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Betterment Review

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It may not have not been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners or the Investment company.

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Betterment is one of the pioneers in the robo-advisory world, tracing its roots back to 2010. Its services have evolved over the years from traditional passive exchange-traded fund (ETF) investing to include access to certified financial planners (CFPs), specialized portfolio investments and cash management options.

Betterment Holdings Inc.
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The bottom line: Betterment is tailor-made for beginning investors seeking a diverse, professionally managed, low-cost portfolio, but also offers CFP access and competitive cash management services.

  • Low costs
  • Tax optimization strategies
  • Purpose-built portfolios

Best for...
  • First-time investors
  • Passive investors
  • Investors looking for more than just an index fund
  • Robo-advisory customers who want CFP access
Investment minimum
  • $0 for Digital plan
  • $100,000 for Premium plan
Management fee
  • 0.25% for Digital plan
  • 0.40% for Premium plan
Accounts offered
  • Individual taxable
  • Joint taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Trusts
Access to human advisorsYes, at Premium level
Banking servicesYes

financial advisor

What is Betterment and how does it work?

Betterment offers two tiers of robo-advisory services: Digital and Premium. Pricing varies for the two tiers, coming in at 0.25% annually for Digital and 0.40% for Premium. Access to CFP professionals is available in the Premium tier, but only via Phone or Email.

You can open a broad array of accounts at Betterment, from traditional taxable accounts to IRAs and Trust accounts. In addition to its investing offerings, one of the company’s most recent ventures is the establishment of a banking branch, complete with a no-fee checking account and a high-yield cash account.

Pros

  • Low expense ratios: The internal fees charged by Betterment’s ETFs are well below the industry-average ETF expense ratio. Expense ratios for Betterment ETFs typically run from 0.07% to 0.15%, while the industry average is closer to 0.50% annually.
  • Access to CFP professionals: For the 0.40% annual fee for the Premium tier, investors can discuss major life events and financial planning directly with CFPs. This offering comes at a lower cost compared to competitors, with Fidelity charging 0.50% annually for access to personal advisors and Schwab charging $300 upfront, plus an ongoing monthly fee of $30. However, only Premium tier customers have access to CFP assistance — unless you pay additional fees — and visits must be conducted virtually.
  • Automatic rebalancing and tax management: Betterment portfolios are constantly monitored and automatically rebalanced to ensure investments stay within the targeted asset allocation. In addition, portfolios are optimized for tax reduction through the use of tax-loss harvesting and tax coordination, which places assets to ensure maximum tax efficiency.
  • No-fee cash management account: Betterment offers a checking account with no overdraft fees, no foreign transaction fees and global ATM fee reimbursement, as well as a cash reserve account that currently pays a 0.40% APY. The accounts have no minimum balance requirements and no fees.

Cons

  • No stock trading: Investing with Betterment is only available through ETF portfolios. Although this is standard for robo-advisors, many online brokerages, such as Schwab and Fidelity, offer individual and fractional stock and ETF trading for zero commissions.
  • $100,000 minimum required for Premium tier: Although customers gain CFP access in Betterment’s Premium tier, there’s also a $100,000 minimum investment requirement.
  • annual fee: Although the Betterment Digital tier fee is just 0.25% per year, some robo-advisors, like Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, charge no commissions or advisory fees at all. Fidelity Go, as another example, charges no management fees for portfolios under $10,000, and just $3 per month for accounts up to $50,000. Accounts above $50,000 pay a 0.35% annual fee.

Betterment investment approach

Betterment uses a holistic investment approach based on Modern Portfolio Theory, which attempts to achieve the highest return possible for the lowest amount of risk. A so-called optimal asset allocation will lie on this risk-reward line, which is known as the efficient frontier.

Tax-loss harvesting, portfolio optimization, rebalancing and smart beta are some of the available tools designed to enhance Betterment performance.

Investment optionsSelected ETFs
Tax loss harvesting
Portfolio rebalancing
Smart Beta
Socially Responsible Investing
Fractional shares

Asset allocation

To determine the appropriate asset allocation for your portfolio, Betterment solicits information about your investing goals and time horizon. These self-inputs are then matched with Betterment portfolios that attempt to best achieve those goals for the lowest amount of risk.

Then, client funds are allocated across a variety of equity and fixed-income ETFs divided into the following subcategories:

  • Stocks/equities
    • U.S. total stock market
    • U.S. value stocks — large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap
    • International developed market stocks
    • International emerging market stocks
    • U.S. high-quality bonds
    • U.S. municipal bonds
  • Bonds/fixed income
    • U.S. inflation-protected bonds
    • U.S. high-yield corporate bonds
    • U.S. short-term treasury bonds
    • U.S. short-term investment-grade bonds
    • International developed market bonds
    • International emerging market bonds

Betterment also offers three specialized portfolios:

  1. Smart Beta: Goldman Sachs manages a Smart Beta portfolio for Betterment, which involves taking on additional systematic risk in exchange for the potential for higher returns. Betterment classifies this strategy as between a passive and active investment management strategy.
  2. Socially Responsible Investing: This portfolio attempts to exclude companies that are deemed to have a negative social aspect, such as those profiting from environmental devastation. Only asset classes in the traditional U.S. large-cap, emerging market and developed market portfolios are eligible for replacement with socially responsible alternatives.
  3. BlackRock Target Income Portfolio: Managed by investment firm BlackRock, this portfolio is designed to maximize dividend income for retired investors via a portfolio of Bonds.

You can choose from any of these specialized portfolios, or you can use the Flexible Portfolio option to create your own blend based on your investment preferences. These options are all available in addition to the traditional Betterment asset allocation model.

Tax strategy

Betterment utilizes a variety of strategies to maximize the tax efficiency in client portfolios, including:

Asset location: This strategy automatically allocates securities based on their tax characteristics. For example, taxable bonds or other investments that throw off the most taxable income are assigned to tax-advantaged accounts, such as IRAs, while tax-free investments like municipal bonds are assigned to taxable accounts.

Tax loss harvesting: Betterment also offers tax-loss harvesting, which sells securities at a loss to offset realized taxable gains in an account. A similar security is purchased to replace the investment harvested for a tax loss.

Betterment fees

  • Annual management fee: 0.25% for Digital tier; 0.40% for Premium tier
  • Investment expense ratios: 0.03% to 0.50%

Investors in Betterment’s most basic Digital tier pay an annual fee of 0.25% of their assets under management. Those opting for the Premium tier, which offers additional services, pay 0.40% annually.

The 0.25% annual fee charged by Betterment for the Digital tier is in line with rates charged by other robo-advisors. When compared with the zero-commission cost at many online brokerages, the Betterment fee might not fit your needs. However, Betterment isn’t designed to appeal to do-it-yourself traders, and on a $10,000 account, an annual fee of 0.25% translates to just $25 in annual fees.

The 0.40% charged at the Premium level is high in comparison to other robo-advisors, but it does provide access to CFP professionals via online Chat or video conference. The rate is also much lower than what’s charged by most full-service investment professionals, though Betterment doesn’t offer in-person servicing. There’s also a $100,000 minimum investment requirement for this tier level, making the minimum annual fee $400 for Premium customers.

In addition to the annual management fees, you’ll also pay costs in the form of expense ratios for the ETFs in your portfolio. Betterment’s ETFs carry underlying expense ratios ranging from 0.03% to 0.50%.

Betterment features and tools

Betterment Cash Management account

Betterment offers a cash management account consisting of Betterment Checking, a no-fee checking account, and Betterment Cash Reserve, a no-fee, high-yield cash reserve account currently paying a 0.40% APY.

The combined account has no minimum balance requirement or overdraft fees. All ATM fees and foreign transaction fees are reimbursed, no matter where you are in the world. This account is mobile-based, providing features such as PIN changes, card locks and remote check deposits directly through the Betterment app. A contactless Visa debit card is included.

Note that you cannot take withdrawals directly from the Cash Reserve account. Money must first be transferred to the checking portion of the cash management account, at which point you can access your funds via the Visa debit card. There are no limits on the amount or size of transfers to and from your checking account.

Investment goals

Betterment offers goals-based investment planning when customers sign up. The five types of goals are:

  • Retirement savings: For those planning for their future
  • Retirement income: For those who have already retired
  • Safety net: For an emergency fund
  • Major purchase: For those planning for big-ticket items like a house
  • General investing: For non-specific future goals

Investors can choose as many of the investment goals as they like. Within each goal category, Betterment suggests investment allocations to help clients reach those goals. Account-holders are free to tweak these allocations at any time to match their personalized views.

Financial planning

Investors in the Betterment Digital tier can access various financial planning packages by paying a fee. Each package includes a Phone call with a CFP and a post-call, personalized action plan drafted by the advisor.

There are currently five packages available. Note that Premium tier users have unlimited access to CFP professionals, so the package prices listed below do not apply.

  • Getting Started Package: A 45-minute general call with a CFP for $199. This tutorial outlines how best to use a Betterment account to maximize its tax, investment and savings features.
  • Financial Checkup: A 60-minute call with a CFP to review your overall financial situation and investment portfolio for $299.
  • College Planning Package: A 60-minute call with a CFP covering educational financing for $299. The call covers how to save and invest for college and which types of accounts offer your best solutions.
  • Marriage Planning Package: A 60-minute call with a CFP regarding overall budget, goals, debt and merging finances for $299.
  • Retirement Planning Package: A 60-minute call with a CFP covering employer plans, current personal retirement holdings and other retirement planning topics for $299.

Betterment user experience

Betterment was originally created as a largely web-based experience, but it’s come a long way in adding features to its mobile app to make it a more seamless experience. It takes some time to set up an account and get a portfolio designed, especially on the app, but once your account is established, the user experience is intuitive and full of helpful information.

Betterment customer service is somewhat limited. Phone support is only available five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST. For cash management inquiries, hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.

Betterment safety and security

  • SIPC insurance
  • FDIC insurance
  • Encrypted data
  • Two-factor authentication

Betterment’s investment portfolios are protected by SIPC insurance for up to $500,000, including up to $250,000 in cash protection. The Betterment Checking and Cash Reserve accounts carry FDIC insurance. Limits are up to $250,000 for the checking account and up to $1 million for the cash reserve account. Note that SIPC and FDIC insurance only cover firm failure, not market losses.

To protect customer data, Betterment utilizes data encryption, fraud protection and two-factor authentication. Once you’ve identified a device as safe to use Betterment, the firm remembers it for two years before requiring additional codes.

Is Betterment worth it?

Betterment can be a great option for beginner-to-intermediate investors who want professional help with their investments at a low cost. Its optimized ETFs can offer a good value for those without the time, inclination or ability to construct and monitor a long-term investment portfolio. Beyond smart beta and tax optimization, Betterment also offers CFP access, a good online and mobile experience and cash management options.

DIY stock traders should look elsewhere, however, as Betterment doesn’t offer individual stock trading. Numerous brokerages offer commission-free trading of Stocks, ETFs and mutual funds for individual investors.

Alternatives to Betterment

While Betterment is a leading robo-advisor in the industry, it’s not the only game in town. Wealthfront and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services are two of its most prominent competitors.

 Account minimumAnnual feeAccounts offered
Betterment$0 or $100,0000.25% or 0.40%Individual taxable, joint taxable, IRAs, trusts
Wealthfront$5000.25%Individual taxable, joint taxable, IRAs, trusts, 529 accounts
Vanguard Personal Advisor Services$50,0000.05% to 0.30%Individual taxable, joint taxable, IRAs, trusts

Betterment vs. Wealthfront

Wealthfront charges the same 0.25% annual fee as Betterment does for its Digital tier, but unlike Betterment, Wealthfront requires a $500 minimum. However, Wealthfront offers a broader array of account types, including 529 Plans, which Betterment does not offer. Wealthfront also manages the first $5,000 of an investor’s account at no cost.

Wealthfront doesn’t offer access to financial advisors, so that may be a dealbreaker for some. Still, it does offer a cash management account with similar features to Betterment, including a debit card, but it doesn’t reimburse global ATM fees. Additionally, its current yield is a bit shy of Betterment’s 0.40% APY, at a 0.35% APY.

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Betterment vs. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

Vanguard has built its brand on the strength of its mutual fund lineup, but it has branched out into no-fee commission trading and robo-advising as well. Its Personal Advisor Services program carries a hefty $50,000 minimum and charges 0.30% annually, although this can be lowered to as little as 0.05% annually for deposits of at least $25 million.

All Vanguard Personal Advisor Services clients have the benefit of speaking with a Vanguard financial advisor directly to help them plan their portfolios. Although the minimum of $50,000 is high, it’s lower than the $100,000 required at Betterment to access a financial advisor directly.

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All information included in this profile is accurate as of 09/17/2020. For more information, please consult Betterment’s website.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Best of

The Best Kasasa Checking Accounts in 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Written By

 

Reviewed By

A Kasasa checking account is a special type of banking product that is only available at certain credit unions and community banks. Kasasa checking accounts are free and offer various rewards, such as cash back or online shopping credits. Additionally, Kasasa checking accounts offer nationwide refunds on ATM withdrawal fees.

What is a Kasasa checking account?

Developed by the Kasasa Corporation, a Texas-based financial services and marketing organization, Kasasa accounts help smaller banks compete against larger rivals by providing special features desired by consumers. In exchange for providing rewards and other benefits, Kasasa accounts require qualification. Typically, customers must enroll in online banking and/or electronic statements and undertake a certain number of monthly transactions, such as 12 debit card purchases and one or more ACH transactions.

While every Kasasa checking account comes with no monthly maintenance fees and national ATM fee rebates, the particulars of each individual bank or credit union’s account can differ. As banking is a competitive landscape, even among institutions that offer Kasasa accounts, rates and benefits will vary.

Here’s a look at the top Kasasa checking accounts, including both regionally available accounts and nationally available accounts. To select the best, we looked for Kasasa accounts that offered the highest APYs and generous rewards.

Top regionally available Kasasa checking accounts

InstitutionAvailabilityAPY

Chief Financial Credit Union

Michigan5.00%

Kellogg Community Credit Union

Michigan4.25%

Pelican State Credit Union

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas4.25%

Kalsee Credit Union

Michigan4.25%

First Financial Bank (AR)

Arkansas, Mississippi3.04%

Chief Financial Credit Union Free Kasasa Cash Checking

  • 5.00% APY
  • $0 minimum
  • $5,000 maximum
  • Available in the Kalamazoo, MI region

Chief Financial Credit Union serves the greater Detroit metro region. Chief’s Free Kasasa Cash Checking account pays you 5.00% on balances up to a maximum of $5,000, and an APY of 0.39% on the balance over this threshold. Chief will also refund up to $25 in third-party ATM fees every month.

To get the highest rate, you must receive electronic bank statements, and every month make at least 12 debit card purchases that post and settle, and log into you online banking account. Membership in Chief Financial is open to residents of the greater Detroit metro region, and selected other communities in the State of Michigan.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Chief Financial Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Kellogg Community Credit Union Kasasa Cash Account

  • 4.25% APY
  • $0 minimum
  • $7,500 maximum
  • Available in western Michigan

Kellogg Community Credit Union has been providing counties in western Michigan with financial services since 1941. The bank currently offers three types of Kasasa accounts, although it’s Kasasa Cash account is a real winner, paying an impressive 4.25% APY on balances up to $7,500. The portion of your balance above this threshold earns 0.25% APY.

To receive the reward APY, you must agree to receive eStatements, and be enrolled in online banking. Every monthly cycle, you must make at least 12 debit card purchases, log into your online account, and have at least one direct deposit of $500 or more. You must also have a valid email address on file.

Membership in Kellogg Community Credit Union is open to those who live, work, worship, or attend school in, and businesses or other legal entities located in the Michigan counties of Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Kent, St. Joseph, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa or Van Buren.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Kellogg Community Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Pelican State Credit Union Kasasa Cash Account

  • 4.25% APY
  • $0 minimum
  • $7,500 maximum
  • Available in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas

Headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Pelican State Credit Union serves the local community with a full menu of financial products. Pelican’s Kasasa Cash checking account earns 4.25% APY on up to $7,500, one of the highest available rates we’ve found in our research. Anything over that amount will get you 0.76%. As a bonus, you’ll be reimbursed for all ATM transactions up to $4.99 apiece.

To get this rate, you’ll have to sign up for electronic account statements and every monthly cycle make 15 debit purchases per month, log on to your online account at least once, and receive at least one direct deposit or other automatic payment, or make one online bill payment. If qualifications aren’t met in any given month, your balance earns 0.05% APY. Best of all, Pelican offers unlimited refunds of third-party ATM fees incurred nationwide.

Membership in Pelican State Credit Union is open to residents of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas who join one of four local charitable organizations. Membership also extends to anyone working for the institution’s employer partners.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Pelican State Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Kalsee Credit Union Kasasa Cash+ Account

  • 4.25% APY
  • $0 minimum
  • $25,000 maximum
  • Available in the Kalamazoo, MI region

Kalsee Credit Union serves the Kalamazoo, MI region with a full menu of financial products. Kalsee offers four Kasasa accounts: Kasasa Cash+, Kasasa Cash, Kasasa Cash Back and Kasasa Saver. The credit union’s Kasasa Cash+ checking account earns 4.25% APY.

To get the highest rate, you’ll have to open a Kasasa checking account, make 24 debit purchases per month, sign up for electronic account statements, log on to your account at least once per month, and receive direct deposits totaling at least $1,000 per month. You can earn the 4.25% APY on balances up to $25,000, while balances above this threshold earn 0.35% APY. In addition, Kalsee will refund up to $25 in ATM fees incurred at domestic ATMs.

Membership in Kalsee Credit Union is open to anyone who lives, works, or attends school in the Michigan counties of Allegan, Barry, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, or Van Buren.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Kalsee Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

First Financial Bank Kasasa Cash Account

  • 3.04% APY
  • $50 minimum
  • $15,000 maximum
  • Available in Arkansas and Mississippi

First Financial Bank is an Arkansas-based community bank that serves local markets in Arkansas and Mississippi. The bank currently offers three types of Kasasa accounts: Kasasa Cash, Kasasa Cash Back and Kasasa Tunes. These accounts all have minimum opening deposits of $50, no monthly service fees and unlimited rebates of ATM fees nationwide.

Kasasa Cash currently pays a 3.04% APY on balances of up to $15,000, with the rate dropping to 0.50% APY on balances above $15,000. You must be enrolled in and log in to online banking, accept electronic statements and make at least 12 debit card purchases monthly or else your rate on your entire balance will drop to 0.05% APY and you won’t earn your ATM fee rebates.

Kasasa Cash Back eschews the high interest rate and instead rewards customers with a 3% rebate on debit card purchases of up to $250 per month, as long as you meet the same qualifications outlined above. Kasasa Tunes provides rebates of up to $7.50 each month in iTunes, Amazon or Google Play purchases, with a onetime sign-up bonus of $10 in rebates.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on First Financial Bank (AR)’s secure website

Member FDIC

Top nationally available Kasasa checking accounts

InstitutionAvailabilityAPY

Security State Bank (KS)

Nationwide3.00%

First National Bank of Jeanerette

Nationwide3.00%

Industrial Bank

Nationwide2.50%

Bay State Savings Bank

Nationwide2.01%

First Security Bank & Trust

Nationwide2.01%

Security State Bank Kasasa Cash Account

  • 3.00% APY
  • $100 minimum
  • $10,000 maximum
  • Available nationwide

Security State Bank is a full-service community bank located in Scott County, KS. Nevertheless, Security State’s Kasasa Cash checking account is available nationwide, and earns a respectable 3.00% APY on up to $10,000 — anything over that amount will pay you 0.25%. The Kasasa account has a $100 minimum deposit to earn rewards, including $25 in ATM reimbursements. All you have to do is post 12 debit card purchases in each monthly qualification period, enrollment in electronic statements and log on to online banking every month to qualify for rewards.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Security State Bank (KS)’s secure website

Member FDIC

First National Bank of Jeanerette Free Kasasa Cash Checking

  • 3.00% APY
  • $100 minimum
  • $10,000 maximum
  • Available nationwide

The First National Bank of Jeanerette is a small community bank located in Louisiana, but they’ll let anybody open a free Kasasa Cash Checking account with them. Paying a decent 3.00% APY on balances up to $10,000 (and 0.25% on any balances above), the bank will also refund up to $25 in third-party ATM fees. All you need is to agree to receive electronic banking statements, and every month make at least 12 debit card purchases and complete at least one ACH deposit or bill pay transaction.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on The First National Bank Of Jeanerette’s secure website

Member FDIC

Industrial Bank Kasasa Cash Checking

  • 2.50% APY
  • $25 minimum
  • $15,000 maximum
  • Available nationwide

With Industrial Bank, located in Washington, D.C., you’ll earn 2.50% on up to $15,000 in cash. Anything above that will earn you 0.25%. You’re also eligible for ATM reimbursements (up to $25) if you meet all the monthly APY requirements: You must enroll in and receive statements, enroll in and log into online banking and have at least 12 debit card purchases post and settle to your Kasasa account.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Industrial Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Bay State Savings Bank Kasasa Cash

  • 2.01% APY
  • No minimum to open an account
  • $20,000 maximum
  • Available nationwide

Earn 2.01% on your first $20,000 with Bay State Savings Bank. Qualify for this APY and ATM reimbursements by enrolling in e-statements, logging into your account at least once a cycle and having at least 12 debit card PIN-based, signature-based or online purchases post and settle.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on Bay State Savings Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

First Security Bank & Trust Kasasa Cash

  • 2.01% APY
  • $100 minimum opening deposit
  • $50,000 maxmium
  • Available nationwide

Based out of Charles City, Iowa, First Security Bank & Trust offers a bank account that anyone in the country is eligible to open. The bank was founded in 1903 and only operates a few branches within Iowa, but you can still open an account and manage it online from anywhere.

To qualify for the high rate, which is valid on the largest amount of all our top picks, you’ll need to keep your email address current with the bank, sign up for e-statements, have at least one ACH deposit and use your debit card for purchases 18 times. If you don’t meet those requirements, you’ll earn a lower rate of 0.05% APY. Additionally, anything over $50,000 will drop your rate to 0.20%. In addition, if you meet the requirements, you can have up to $25 per month in ATM fees refunded.

SEE DETAILS Secured

on First Security Bank & Trust’s secure website

Member FDIC

The bottom line: Are Kasasa checking accounts worth it?

Kasasa accounts can offer great benefits to customers who qualify. If you’re already making the required transactions, such as 12 debit card purchases per month, Kasasa accounts are something of a no-brainer, as they offer rewards, carry no monthly fees and reimburse domestic ATM withdrawals.

However, for those who might have to stretch to qualify for a Kasasa account, it might pay to shop around, as there are plenty of competitor accounts that also charge no monthly fees. Each individual customer will have to weigh out the benefits of a high interest rate – or one of the other Kasasa rewards – against the transaction requirements.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Advertiser Disclosure

Reviews

Acorns Spend Review

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Written By

Reviewed By

Acorns Spend is the third product offered by popular micro-investing tool Acorns. Spend is a checking account integrated with the firm’s two existing products, Acorns Core and Acorns Later. Combined, the three products are designed to get people saving and investing on an automatic basis.

Acorns Spend has all the features of a traditional checking account, including a debit card and ATM access. The Acorns twist is that purchases made using the account are rounded up to the nearest dollar, with the excess money being invested in six different exchange-traded funds, or ETFs.

When you pay the $3 monthly fee for Acorns Spend, you’re automatically enrolled in Acorns Core and Acorns Later, although you’re not required to fund or use these products.

If you’re curious about Acorns Spend, we’ll take a look at the features and benefits of the account, along with its associated fees and drawbacks to see if its a good fit for you.

Account features

No minimum balance or overdraft fees. You don’t have to fund an Acorns Spend account to open it, and you don’t have to worry about ever overdrawing the account.

Includes Acorns Core and Acorns Laterfor no additional fee. Although some online checking accounts don’t charge a monthly fee at all, the Acorns Spend account is part of a financial universe that rounds up your money and invests it for you; the $3 monthly fee also includes IRA services through the Acorns Later program.

Unlimited free or reimbursed ATM withdrawals nationwide. With out-of-network ATM fees often topping $2.50, unlimited fee reimbursements alone may make the $3 monthly charge for Acorns Spend a bargain.

A host of mobile banking services. The account includes free bank-to-bank transfers, digital direct deposit, mobile check deposit, and check sending.

Found Money rewards program. When you shop with specific merchants, they will credit your Acorns account with rewards cash within 90 to 120 days after your purchase.

Integrated with the Acorns ecosystem. Acorns Core already has over 3 million customers, meaning its being used by lots of people. Acorns Spend is an easy add-on service for those already familiar with how Acorns works.

Money invested according to Modern Portfolio Theory.Your spare change is invested in one of five ETF-based portfolios that Acorns has developed in line with Modern Portfolio Theory, which aims to generate the highest possible returns with the lowest possible risk.

Fees and fine print

Acorns is pretty transparent when it comes to its fees and pricing structure. With no overdraft, ATM or minimum balance fees, your monthly service charge is the only fee you’ll have to worry about. This account is the most expensive product available from Acorns, but the fee remains modest.

Pricing

The original Acorns product, now named Acorns Core, charges $1 per month. If you add on the IRA services of Acorns Later, that fee jumps to $2. Acorns Spend, which includes all three products, is $3 per month.

There are a few small twists in the pricing structure. Students do not have to pay the $1 fee for using Acorns Core, so they can access the complete Acorns Core + Acorns Later + Acorns Spend package for just $2. If you’re a millionaire, the fee structure jumps quite a bit, with Acorns charging $100 per million invested.

Other fees and fine print

Although fees for this account are low, they are flat; this means that customers with lower balances can see a significant percentage of their balances eaten away by the monthly fee. For example, if you have just $100 invested via Acorns Spend, the $3 monthly fee amounts to 3% of your balance every month.

ATM fees$0, with unlimited nationwide reimbursements of any non-preferred ATM fees
Withdrawal limits$500 per day
Overdraft fees$0
Card replacement fee$0

Pros and cons

The main pro of the Acorns Spend account is that it “forces” you to save and invest. Like the Acorns Core account, your purchases using the Spend debit card are rounded up and placed into an investment portfolio matching your investment objectives and risk tolerance. The idea behind Acorns Spend – and indeed, the entire Acorns investment philosophy – is that while you’re not likely to miss the additional $0.23 you’ll be charged on your $3.77 cup of coffee, over time, those $0.23 deposits add up.

Another prime benefit of Acorns Spend is its low cost. Yes, there’s a $3 monthly fee, but you are getting a lot for that cost. While some checking accounts charge fees just to provide basic services, the account automatically invests your money for you; not only that, but Acorns Spend invests your money for you in small increments. When was the last time you called your broker and asked him to buy $0.23 of an ETF? At most firms, that’s not even possible, and if it is, commissions will likely eat a large portion of your investment.

The unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursement is another significant feature of the Acorns Spend account. Although some firms, such as Charles Schwab, offer unlimited international ATM fee reimbursements, many banks charge their own additional fees for out-of-network ATM transactions, on top of the fees that are imposed by ATM operators themselves.

There aren’t a lot of obvious “cons” to this account; ironically, the same features that are “pros” for many customers can end up being “cons” for others.

For example, some customers may not enjoy the “forced savings” method that Acorns employs; these customers may prefer to choose their own investments and may not like the portfolios that Acorns creates for customers. After all, Acorns only has five investment options, and they are categorized generically as “Conservative,” “Moderately Conservative,” “Moderate,” “Moderately Aggressive,” and “Aggressive” — and all five portfolios use the same six ETFs, in varying measure.

Another “pro” that may end up being a “con” for some customers is the $3 monthly fee. For those integrated into the Acorns ecosystem, paying this fee makes sense. For those that aren’t interested in the Acorns investment philosophy, or for those who don’t make a lot of reimbursable ATM transactions, the $3 fee could outweigh the benefits, especially when considering that plenty of online banks, from Discover to Capital One, offer no-fee checking accounts.

Overall, this account is a bit different than some of its major competitors, such as the PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® and the Venmo debit card.

The Acorns Spend account is primarily focused on saving and investing, with round-ups automatically finding their way to predetermined investment portfolios. The Venmo and PayPal cards, on the other hand, are primarily focused on money transfer/access to and from Venmo and PayPal accounts, respectively, although they also operate as debit cards for purchases.

The Acorns Spend account has another advantage over these cards in that it is a fully functioning checking account, rather than just a money transfer or investment portal.

However, things are changing a bit in the competitive landscape, and PayPal and Acorns have recently formed a financial partnership. Now, you can use your PayPal account to open an Acorns account and begin funding your investments, starting with as little as $5.

How to open an Acorns Spend account

Log in to your existing Acorns account. The fastest way to sign up for Acorns Spend is if you are already an Acorns customer. If you log in to your account, you can pre-order the Acorns Spend debit card in a few clicks. The first 100,000 Acorns Spend debit cards sold out in four days, but the company is still accepting pre-orders for additional cards as of February 8, 2019.
Open an Acorns account online. If you’re not already a customer, you’ll have to sign up for an Acorns account to access Acorns Spend. You can access the application at this link. Once there, click “Don’t Have an Account?” You’ll need to provide your email address and create a password to open an account.

To finish opening your account, you’ll need to connect your spending cards, such as your debit and credit cards, so that Acorns can set up the “round-up” portion of the process. Next, you’ll provide personal information, such as your address and Social Security number. The last step of the process is to choose your investment allocation.

Overall review of Acorns Spend

Acorns Spend was a smart idea for Acorns itself because it’s something of a no-brainer for its existing three million-plus strong customer base. For those that already have Acorns Core and Acorns Later, Acorns Spend is just an additional $1 per month, and it provides access to a feature-packed checking account. For existing customers, Acorns Spend is another easy way to keep rounding up purchases into an investment account.

For potentially new customers, whether or not to switch from an existing checking account to Acorns Spend is an open question. On the plus side, Acorns Spend combines the key benefits of the best online checking accounts, such as mobile check deposit and no minimum deposit requirements, to the low fee structure most customers want, with no ATM fees, overdraft fees or card replacement fees.

One of the few outright negatives of the Acorns Spend account is the $3 monthly fee; although it’s lower than what many traditional, national banks charge, it’s $36 more per year than the $0 charged by many online banks.

For many customers, the unlimited ATM fee rebates will more than compensate for the monthly fee. However, for customers that have limited a need for out-of-network ATM withdrawals, or for those that aren’t interested in the Acorns ecosystem, this may not be the right product for them.

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