Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. We’ve all heard that wisdom before, but how do we apply it in an age when an increasing amount of money is digital, leaving a lesser place for the piggy bank or coin jar? In this Acorns review, we’ll take a look at a possible alternative.
As the name suggests, it’s all about watching a small seed grow into a mighty oak, and the idea behind this app is that small amounts of change invested automatically without thinking will, over time, lead to a large return.
It makes sense in theory, but what about Acorns itself? In this review we’ll unpack this app and fill you in on all it offers (and doesn’t).
A brief overview of Acorns
Acorns was built and is run by a team in Irvine, California, and was first launched in 2014. Since then, it’s grown rapidly and now there are more than 100 employees working round the clock to keep it ticking.
To sum it up, Acorns is an app that automates saving and invests for you.
How it works is that you hook up your bank or credit cards to the app, and with every transaction you make, it rounds up the difference to the nearest dollar, taking that difference and investing it in ETFs.
Over the long haul, all of those little pennies (acorns) add up and can grow into sizeable returns. Yet Acorns also allows you to make deposits as well, so if things aren’t growing fast enough for your like you can also add more cash to the pile. You also have the option of setting up recurring deposits daily, weekly, or monthly.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that Acorns provides only individual non-retirement accounts. This is not a replacement for your 401k (Americans) or Superannuation (Australians).
Who should consider using Acorns?
Acorns is ideal for a few groups of people. If you fit into one of these categories, there’s a good chance Acorns will appeal to you:
Students – If you’re under the age of 24 and still studying, Acorns waves all management fees. You will need a .edu e-mail address to avail of this discount.
Undisciplined Savers – If you’re the type who always tells yourself you will start saving but finds endless ways to spend everything, this app will do the hard work for you. As we will outline a little later, Acorns works by automatically taking pennies and investing them into managed funds.
Hands-off Investors – Some people just don’t like studying financial charts, digesting annual reports, and making investment decisions. Since Acorns invests your digital change in managed funds, it will suit those who want to take a hands-off approach.
First Timers – If you want to dip your toes into the world of investing but don’t have much experience and lack the confidence to make decisions yourself, Acorns represents a great way to begin investing without stress.
On the contrary, Acorns will not suit you if you like to have control over where your money goes and how it’s managed. This app is mostly for beginners and those who want to automate investing.
Traders seeking quick gains, lucrative returns and the excitement that often comes with watching your positions change daily will find this app quite boring. For you, there are some alternatives among online brokerages.
It truly is the slow and steady method of saving and investing in relatively safe instruments.
Likes & Dislikes
As with all products, Acorns is not perfect. There are things we like about it, and other things we don’t.
- Safe & Secure – All accounts are locked behind 256-bit SSL encryption and SPIC secured for amounts up to $500,000.
- No Minimums – You don’t have to invest a minimum amount to open an account, and neither do you have to maintain one to keep it open. You will, however, need at least $5 before the app automatically starts investing.
- Small Withdrawals – Again, there’s no minimum when it comes to withdrawals. This should appeal if you’re worried you may need to quickly withdraw some funds in a cash crunch.
- Extremely Easy – Since everything is automated and pre-set, using Acorns requires exactly zero effort.
- Predicting future – You can project into the future and see what your investment will be worth on date x, and you can see what the individual portfolios are made up before investing in them.
- Limited Availability – Acorns is only currently open to US and Australian residents.
- Limited Exposure – Acorns is made of ETF bundles, which means investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other securities is not possible.
- No Sole Savings – Acorns only offers individual taxable accounts, and therefore is not suitable as a sole saving solution.
- Low, Slow Returns – To see a decent return on Acorns you will need to use it for a long time. This isn’t for investors who enjoy risk and the prospect of lucrative returns quickly.
As we previously mentioned, Acorns invests your funds exclusively in ETFs. While this is managed by the Acorns team and you won’t have to mull over investment decisions, you do get to choose which funds you want in your portfolio, and you can change these as you wish.
The funds offered to you will depend on the information you give when signing up. This includes your net worth, employment status, investment time frame, financial goals, and yearly income).
There is also a range of risk categories from low-risk conservative to higher risk aggressive portfolios.
After you pick your portfolio Acorns will do the rest for you. One point of note is that Acorns portfolios are developed by Nobel-prize winning economist Dr. Harry Markowitz.
This is definitely something that should boost your confidence, but it still no guarantee as to how the economy or ETFs will perform over the long run.
If at any point you want to see your portfolio, just navigate within the app to the tab called ‘Portfolio’ and click. This will show you what you’re currently invested in and what the other options are.
The portfolios you can invest in are arranged according to class by Acorns. Classes are defined by the desired growth speed. There are 5 in all:
Obviously, the more aggressive you get, the more risk you take on.
Even though there are different categories, each of the 5 portfolios are made up of the same 6 ETFs.
The 6 ETFs which make up the Acorns portfolios are:
- Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO) – Large company stocks. Examples of the large companies this ETF invests in are Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOGL), and Microsoft (MSFT). The Acorns portfolios all invest between 14% (Aggressive) and 16% (Moderate) in this ETF.
- Vanguard Small-Cap ETF (VB) – Small company stocks. You’ll see a significant difference in the portfolios here, with the Conservative portfolio consisting of 9% in this ETF, and the Aggressive made up of 25%.
- Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets (VWO) – Emerging market stocks. This is a riskier ETF, with high growth prospects. Again there’s a significant difference between the portfolios with the Conservative investing only 5% in this ETF, whereas the Aggressive invests 20%.
- Vanguard REIT (VNQ) – Real estate stocks. It’s no secret that real estate markets can really take off, and this is reflected in the way the portfolios invest in this ETF. At the Conservative end, we see 11% invested here, whereas at the Aggressive end we see 30%.
- PIMCO Investment Grade Corporate Bond (CORP) – Corporate bonds. Generally seen as a reliable, safe bet, again we see a fair difference in how the portfolios invest in this ETF. The Conservative portfolio is 20% Corporate bonds, whereas the Aggressive is only 6%.
- iShares 1-3 year treasury bonds (SHY) – Government bonds. Probably the safest investment on the planet, government bonds make up 40% of the Conservative portfolio and only 5% of the Aggressive one.
The app also allows to project into future and see what the expected value could be by certain time if you invest a certain amount every month. Though of course these are estimations and don’t indicate reality, it does give you a good idea on what portfolio suits your investment goals the best.
Of course, you don’t have to invest in either the Conservative or Aggressive portfolios. You could go for something more in the middle. You will be able to see exactly what each portfolio is made up of within the Acorns app itself.
No review would be complete without a consideration of the fees entailed for using the service.
Monthly Fees – If you balance is under $5000, Acorns charges a monthly fee of $1 flat. If your balance is greater than $5000 you will pay 0.25% per year.
Account Opening Fees – There are none. Opening an account is free. Neither are there any commissions or withdrawal fees.
From this, we can see that Acorns would be an extremely cheap way to get started investing.
These fees are extremely low and even when you manage to surpass the $5000 mark, the fact that there are no withdrawal fees, no penalties for accessing your cash if you need it, and a minuscule 0.25% annual fee overall makes Acorns one of the lowest priced investing platforms out there.
Some other trading platforms could charge more than Acorn’s total annual fee per trade.
As explained earlier, Acorns works by taking the difference between whatever you have bought and the nearest dollar and investing it.
So, for example, if you bought a sandwich and a drink for $4.72 Acorns would round it up to $5, taking the extra 28 cents and investing it in bundles ETFs.
The actual functionality of the app itself is extremely simple and it couldn’t be easier to use.
More than that, the app is a true eye-catcher with bright colors and user-friendly navigation. Acorns really sets the bar high with their design for all other similar mobile solutions.
To get started, you just need to download the mobile app, which is compatible with both Android and iOS devices, and fill in the necessary information such as your personal details. You will also need to choose your portfolio at this stage. This can be changed later if you decide.
Apart from that, everything else is done automatically. Once the initial signup is complete, Acorns will start automatically rounding up any transactions completed on the cards you have linked to it, and will invest the difference.
Keep in mind that Acorns will not invest any funds until it has rounded up $5, and it is at this point you will see the funds removed from your checking account.
There are no limits as to when you can make a withdrawal, but keep in mind that any funds will take an average of 5-7 business days to reach your account. If you are making a withdrawal, plan accordingly.
This automated feature is extremely handy for people who lack the discipline to save themselves, however, do be aware that if you’re a student who barely scraped by every month, those little pennies could soon add up and leave you short.
The whole point of Acorns is that the small amounts DO add up over time, but there could be a negative flipside to this if you are on a tight financial budget.
Luckily, you can withdraw what you need if you find yourself with too little to meet your obligations, but this is not an ideal way to invest for the future.
Acorns has also teamed up with several partners who will reward you by investing in your account when you shop with them.
This is all built into your Acorns app and won’t require you to download another. You will have to link your cards to each brand, though, which allows you to pick and choose which partners you want to receive rewards from.
Brands currently working through the FoundMoney program include Jet, Hotel Tonight, Blue Apron, Air BnB, Jack Threads, Boxed, Hulu, and Dollar Shave Club.
You can find out how much you will earn when you shop with each brand by navigating to the Foundmoney page within the app. You will receive your rewards within 30-60 days of purchase.
Acorns has put together an extensive FAQ section which covers just about every question you might have regarding the app, the investments, fees, and more. This also has a search feature, meaning you can locate the exact information you are looking for quickly and easily, just as if you were searching Google or Bing.
You can also get in touch with the Acorns team via either e-mail or telephone. There’s an e-mail contact form on the site, and the telephone number is 855 739-2859 (from within the USA).
Acorns does offer plenty in the way of resources to allow you to learn about personal finance, investing, and money.
Since this is a hands-off investment vehicle it may not be necessary to learn much, but it’s still nice to have if you’re interested in becoming a better investor and it could help you when it comes to changing your portfolios or making other investment decisions.
You will find this educational material in Grow Magazine, which can be found on the Acorns site.
It consists of how-to guides, interviews, and news, and covers topics like budgeting, credit, investing, real estate, savings, taxes, and more.
You can also sign up for the Grow magazine newsletter, which will keep you abreast of the latest posts and new information.
Acorns review conclusion
Acorns is definitely something those who have trouble saving, and those who want a hassle-free, effortless way to invest for the long-term should consider.
This is especially so if you’re still a student since you will enjoy zero fees and using the app sets up good habits which if you continue, could lead to prosperity in the future.
For those looking for quick returns, excitement, and lucrative trades, Acorns probably isn’t for you. Also remember it isn’t suitable as a sole savings solution. It’s always necessary to have some alternatives in your back pocket!
Overall, with low fees, extreme ease of use, and no nasty surprises or hidden terms and conditions, Acorns is worth a look if you fit the profile.