorns have good returns?
Even though Acorns recently hit $100 million in funding under management, it may not be the best deal for millennials. Some Reddit users report return rates between 4% and 7% depending on the type of portfolio.
Aggressive portfolios seem to have a higher rate of return, but there is also a lot of risk. Most investors using Acorns are not familiar with some investing terms and may not understand the differences in stocks and bonds as relative to aggressive and passive strategies.
This could lead to bigger losses, but it’s really the fees that are problematic for most savvy investors who say that Acorns is ripping off millennials since they don’t know any better.
Conclusion: Is Acorns a Good Investing Option?
For those who are not interested in learning about investing but want to save money, Acorns is the perfect mobile app. You don’t even have to think about investing with this robo-advisor.
All of the investments are made automatically, which lets you save without even a thought. It was also named one of the most innovative companies in 2019.
While Acorns would like it to be so simple, many knowledgeable investors have criticized the platform for the amount of fees and high costs associated with closing your account. While there are no costs for selling and transferring money from your investments, many investors see the inability to transfer investments without paying $50 per ETF as a huge blow.
How will you diversify your strategy when you earn $5,000 or $10,000 with your round-up investments? Acorns may not want you to get that far because you could start to take this investing thing seriously.
For our Acorns robo-advisor review, here is the criteria we used to rate the company:
- Low-to-no management fees: We look at the fees assessed by the robo-advisor, which is typically a percentage of your assets charged annually. This number should be low, equating to less than .23% annually.
- Expense ratios: Many mutual funds, index funds, and ETFs have low-to-no expense ratios. Your robo-advisor should invest in funds that do not have high expense ratios. It’s also important to know the average expense ratios by fund type.
- Available account types: Robo-advisors should have retirement accounts for tax advantages and taxable accounts to cater to both passive and active investors.
- Available investments: What does the robo-advisor like to invest in? Most use a combination of low-cost index funds and ETFs.
- Tax-loss harvesting: Robo-advisors should be able to identify losing investments and cut losses by eliminate taxes you would owe on capital gains.
- Rebalancing: Automated investing also means remembering goals and bringing back allocations when necessary. Robo-advisors should check this daily and ensure they are investing with your goals in mind.
- Human advisors: Some free robo-advisors do not offer any financial advice from a human, so this isn’t always important, but if you are new to investing and want to ensure your money is spent right, you may want this option.
- Socially responsible investing: Most robo-advisors have a quiz or survey at the beginning to understand your SRI or socially responsible investing type. These are values that may exclude some industries, such as fossil fuels or guns.