Wealthfront vs Acorns (2020): Invest With Some of The Most Innovative Robo-Advisors Today

Wealthfront vs Acorns

There’s no shortage of fantastic, original ideas when it comes to robo-advisors like Wealthfront and Acorns, which allow you to save money on taxes and invest by buying your daily groceries.

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Having a money-making machine in your pocket is great, but it seems that things are getting even better.

Robo-advisor providers have acquired the help of machines so that they can manage and invest your money with fewer people and for less money.

On top of that, innovation has been on the rise lately and some companies have figured out ways to help you make money without you even realizing it.

This article is exactly about two such companies.

Acorns offers programs that let clients save their spare change automatically, as well as invest money simply by buying things they usually would online. Sounds strange? Well actually, it seems to work like a charm.

On the other hand, Wealthfront is a bit more straightforward company that can help you reduce your taxes by using its unique investing strategies without any extra effort required on your part.

The sooner you put your money to work, the sooner you’ll be able to retire, so without further ado, let’s see what modern wealth management looks like and if it’s any good for you.

FeaturesWealthfrontAcorns
Minimum Deposit$500$0
Annual Fees0.25% annually$1, $2, or $3
Tax Loss HarvestingYesNo
Portfolio RebalancingYesYes
Provision of 401(k) AssistanceNo Yes
Ideal ForBeginning investors, Intermediate investors, Young investors, Smartphone users, IRA investors, and Goal-oriented investorsCollege students, new investors, investors who want to save money through Round-Ups and the Found Money program
Promotions$5,000 in assets managed for freeService is free for college students

Wealthfront Overview

Wealthfront Logo

Fast Facts and Features

  • Account Minimum: $500
  • Fees: 0.25% annually
  • Ideal for: New investors
  • Automatic rebalancing: Yes
  • Tax-loss harvesting: Yes
  • Advice: No human-assisted consultations

Not so long ago, Wealthfront was one of the companies that kickstarted the robo-advisor revolution.

Founded in 2008 as a mutual fund analysis service, Wealthfront transitioned into a wealth management firm in 2012 and began its rise to the top of the robo-advisor world.

Wealthfront is currently among the top companies in this area, with over $20 billion in assets under management, and provides a service that caters to clients who want their money to generate wealth on autopilot.

Acorns Overview

Logo of Acorns

Fast Facts and Features

  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: $1, $2, or $3 per month, depending on the account type
  • Ideal for: New investors who want to save money with minimal effort
  • Automatic rebalancing: Yes
  • Tax-loss harvesting: No
  • Promotion: Free for college students
  • Advice: No human advisor available

Get started with Acorns here.

Founded in 2012, Acorns is a fintech company based in Irvine, California, best known for its innovative technology and financial management services.

The company currently has a healthy client base of 4.5 million users and over 1.2 billion in funds under management, making it one of the top robo-advisor providers in the US.

What makes this advisor service apart from the competition is the number of unique features like Round-up Investing and their Found Money Program, which we will talk about in more detail in a moment.

Much like Wealthfront, Acorns caters to clients who appreciate a fully automated, no-hassle investment service, that lets them earn money easily and without spending much attention on strategizing and manually managing their accounts.

Goal Setting and Planning

Planning is the first step of your investment journey and this is also where most robo-advisor providers are very different from each other.

Your plan will determine how risky the trades made by the advisor will be, so it’s probably the most important part of the entire investment process.

These two companies both strive for a fully digital and simplified goal-setting system that requires as little effort from the client as possible. Let’s take a look if systems like these are any good and how they compare.

Wealthfront  – Comprehensive User-Friendly Planning

Competing with Wealthfront’s intuitive, fully-digital planning service is not easy, as the company has made great effort to make this goal-setting system as comprehensive and simple as possible.

When you open an account with Wealthfront, you get access to Path. This is the platform’s planning tool that you can synchronize with all other financial accounts, like your bank account, to get a holistic view of your finances.

Synching your financial accounts to have all your money-related data in one place is a fantastic feature for investment planning and it’s a shame that Acorns doesn’t offer the same level of account aggregation.

The platform’s dashboard is super easy to navigate and displays assets and liabilities in distinctive colors, making the interface very easy to read from and pleasant-looking.

Wealthfront DashboardThe platform allows you to make quick projections for potential strategies you’re thinking about, so you can see which one seems to work best in the long run.

The platform’s developers made it very easy to input parameters like desired income, target balance, age, allowed risk levels, etc., which is laudable and lets new investors start investing with no hassle.

After setting everything up, you can set multiple goals like buying a house, retirement, and saving for the kids’ college, and invest money in each goal accordingly.

Wealthfront Path Planning Tool

Moreover, if your path isn’t progressing as planned, the platform will inform you and offer a solution that will get you back on track.

For example, if the growth of the college fund has slowed down for some reason, you’ll be advised to deposit more funds or change your strategy slightly.

Unfortunately, You can’t get any human assistance via this fully-digital planning system.

However, Wealthfront has one of the most comprehensive tools for independent planning you can find in the robo-advisor industry, which is why it is one of the top companies in this field.

Standing out in such a competitive environment is never an easy thing to do, so check out the full Wealthfront review if you’re interested in how the company has managed to earn its good reputation.

Acorns – Simple and Effortless

If you thought that Wealthfront is the easy-to-use one, think again. Acorns has a super simplistic approach to planning, as clients can only choose one of 5 trading strategies that are rated from the safest to most aggressive.

That’s basically it. You have to deposit your money, choose a strategy, and Acorns does the rest for you. You can change the strategy at any time by simply clicking the right button on your screen, so it really can’t get any more simple.

Choosing a strategy means choosing a portfolio type that suits you the most, and there are 5 of them, namely, Conservative, Moderately Conservative, Moderate, Moderately Aggressive, and Aggressive.

Acorns Portfolio TypeThe safer options are marked by a light blue color and the aggressive ones are purple, which is a good feature since users could otherwise click the wrong button and set their portfolio an Aggressive or Conservative by accident.

The design and simplicity are great and all that, but can this planning system actually make you money? Well, it seems that the answer is yes.

These 5 portfolios weren’t made by just anyone. They were designed by a team of pros led by a Nobel prize-winning economist, Harry Markowitz, who is an expert in the field of portfolio diversification.

Acorns Roundups in Mobile

In essence, this system works and clients make money with Acorns on a regular basis. It’s a fantastic, innovative feature, especially for new investors, however, it’s far from perfect.

Unfortunately, these Nobel prize-winning portfolios are fixed and can not be changed. So if you want to exchange your government bonds for large-company stocks, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Although it’s alluring for some investors, the simplicity of Acorns’ portfolios might deter the more experienced types who want a bit more control over their trading strategies.

What’s more, you can’t get a human advisor with Acorns, so this system is all you’ll get to work with.

Winner: Wealthfront. Acorns’ effortless approach to investing looks great, especially for beginners, however, Wealthfront offers a much more feature-rich planning service with greater wealth-generating potential, that’s also very user-friendly.

Pricing and Fees

Wealth management services make a large chunk of their profits through commissions, so they have to charge fees for taking care of your money.

The good thing about robots, though, is that they work for free, which is why robo-advisors are cheaper, and therefore, appealing to many investors.

These companies both strive to make their services as automated as possible in order to save time and money for everyone involved, but they have two fundamentally different pricing schemes.

Let’s take a look at these two and see which one suits your investment plans better.

Wealthfront – Competitive Fees and Tax Reduction

You can open several specialized accounts with Wealthfront, including Roth IRA, Trust, 401(k) Rollovers, etc., all of which have the same competitive annual fee of 0.25%.

You can always do with fewer expenses, so Wealthfront offers an excellent tax-loss harvesting service.

This means they sell your positions before you pay tax and buy new ones afterward so you end up saving a bundle, and many robo-advisors, not including Acorns, offer the same service.

Furthermore, Wealthfront uses Direct indexing, which means that instead of buying a reasonable mix of ETFs or index mutual funds, the company will make an index just for you.

This means that Wealthfront will buy individual stocks for you, which will, in turn, incur fewer taxes and help you save even more money long-term.

However, these services aren’t free, and you’ll get the full suite of features only if you have $100,000 or more on your account. Moreover, the minimum initial deposit is $500, so you can’t start from the very bottom as you can with Acorns.

All in all, Wealthfront provides a fantastic tax-loss harvesting service, which is a great boon especially in combination with the low annual account management fee.

Acorns – Low, Fixed Fees

For a robo-advisor that advertises itself as a great tool for young, low-income investors, Acorns actually isn’t a great place to start with a very low initial investment.

The company charges a fixed monthly maintenance fee of $1 for the basic Acorns Core account, $2 for Acorns Later, and $3 for Acorns Spend. Many wealth management services charge a percentage-based fee precisely because fixed fees hurt users with small balances the most.

Although you can open an account for free, you can’t do anything with it without at least $5 on your balance. However, you’ll probably need a lot more than that to start with, since you’ll lose anywhere from $12 to $48 a year on monthly fees.

What’s more, unlike Wealthfront, Acorns doesn’t provide tax-loss harvesting at all, so you won’t get that extra boost to your balance when it’s tax season.

Don’t worry, Acorns has some really good pricing features too. For example, college students can invest with acorns for free.

Now, college students aren’t exactly known for having a lot of money, but still, getting used to investing early is a great way to retire rich.

Also, investors with large balances get tremendous benefits due to the fixed monthly account management fee, and superior account types can give you a number of fantastic, unique features, which we will talk about in a moment.

Moreover, as it is with Wealthfront, deposits and withdrawals are free, so you can use your money without thinking about fees and penalties.

Acorns isn’t as perfect for new investors as it looks on paper because of the fixed fees that can take a huge chunk out of a small balance every year.

On the other hand, users with a very big budget might sign up with another company for superior long-term profits, so this service is best for users who are in the middle.

We did the math on how much you can make with Acorns with a low starting budget, among other things, so check out the full Acorns review for a deeper look into this robo-advisor’s capabilities.

Transferring your funds to another robo-advisor or brokerage is also a bit pricy, as you have to pay $50 per ETF, which can leave an unpleasant void in your pockets.

Screenshot of Acorns Pricing

Don’t worry, Acorns has some really good pricing features too. For example, college students can invest with acorns for free.

Now, college students aren’t exactly known for having a lot of money, but still, getting used to investing early is a great way to retire rich.

Also, investors with large balances get tremendous benefits due to the fixed monthly account management fee, and superior account types can give you a number of fantastic, unique features, which we will talk about in a moment.

Moreover, as it is with Wealthfront, deposits and withdrawals are free, so you can use your money without thinking about fees and penalties.

Acorns isn’t as perfect for new investors as it looks on paper because of the fixed fees that can take a huge chunk out of a small balance every year.

On the other hand, users with a very big budget might sign up with another company for superior long-term profits, so this service is best for users who are in the middle.

We did the math on how much you can make with Acorns with a low starting budget, among other things, so check out the full Acorns review for a deeper look into this robo-advisor’s capabilities.

Winner:Wealthfront. Acorns’ fixed monthly fees are not good news for new beginners, which are the companies target audience. What’s more Wealthfront has superior tax-loss harvesting features that can be of great help to users with substantial balances.

Other Features

The world of robo-advisors is very brave and new, so you can see a lot of original ideas being implemented on a regular basis.

These two companies especially pride themselves on an innovative approach to wealth management and their unique new features, so let’s take a look at what they have to offer.

Wealthfront – A Larger Balance Equals a Better Service

This fully-digital investing experience will provide better features if you have a large account balance, but the offer will likely suit new entries as well.

PassivePlus is Wealthfront’s basic set of features that includes tax-loss harvesting, as well as other handy services.

Wealthfront PassivePlus EdgeIf you have $100,000 invested, the service is upgraded with direct indexing and risk parity, which will help your portfolio’s growth even more.

What’s more, if you go one step further and get to $500,000, you get the Smart Beta service, which means your money will be invested with more care and analysis, making bigger returns than before.

Among the fully-digital robo-advisor services, Wealthfront is near the very top for a good reason. The platform provides a user-friendly experience with a suite of money-saving services, rivaled by few competitors.

However, some companies can effectively compete with this offer, and one such company is the robo-advisor pioneer, Betterment.

If you’re looking for the best robo-advisor for you, make sure to check out how the two giants of the industry, Betterment and Wealthfront, fare when pitted against each other.

Acorns – Turn Your Spare Change Into An Investment

This is where the youthful, upbeat company truly shines. Acorns has quite a few very interesting features that you won’t find anywhere else at the moment.

Although, it seems likely that other robo-advisors will be inspired by some of these innovative investment solutions in the future.

One such feature is the Acorns Round-Ups. Whenever you pay for something using a debit/credit card linked to your account, Acorns will round up the purchase to the next dollar, depositing the round-up money into your account and investing it.

For example, if your bill in a bar is $14.20 and you pay it using a card, Acorns will round up that number to a full $15 by adding 80 cents. The 80 cents will then be invested into the portfolio type of your choosing.

This is a great way to seamlessly add more and more funds to your account on a regular basis without even thinking about it.

Acorns Different Offered Features

Another interesting perk you can get from Acorns is the Found Money program. Whenever you use your Acorns debit card to buy something from certain partner companies, a part of the money will be given back to you and invested.

The companies Acorns is partnered with are numerous and include household names like Nike, Walmart, Sephora, Airbnb, etc. The percentage of the money you get back can range anywhere from 1% and go as far as 20%, which is the case with Hulu.

These companies include delivery services that can bring groceries to your address, so you can probably use the Found Money feature of the Acorns app for most of your daily purchases.

Acorns Found MoneyGetting 4-5% here and there isn’t a lot of money, but if you make most of your purchases through the app, the amount of money that is invested as a result will be very promising.

At least, you can say that investing a small part of your grocery money is a lot better than simply losing it.

Some companies will even give you a fixed amount for a certain service, for example, Airbnb will give you 50$ if you sign up as a host with them.

However, most of these cash backs have a monthly cap, so you can’t get your money back from the same place ad infinitum. And also, this cap makes using your account to make purchases for others much harder.

When combined with the Roun-Ups feature, this can really bolster your Acorns account passively, so it’s very much worth taking into consideration when assessing this robo-advisor.

One more handy new addition to Acorns’ platform is the Gift Card Service, which allows users to invest in the accounts of others along with sending a note to the recipient.

A concerned parent might want to invest in their kid’s account this way, so the Acorns gift card is a good option to have.

Although the company falls short in services like tax-reduction, detailed planning, and low fees, Acorns’ unique features make the robo-advisor a handy tool that’s trying to outdo its competition by doing things they haven’t even considered yet.

DRAW: It’s hard to compare these two companies since they focus on different things and excel at them. Wealthfront is great at tax-loss harvesting and discounts for high balances, whereas Acorns can help you deposit a bundle without even thinking about it, effectively making you a bundle each month.

Customer Service

Wealthfront has a reliable and quick customer support available via email and phone. There is no live chat on their website, but the phone agents can be reached 5 days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. The usual response time is less than 2 minutes, which is perfectly acceptable.

All customer service agents are licensed professionals, so they can help you with everything from restoring a lost password to answering relevant legal questions. To test them out, we senat an email with a simple question to Wealthfront.

The answer came in just 3 hours, and was very helpful. The representative also included some relevant links to services we were asking about. Here’s our little chat.

Acorns has an equally helpful and professional customer support, but they are a bit on the slow side. The phone service is available 5 days a week from 9am-5pm EST, reaching the representatives usually takes about 3 minutes.

There is no live chat on Acorns’ website, so we sent them an email with a simple inquiry.

The answer we got was helpful and included some links to what we were asking about, however, it came after 4 full days. That’s not very quick at all, so it’s probably a better idea to call them on the phone.

 

Wealthfront Customer Email and Reply

WINNER:Wealthfront. Both companies have phone and email service, as well as the same working hours. However, Wealthfront’s agents are simply quicker to respond in both cases, which is why they win this round.

Security

Wealthfront clients are protected with $500,000 in case the company goes bust, by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC).

What’s more, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Guarantees protection of up to $1 million if you hold a separate cash account with Wealthfront, which is enough to cover most retirement funds.

However, keep in mind that this coverage is provided only if the company goes bankrupt or fails in some other way. Otherwise, if you lose money because the value of your portfolio drops due to a shift in the markets, you won’t be refunded.

Acorns offer a similar level of security to its competitor. The company is a member of  SIPC, which guarantees coverage of up to $500,000 in case Acorns fails in any way.

The company is also under the watchful eye of FDIC, which protects the owners of Acorns’ Spend account with at least $250,000. That’s a lot less than you’ll get at Wealthfront, but still very reassuring.

Much like Wealthfront, the Acorns app and website have 256-bit encryption, and it also helps that you get automatic logouts, multi-factor authentication, and ID verification to keep your account safe and sound.

WINNER:Wealthfront. This is a very close call since both companies offer an almost identical level of security and money protection. However, FDIC provides up to $1 million in coverage for Wealthfront clients, which is more than Acorns gets, making Wealthfront the winner.

Bottom Line – Which Investment Service Is Better for You?

Wealthfront is considered one of the best in the industry for a good reason. The company offers an easy-to-use platform, competitive pricing, and a comprehensive planning system, as well as some of the best tax-loss harvesting strategies you’ll find amongst robo-advisers.

Acorns has a very different approach to wealth management which is designed to make users passively invest money regularly without even thinking about it, and then grow their accounts through a super user-friendly platform.

All in all, Wealthfront is a superior service for managing large sums of money without much effort, whereas Acorns can help you save and invest money through their innovative Round-Ups and Found Money program.

About Author

Tim Fries Tim Fries is the cofounder of The Tokenist. He has a B. Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tim is also the co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital (protechcap.com).