Best Investment App (For Beginners): Stash vs. Acorns vs. Robinhood
Old-school stockbrokers are complicated and expensive ($8 per trade). Companies like E-Trade, Bank of America, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, and Scottrade don’t cater to beginner investors who want to invest a little side money.
Until recently, beginners had few or no reliable, easily-accessible investment options.
Now, there are three new (released within the last few years) investment apps that cater to beginners. Stash, Acorns, and Robinhood are all in the top twenty in the “Finance” category in the App Store.
These apps are taking off, and people love them!
The pitch from these new investing apps is that anyone can invest as little as $5 and see returns on that money. It seems like they’re targeting regular people who use their phone as their primary device.
Stash, Acorns, and Robinhood are beautifully designed mobile-first apps. (Stash doesn’t even have a desktop version, while Robinhood released one that’s not available to everyone yet).
They make investing accessible and affordable. You can even program them to auto deposit money into your account on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule.
I love all three! Plus, it’s nice to stay away from big banks and support up-and-coming startups instead.
But, due to their limitations, they aren’t for serious investors.
I’ve invested on my own for five years, have a business degree, and know a lot about technology. But that doesn’t mean I’m qualified to give investment advice; this review is just my opinion.
I’ve been a Robinhood user for three years. I’ve tried Stash and Acorns for a couple of months each.
What’s the best investment app for beginners? Let’s compare Stash vs. Acorns vs. Robinhood!
First, let’s talk about some investing basics:
- Index funds are a type of mutual fund that have several companies from many industries put into one group. There are three indexes you’ve probably heard of:
- S&P 500: Includes 500 companies and is used as a benchmark for how well the stock market is doing because it includes the majority of the market’s total value.
- Dow Jones: Includes 30 companies. Apple, Nike, and Disney are a few notable ones.
- Nasdaq: Includes 3,000 companies and skews more towards the tech sector.
- The term ETF, which you’ll see in each of the apps, stands for exchange-traded funds. For our purposes, we’ll treat these similar to index funds. They’re vast groupings of individual stocks that are traded as a group. For example, the famous Vanguard S&P 500 ETF is a tradable fund that mimics the S&P 500 index.
- The U.S. stock market has returned around 7% annually (when adjusted for inflation) and has bounced back from every downturn and collapse in its history. That doesn’t mean you’ll earn 7% every year, but if you’re confident in America’s long-term future (I am), index funds are a good bet. There will be bad years, but if you keep your money in the market without pulling out, you’ll be rewarded. Time is your friend.
- You’re not as smart as you think you are. You’re not going to outsmart investors like Warren Buffet by buying individual stocks and day-trading them. Owning an ETF share that includes stocks from many industries helps diversify your portfolio.
- A higher stock price does not indicate a higher company value. A company’s value is determined by the stock’s price per share multiplied by the number of shares outstanding. For example, while Apple’s share price is $170 and Google’s share price is $1,100. Apple’s value (or market capitalization) is $900 billion, while Google’s is $800 billion.
- If you’re interested in learning more about investing and asset diversification, I recommend Tony Robbins’ book: MONEY Master the Game. In Robbins’ book, he interviews famous investors like Carl Icahn, Warren Buffett, Ray Dalio, and Steve Forbes. The book has the investors’ take on everything in the world of investing, then breaks it down into terms that regular people can understand.
#3 – Options for beginners.
- Stash finds your risk level in its cool onboarding questionnaire, then shows EFT investments you can choose from, such as American Innovators, Internet Titans, Retail Therapy, Blue Chips, or Conservative Mix, for example. You have 30 ETFs to choose from, and you can see which companies are in each EFT.
- Compared to Acorns, Stash makes you feel like you have more control of your portfolio because you have more options and can see what you’re doing.
- Auto-Stash can deposit money from your bank account on a bi-weekly basis and auto-invest it into the EFTs in your portfolio automatically. It’s passive savings.
- For an additional $2 a month, you can open a Roth IRA account for retirement to help pay fewer taxes in the short term. I don’t think Stash is the place where you should set up your retirement savings, but it’s good to have options.
- Stash is expensive. The first month is free, but after that, it’s $1 per month if you have under $5,000 in your account. The fee is 0.25% if your account is over $5,000. Only $12 a year, so what? Let’s do some math. If you keep $200 in your account and the market goes up by 7% (its average), you’ll have a return of around $214. But after taking out Stash’s $12 fee, you’re only $2 richer (and that’s before you pay capital gains tax on your earnings).
- Trading (buying or selling shares) can be delayed and sometimes takes up to a day to complete. However, it isn’t a huge deal because you should be buying ETFs with an eye on long-term goals, and you’re not day-trading.
- There’s no web-based app. You can only access Stash on mobile.
#2 – Makes it fun.
- Acorns does Round-Ups. It records every purchase you make and rounds up to the nearest dollar. At the end of the week, Acorns takes all that “spare change” from Round-Ups and deposits it into your Acorns account. For example, if you buy something for $1.50, $0.50 will be sent to your Acorns account to make it an even $2. Although it isn’t a significant advantage since you could auto-deposit a fixed amount every week, there’s a cool psychological element to it that makes investing fun. You can link as many credit or debit cards as you want. You can use multipliers on your Round-Ups too. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up.
- Acorns is free if you’re in college and under 24 years old.
- It’s intentionally basic with limited options. There are five EFTs (Conservative, Moderately Conservative, Moderate, Moderately Aggressive, and Aggressive) to pick from. The ETFs aren’t created by Acorns. They’re combinations of already-notable ETFs (Vanguard S&P, Vanguard Small Cap, Vanguard Emerging Markets, Vanguard REIT, Vanguard FTSE, iShares Inv. Grade Corp. Bond, iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond). You give Acorns your information and it matches you to the ETF combination that suits your risk profile best. (You can change your level of aggressiveness anytime).
- The Found Money system is excellent! This is similar to cash-back apps like Ebates or Honey. In the Acorns app, tap on one of the stores you want to shop at, shop as you normally would, and you’ll get a percentage of your purchase deposited into your Acorns account when you’re done. For example, if you buy a $1,000 MacBook from Apple through Acorns, you’ll be credited $12. It’s free money!
- Acorns has lots of resources on basic investing and glossary terms. There’s an investment graph that shows you how much money you’ll have at each age depending on how much you invest.
- Acorns is expensive, with the same fee structure as Stash. You get the first month free, but after that, it’s $1 per month if your account is under $5,000. The fee is 0.25% if your account is over $5,000. Only $12 a year, so what? Let’s do some math. If you keep $200 in your account and the market goes up by 7% (its average), you’ll have a return of around $214. But after taking out Acorn’s $12 fee, you’re only $2 richer (and that’s before you pay capital gains tax on your earnings).
- There are only five EFTs. It’s not easy to see what individual companies are inside each EFT through the app, but you can do your research. I think the limit of EFTs is a good thing for beginning investors. I prefer this setup to Stash.
#1 – Free everything.
- Robinhood was the first app or company to offer free trades to everyone. There are no monthly fees either. That’s huge considering most companies charge at least $8. How are regular people going to buy $100 in stock when there’s an $8 fee? You’d need an 8% return on your stock just to get your money back.
- You can transfer your stocks from your previous broker to Robinhood for free.
- You can trade cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum for free. For reference, the largest cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, charges between 1.5 to 4 percent per trade.
- You have more freedom with over 5,000 stocks and ETFs listed on Robinhood. Unlike Acorns and Stash, you can buy individual stocks and see what you’re buying.
- Robinhood Gold is an optional monthly service that lets you double your buying power, and give you instant funds on your deposits. Different fee tiers depend on how much money you have. For example, I have $2,000 in my account and to get my buying power doubled to $4,000 it’s $10/month.
- Robinhood (the company) doesn’t understand who its customers are. It positions itself as an app for beginners but doesn’t provide guidance or basic investing information. But Robinhood isn’t for advanced investors because they don’t support mutual funds, options, or futures (although options will be supported soon). Robinhood is stuck in the middle.
- You can’t buy portions of stocks like you can with the other apps. Stocks like Google and Amazon have prices over $1,000 per share, so it’s difficult for beginners to purchase those.
- Anecdotal observation: I’m not sure how competent their support staff is. Two years ago, my friend signed up and provided Robinhood with his information. Even after reaching out to them, his application is still pending. However, Robinhood is growing fast and that sort of issue is common with startups, and things might’ve changed.
Which one is for you?
There’s a place for each of these investing apps.
Robinhood is my favorite and the one I’ll continue to use. I don’t have to worry about trading or monthly fees, and I have the freedom to buy any individual company’s stock or ETFs. If you’re willing to do your own research and find the same popular ETFs that are in Stash and Acorns, you should go with Robinhood.
Stash and Acorns are more convenient for “super beginners” because the ETFs are laid out in front of you, and you can have money automatically deposited and invested without thinking about it.
Stash and Acorns’ marketing is disingenuous. You can “invest as little as $5 and earn,” but you shouldn’t because you’ll lose money after the monthly fees are taken out! If you go with Stash or Acorns, make sure you deposit at least $200 before your free month is up. Otherwise you won’t reap any benefit.
Stash is solid because you get more EFTs to choose from. But if you’re looking for a variety of options, I recommend Robinhood because it offers more freedom and flexibility.
Acorns is my pick for most people reading this. You get cool psychological incentives to save with their Round-Ups, the money is reinvested automatically, you have limited options which keeps it simple, and you can earn cash back through shopping (free money). It’s a great way to passively invest money and a no-brainer for college students because you have nothing to lose!
You and I get a bonus if you sign up using my links: