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If you want to dive headfirst into investing, but don’t know where to start, Acorns might be the answer for you. Founded by a father-and-son duo in 2012, Acorns is a paid-service investing platform.
The app is available to download for free through the App Store or Google Play, but users can also access it via a web browser. If you’re hesitant to link your bank account to another random website, Acorns partners with the financial services company Plaid — which uses secure technology and multifactor identification to keep your information safe.
Acorns specializes in micro-investing which, as the name may imply, is investing in very small increments (often as low as a few pennies). The platform also makes use of robo-advisors that provide algorithm-based machine learning to inform investment choices and require little to no human supervision.
As someone who has never invested or used an investing app before, the combination of these two features appealed to me. I wanted to start investing, but I wasn’t sure how or what I needed to do to start.
These two features made me feel much more comfortable because they took the guesswork out of investing and allowed me to take the time to learn more about investing while I was already making money.
The merging of these two models makes Acorns an appropriate platform for beginners like myself as they learn more about the world of investing.
Invest Your Spare Change
Acorns utilizes an automated savings approach to investing in the form of rounding up your spare change. Any purchase from a linked debit or credit card rounds up to the nearest dollar, or you can manually select specific purchases you would like rounded up.
This spare change is held in your Acorns account until it reaches $5, then it is invested into the exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that comprise the portfolio recommendation you receive when you create your account.
Acorns’ Main Features
- Access Articles From Financial Experts: Acorns provides two sections of financial education resources to users and those who visit the site. The first is answers to frequently asked money questions and the second is access to Grow, a digital magazine by Acorns and CNBC.
- Earn Bonus Investment Opportunities: If you shop with one of Acorns’ partner brands, a select amount or percentage (as determined by the brand) of your purchase is invested through your Acorns account.
- Acorns Visa Debit Card: Members who opt for the Personal subscription tier also have access to an Acorns Visa debit card and are eligible for additional rewards. Similarly, restaurants and retailers that partner with Acorns allow for a predetermined (by the company) dollar amount or percentage of your purchase to invest through your Acorns account.
Ease of Use Score:3
Acorns’ platforms won the award for the best digital design at the 2016 Good Design Awards, and for good reason. Its app and desktop version are minimalist, enjoyable to look at, and easy to use.
Signing up is simple. Once you link your bank account, choose a subscription, and indicate your risk preferences — meaning how comfortable you are with market fluctuations and defining your time horizon and capital allocation, to name a few — Acorns will place you into one of five predetermined investing portfolios.
These include: conservative, moderately conservative, moderate, moderately aggressive, or aggressive.
Users cannot select elements of other portfolios once their selection has been made. For example, a user cannot decide to have a portfolio that is partly conservative and partly aggressive.
They can, however, choose the half step of moderately aggressive — but if this is still worrisome, there is still the option to change your portfolio at any time.
Acorns is well suited for those who want to be hands-off with their investments. Round-ups for purchases can be set automatically or manually if you wish to pick and choose which transactions to put toward investing.
Although the main appeal of Acorns is the rounding up feature, you can also set up automatic transfers on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
This platform is ideal for beginner investors or for those with more experience who just don’t want to be as involved as other platforms require.
One part of this process that I enjoyed was that I was provided an easy-to-understand explanation at each step. I had heard many of these terms such as moderate and moderately aggressive before but I was not sure how they applied to investing.
By having these explanations, I was able to learn more about portfolios and what each one entailed, which made me feel more comfortable with the process as a whole.
Bang for Your Buck Score:3
Acorns offers three plans:
- The first is Lite at $1 per month; it allows users to invest monthly or in single lump sums.
- The second tier is Personal, which is priced at $3 per month. This subscription allows users to invest, open a retirement account, checking account, or access a debit card.
The third option is Family which costs $5 per month. This subscription tier allows users to invest, save for retirement, access a checking account, and start an Early fund account for their kids.
These accounts are under the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act or Uniform Gift to Minors Act (depending on whether an UGMA or an UTMA account is offered, and the state where the account holder resides), in which the funds are automatically transferred to the child when they reach adulthood (between the ages of 18 and 25, depending on the state where the account holder lives).
Many other robo-advisors charge a management fee — Wealthfront, for example, charges a 0.25 percent annual fee of assets under management for accounts with a $500 minimum balance. It charges this fee, it says, because its business model is designed in such a way that it makes money only when its clients make money.
Acorns also does not charge fees to manage ETFs outside of its flat-fee subscription, making its subscription tiers simple and transparent.
Though these fees may seem small, they can be a high percentage of your assets for those with small account balances. If you use Acorns only to round up your spare change for investments, you will not see the large account balances or growth compared to others who input higher lump sums.
For example, an account with a balance of $100 will be charged $0.25 once a year with a .25 percent annual management fee seen with apps such as Wealthfront. The Acorns flat monthly fee for a Personal plan charges the account $3 each month regardless of the account balance, making it a 36 percent annual fee for assets under management.
Acorns fees as an annual percentage under management fee:
If you decide that Acorns is not the platform for you, and you select to close your account, your holdings will be liquidated and Acorns will send you the funds. There might be tax implications, but for small balances, that might be less than the cost to transfer to another organization.
If you have several funds with a few thousand in gains, you may choose to transfer in kind — and incur a hefty fee. There is a $50 charge to transfer each of your ETFs, for example.
Customer Service Score:1
Acorns’ customer service line is fully automated. Users receive directions to a FAQ page that allows for searches or you can send a message. It is only after you submit a “help” request that you can find a phone number to call for additional support.
Acorns states that all questions receive an answer within one to two business days. I sent a request asking if there were any fees associated with closing an Acorns account. I received an email reply 10 minutes later stating that my Acorns account had now been closed which, admittedly, was not what I wanted.
I also called the phone number listed for immediate support. This automated phone line directed me to the FAQ page on the website before giving me a 15-minute wait time. Given the long wait time, this phone line was not immediate or supportive.
These messages are computer-generated and unfortunately misread my request. As an investor, and general user, this poor customer service despite my clear request was frankly a letdown compared to the sleek designs and pleasant user experience up until this point.
The Acorns app has a 4.8/5 rating out of 726,000 total reviews in the App Store and a 4.4/5 rating out of 145,573 total reviews in Google Play. Both include mixed reviews with the main complaint being that customer service was not up to par.
Acorns parent company Acorns Grow Inc. has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). However, to keep its rating, a company only needs to respond to customer complaints. Acorns Grow Inc. received 1.47 out of 5 stars in customer review ratings on the BBB’s site.
Similar to the reviews featured in the App Store and Google Play, the frustrations of reviewers stemmed from poor customer service.
The Bottom Line
Acorns is helpful for beginner investors, especially those who want to be hands-off in the investing process. Acorns will automatically round up your purchases and invest your spare change without much effort on your part — a cool feature that is focused on making your spare change work for you, and taking away the common excuse of not having money to invest.
The higher subscription tiers also allow users to start retirement accounts and investment accounts for children. You’ll have one place to monitor your assets.
Though the flat fee can be an advantage for those with higher account balances, it can be costly for those who are just starting with Acorns or use the service only to round up purchases and invest the spare change.
Customer service for Acorns is mostly automated, with a phone number that becomes available only after you submit a help ticket. This makes it difficult for very specific questions to receive an answer promptly.
Acorns is good for those interested in low-involvement investing. Spare change round-ups and deposits can be set automatically, a practical solution for the notion of paying yourself first. Given that the portfolios are preselected for users and that there are smaller offerings than other platforms, Acorns may feel restrictive to those who wish to build their own portfolios or have more trading flexibility.
If you have some investing experience, you may wish to explore other options that allow for a more hands-on experience.
Being able to micro-invest by rounding up your spare change makes investing easy. It’s remarkable how quickly those pennies can accumulate.
Past performance is not a predictor of future results. Individual investment results may vary. All investing involves risk of loss.