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Updated on Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Financial services company Acorns provides a traditional, automated robo-advisory service, featuring a curated selection of diversified portfolios built with exchange-traded funds (ETFs). What’s unique about Acorns is that it invests customers’ spare change through the magic of micro-investing.
This makes Acorns an attractive option for beginners who want a hands-off experience and low costs. Sophisticated investors, however, might want to look elsewhere, as Acorns offers a fairly limited scope of asset classes and doesn’t allow for much control over portfolio management.
|Management fee||$1 to $5 per month|
|Accounts offered||Individual brokerage account, Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, SEP IRA, UGMA/UTMA|
|Access to human advisors||No|
- What is Acorns and how does it work?
- Acorns’ investment approach
- Acorns’ fees
- Acorns features and tools
- Acorns user experience
- Acorns safety and security
- Is Acorns worth it?
What is Acorns and how does it work?
Acorns is a financial services company that is best known for its robo-advising platform, which offers automated investment services ranging from micro-investing to full-fledged retirement accounts.
Like many other robo-advisors, upon signing up, Acorns will recommend one of its curated investment portfolios, which are comprised of ETFs and range from conservative to aggressive based on your unique financial needs. Acorns is truly a digital product, as it does not offer access to human financial advisors.
Along with individual brokerage accounts, Acorns also supports a slew of retirement accounts — including Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs and SEP IRAs — as well as custodial accounts for children and a checking account product.
- Automatically invests your spare change: The centerpiece of Acorns is its micro-investing feature, which allows you to automatically invest your spare change when making a purchase with a linked card. By rounding up each purchase to the nearest dollar and investing the difference into your brokerage account, you are consistently building your investment account without thinking twice.
- Rich in meaningful features: As far as robo-advisors go, Acorns is rich in features that help differentiate it from its peers. Along with its Round-Ups feature, which automatically rounds up your purchase and invests the difference into your Acorns account, it has Found Money, which rewards you with money invested into your account when you shop at certain retailers. These features can make investing more approachable and attainable for young investors who might be cash-strapped and want to learn the ropes without committing a significant sum.
- Great investment options for kids: If you’re a parent who wants to teach their child about investing — or even just start investing on their behalf — Acorns provides access to custodial investment accounts. In addition to offering the UGMA/UTMA accounts, Acorns takes it a step further by giving investors who open a custodial account a free digital children’s book when signing up.
- Socially conscious company initiatives: In what appears to be a nod to its name, Acorns has partnered with One Tree Planted, which plants an oak tree for every sign-up. So far, Acorns says it has planted 438,000 oak trees.
- Limited investment selection: Compared to other robo-advisors, Acorns offers a relatively limited selection of investments. Sophisticated investors will likely feel boxed in by the five available portfolios, which only contain ETFs that are largely a mix of stocks and bonds and lack exposure to many alternative investments, such as cryptocurrency and futures. Additionally, Acorns does not allow you to opt out of investing in certain ETFs, or in particular stocks or bonds that comprise an ETF.
- Pricing structure can add up for smaller accounts: In contrast to many of its robo-advising peers that charge a percentage of assets under management, Acorns works on a tier-based, membership model, allowing you to choose how many services you want access to, with more services costing more per month. The lowest tier costs $1 per month, and while that might sound like a minimal amount on the surface, it adds up. Acorns does not require a minimum investment, but it does allow you to invest your spare change, waiting until you have $5 available before investing your funds. If you are simply investing $5 a month yet paying a $1 monthly fee, that’s a hefty 20%.
- No tax minimization features: Many of Acorns’ robo-advisor peers offer tax minimization features, such as tax-loss harvesting, but Acorns notably does not. In fact, Acorns does not offer any features designed to specifically lower your tax bill.
- Encourages micro-investing: Micro-investing can be viewed as a double-edged sword. For those learning the ropes of investing and looking for an easy way to get started, micro-investing can be a useful and beneficial tool. However, solely relying on micro-investing to reach your financial goals will not yield the types of returns that are needed to truly build wealth over the long term.
Acorns’ investment approach
|Tax loss harvesting|
|Socially Responsible Investing|
Acorns offers five different portfolios made up of a well-diversified mix of ETFs that feature a broad swath of different asset classes, which could include:
- Small, mid-size and large companies
- International companies
- Developed markets
- Emerging markets
- Real estate
- Corporate bonds
- Government bonds
- Short-term bonds
- Short-term government bonds
- Ultra short-term government bonds
- Ultra short-term corporate bonds
- U.S. aggregate bonds
Acorns’ five portfolios, which are recommended to you based on your particular financial situation and financial targets, are made up of the following asset classes:
- Conservative: 40% short-term government bonds, 40% ultra short-term corporate bonds, 20% ultra short-term government bonds
- Moderately conservative: 24% large company stocks, 4% medium company stocks, 12% international company stocks, 60% government and corporate bonds
- Moderate: 35% large company stocks, 5% medium company stocks, 2% small company stocks, 18% international company stocks, 40% government and corporate bonds
- Moderately aggressive: 47% large company stocks, 6% medium company stocks, 3% small company stocks, 24% international company stocks, 20% government and corporate bonds
- Aggressive: 55% large company stocks, 10% medium company stocks, 5% small company stocks, 30% international company stocks
Acorns does not feature any specific tax minimization strategies, such as tax-loss harvesting, which is a noteworthy drawback when compared to its peers. Instead, Acorns recommends speaking with a CPA or tax professional to learn about how taxes may apply to any withdrawals made or dividends or gains earned.
- Annual management fee: $1-$5 per month
- Investment expense ratios: 0.03%-0.18%
Instead of charging a fee based on a percentage of your account balance, Acorns has a tier-based membership model in which you will be charged a flat, monthly fee dependent on your membership level.
The membership tiers — and what services they include — are as follows:
Lite – $1 per month
- Includes access to an individual brokerage account and micro-investing services (such as investing your spare change through its Round-Ups feature)
- Access to “bonus” investments through its Found Money feature
Personal – $3 per month
- Includes everything offered on the Lite membership
- Includes access to retirement accounts through Acorns Later
- Includes access to a checking account through Acorns Spend
Family – $5 per month
- Includes everything offered on the Lite and Personal membership tiers
- Includes access to custodial accounts for children through Acorns Early
Keep in mind that in addition to your monthly flat fee, you will also be responsible for paying your investments’ expense ratios, which are the expenses related to running and managing that particular fund.
Acorns features and tools
Acorns’ signature feature is its Round-Ups tool, which invests your spare change into your Acorns investment account. With Round-Ups, when you make a purchase with your Acorns debit card (or any linked debit card of your choosing), Acorns will round up your purchase to the nearest dollar, and then invest the difference into your investment account.
This feature waits until you’ve racked up a minimum of $5 in spare change before investing it. While you won’t get rich using Round-Ups, it’s a useful tool for beginner investors who feel like they don’t have the funds to start investing.
Acorns’ Found Money feature is the company’s iteration of a rewards program. With Found Money, when you make a purchase with your linked debit card at one of Acorns’ partner brands (there are over 300 of them, including big names like Airbnb, Macy’s and Walmart), the brand will invest a set amount or a percentage of your purchase into your Acorns investment account.
Included in its Personal and Family membership tiers is Acorns Later, which features a selection of retirement accounts including Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs and SEP IRAs. When you sign up for an Acorns Later account, Acorns will recommend which type of IRA is right for you, along with a recommended portfolio. Other tools included in the Acorns Later feature are recurring contributions and the ability to rollover funds from an existing retirement account.
Also included in the mid-tier, Personal membership level as well as the higher Family membership level is Acorns Spend, which serves as a checking account. Acorns Spend comes with a Visa debit card, and includes all the bells and whistles offered by checking accounts at traditional banks, including direct deposit, mobile deposit and FDIC insurance up to the legal limit.
Additionally, Acorns Spend features added benefits, including no overdraft fees and up to 10% in bonus investments from Found Money partners. It’s worth noting, however, that the funds in your Spend account do not earn interest.
Acorns Early is available through Acorns’ highest membership tier, Acorns Family. With Early, you will have access to a UGMA/UTMA account, which is a custodial investment account for minors. All Early investment accounts are assigned an aggressive portfolio and feature beneficial tools, such as recurring investments and the ability to add multiple kids per family at no extra cost.
Acorns is currently giving free access to Acorns Early to all babies born in 2020.
Acorns user experience
When it comes to customer support, though, your options are pretty limited — you can only reach out to Acorns via a chat form through its website or by email. For investors who prefer communicating with a support team over the Phone, Acorns may not be the best fit for you.
Acorns safety and security
- SIPC insurance
- FDIC insurance for Spend accounts
- Two-factor authentication
Acorns provides SIPC protection, meaning up to $500,000 of your invested funds (including $250,000 in cash) are insured in the case that Acorns fails. Meanwhile, Acorns Spend accounts are insured by the FDIC, up to legal limit ($250,000).
Additionally, Acorns uses two-factor authentication to protect your account, and after logging in with your credentials, it requires you to enter a code that you will receive via text message before you can actually access your account. Other measures of security that Acorns provides include SSL encryption and account alerts if unusual account activity is detected.
Is Acorns worth it?
Overall, Acorns is a solid option for new investors who want to learn the basics of investing without committing a large chunk of cash. It’s also an attractive option for hands-off investors who are comfortable with investing in just a handful of well-diversified ETFs, and do not feel any desire to mess with the investments in their portfolio or their asset allocations.
However, Acorns is likely not the best fit for sophisticated investors who want to be more involved in building and managing their investment portfolio, as well as investors who want access to a larger swath of asset classes. Additionally, consumers who are wary of a purely digital experience when it comes to their investments may want to steer clear.
Alternatives to Acorns
|Account minimum||Annual fee||Accounts offered|
|Acorns Invest||$0||$1-$5 per month||Individual brokerage account, Roth IRA, Traditional IRA, SEP IRA, UGMA/UTMA|
|Robinhood||$0||$0||Individual brokerage account|
|SoFi Invest||$1||$0||Individual taxable brokerage account, joint taxable brokerage account, Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, rollover IRA, SEP IRA|
Acorns vs. Robinhood
At its core, Acorns and Robinhood are two very different products. While both are investment platforms, Acorns does most of the heavy lifting for the investor — recommending a portfolio, and then automatically investing in a diversified mix of ETFs, rebalancing when necessary.
Meanwhile, with Robinhood, the investor is much more in control. Robinhood is not so much a robo-advisor as it is a trading platform that features commission-free trades. Robinhood does allow you to create a balanced portfolio, but it’s up to the investor to diversify that portfolio by picking their investments and those investments’ asset allocations.
Acorns vs. SoFi Automated Investing
Acorns and SoFi Automated Investing share many similarities, with both being geared more toward hands-off investors. Like Acorns, SoFi Automated Investing will curate a portfolio that’s right for you, automatically diversifying it and rebalancing it when necessary.
However, while Acorns charges for its services via a monthly membership model, SoFi Automated Investing does not charge any management or advisory fees. Additionally, SoFi Automated Investing offers an active investing route — meaning you have the ability to buy and sell stocks on your own — which is a feature that Acorns lacks.
All information included in this profile is accurate as of 10/21/2020. For more information, please consult Acorns’s website.