Stash Review: Is It Legit, Safe, and What Are the Best Investments?

In this Stash Review, we’ll cover the pros and cons of the Stash Invest app and help you decide if this tool deserves a spot in your investment plan.

Almost everyone knows that they should be investing in their future. The problem is that many people have trouble finding extra money to sock away. Even the people that do have the cash to spare aren’t sure how to invest their money or are scared that their investments could lose value.

While it’s true that all investing is subject to risk, you’re taking a risk by not investing, too. Money in your savings account loses value thanks to inflation, so doing your best to invest and earn a return on your money is essential to making sure you have enough money in the future.

Stash is an app that aims to make investing easier, less scary, and more fun. You can get started with just a little bit of money and add to your balance over time. You can also choose to invest in just the industries that you’re interested in, giving you more incentive to keep up on your investments.

What is Stash?

Stash is one of many investment apps available for modern smartphones. It gives you quick and easy access to your investment portfolio from your phone.

Stash Banking: Coming Soon

The app originally launched in October of 2015 and it has grown quickly in the past few years. Since its launch, Stash has amassed more than 2 million users and added support for retirement and custodial accounts. In the near future, Stash banking will be offered to provide online banking services such as checking and savings accounts.

Stash keeps things as simple as it possibly can for its users. You can link your bank account or debit card to the Stash app and transfer money to your investment accounts on demand. You can also set up automatic investment plans to save more without having to manually make transfers.

Stash Review: How It Works

Stash is an easy-to-use investment app perfect for beginners. Here’s what you need to know before setting up your account.

To get started with Stash, the first thing that you have to do is download the Stash app. Stash also offers its services through its website, but the app is the primary way that you’ll interact with your account.

Stash Login

When you open the app for the first time, you’ll be prompted to make an account. Provide an e-mail address and password as well as a few personal details in order for Stash to confirm your identity. You’ll also be prompted to enter information for the account you’ll use to fund your investments. Save your Stash login information in a safe place.

Once you’ve handled the administrative bits, answer some questions to set up your investment account. The Stash questionnaire displays a variety of the investment options available through Stash as well as information about them, their potential benefits, and their risks. It also asks questions to help assess your goals and risk tolerance.

Best Investments On Stash

Based on your answers, Stash will show you a list of investment options. These options are broken down into three broad categories: conservative, moderate, and aggressive. Choose the best investment on Stash that matches your future goals.

The categories correspond to the expected risk-reward ratio of each investment and are designated as your risk profile. Once you select the style of investment you want, you can choose from a number of themes that focus on specific sectors, such as technology, clean energy, or other business divisions that you’re passionate about.

Investing with Stash

After you’ve set up your account and chosen your investments, the only thing left to do is to actually add money to your account. Deposit at least $5 to get started. After that, you can add money at any time.

Stash makes saving fun with a variety of goals and milestones to work toward. If you start by putting $5 in your account, Stash might challenge you to get your balance to $50 or $100. When you meet that goal, Stash will come up with a new one.

Stash also places a major emphasis on education. When you view your current balance and your goals, Stash will show how your money might grow over the next 5 or 10 years and how changing your savings patterns will influence your earnings.

Stash also allows automatic investment. Set up a weekly or monthly transfer to add more money to your investment account and grow your balance even faster.

Related: How to Start Investing with $100

Retirement Accounts

Investing is a waiting game. The old adage that time in the market trumps timing the market still holds true. If you’re thinking about the long-term, you might want to take advantage of Stash Retirement. This feature offers the same investment services that the standard Stash Invest service does, but with retirement accounts.

You can open either a Traditional or Roth IRA through Stash and use them to save for the future. Just remember the restrictions for each account. Once you deposit money, you can’t take it out until you turn 59½ without incurring a penalty. Roth IRA contributions, but not earnings, can be withdrawn penalty-free at any time.

Paying Fees

Nothing in life is free, which means that you don’t get all of the benefits of Stash without a cost.

The Stash app has three subscription plan options, with each plan offering its own unique features. All options are available to all customers, regardless of account balance.

Here’s a quick glance at Stash’s fee structure.

Stash Pricing
Stash Pricing

*Clients may incur ancillary fees charged by Stash and/or its custodian

Keep in mind that the fees charged directly by Stash aren’t the only fees you’ll pay. Stash invests your money in Exchange Traded Funds, which hold a variety of stocks and bonds. ETFs also charge management fees, which can range from .05% to 1% or more of your balance per year.

The ETFs Stash offers charge fees between .20% and .40%, so you could wind up paying .5% or more of your balance each year to use the service.

Related: Qapital Review: Is Automating Your Savings a Good Idea?

Stash App FAQ

Investing is complicated, so it’s no wonder that an app designed to help people invest would be a little complicated itself. Here are some common questions about Stash and its services.

Is investing with Stash a good idea?

Many companies and advisors require that you commit thousands of dollars or more before you’re allowed to invest. Stash lets you get started with $5 by giving you ownership of a fractional share of a stock or ETF.

Consider this example: ABC Company costs $100 per share. You and 19 other people sign up for Stash and you each invest $5 in ABC Company. Stash pools your money to buy one share, and then assigns ownership of 1/20th of the share to each person. In this way, you can own less than a full share.

How does Stash make money?

Stash makes money by charging a monthly fee (regardless of account balance) for its services. You pay either $1 per month (STASH Beginner), $3 per month (STASH Growth), or $9 per month (STASH+) to use Stash.

Is Stash safe?

Yes, Stash is safe to use. Even if Stash goes bankrupt, your investments will be safe and will still belong to you.

Stash works with a company called Apex Clearing Corporation to hold the investments it purchases for its customers. The investments are held in a federally regulated broker-dealer (Apex), and this company acts as a custodian for Stash.

Apex is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). Under SIPC, cash is returned up to $250,000 and up to $500,000 for non-cash investments.

This protection only applies if the companies holding investments on your behalf close. That said, don’t expect to be reimbursed if your investments lose value. Remember, investing involves risk.

Who Should Use Stash?

Stash was designed with beginner investors in mind, and it shows. While it’s a great way for people to get started, and it offers valuable educational tools, its fee structure and inability to take full control of your investments make it a poor choice for people with more money to commit or a desire to be more hands on.

Stash vs Acorns

Stash and Acorns both provide a decent opportunity for brand new investors to build a portfolio.

Read our full Acorns review to choose which investment app is best for you.

Stash Review at a Glance

Pros

  • Start investing with as little as $5
  • Choose from 150+ investment themes and single stocks
  • Support for taxable and tax-advantaged accounts
  • Full access to educational content
  • Personalized investment coaching

Cons

  • Monthly pricing structure (plans starting at $1/month) to keep your money invested
  • Can only purchase securities from a set list of ETFs and stocks.
  • Missing features, like tax-loss harvesting, offered by robo-advisors

Best for: Stash is a good choice for young people who just want to get their feet wet with investing. More serious investors who want a hands-on experience or someone who has more money to commit to a full-fledged robo-advisor can get a better deal elsewhere.

Stash
Stash

How Stash stands out:

Stash is a simple investing app that makes it easy to start putting money to work, even if you’re only looking to invest a small amount of money. Stash allows you to invest money online by letting you choose from 150+ stocks or investment “themes”; pick from the best options for your goals, interests, and beliefs. Each theme includes a group of companies to invest in rather than just one.

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Stash Review Summary

Overall, Stash is an adequate service that does a good job of helping new investors. It falls short of being a great app for everyone as more advanced investors will want to take a hands-on approach that simply isn’t possible with the services that Stash provides.

However, as we wrap up our Stash review, a major bonus is that you can start investing with Stash with just $5.

*DollarSprout is a paid Affiliate/partner of Stash. Investment advisory services offered by Stash Investments LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser. This material has been distributed for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal, accounting, or

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M1 Finance Review: Is Investing Your Money on Autopilot Best for You?

In this review of M1 Finance, you’ll learn how the automatic investment service works, how it builds and manages your portfolio, and whether it is the right tool for you.

Though essential, investing for the future is a difficult part of everyone’s life.

Finding extra money to set aside is hard. Knowing what to do with that money is harder yet, and actually executing your plans makes saving and investing the most difficult of all.

M1 Finance is a brokerage company that aims to make it easy for you to invest your money by doing the decision making for you.

All you have to do is deposit money into your account and M1 Finance will invest it in a diversified portfolio on your behalf.

Table of Contents

What is M1 Finance and How Does it Work?

M1 Finance is a robo-advisor company that aims to make investing easier for people who want help with choosing and managing their investments.

Unlike human financial advisors, robo-advisors are programs that automatically invest your money for you. You provide the program with information about yourself, such as your age, financial situation, goals, and risk tolerance.

The software takes your information and uses a series of algorithms to design a portfolio that will meet your needs. It then purchases the investments required to build that portfolio. As you add or remove money from your account, the M1 Finance robo-advisor automatically keeps your portfolio balanced.

M1 Finance describes itself as “the ultimate financial tool,” which helps you save time, earn more, feel confident, and join the excitement of investing.

Getting Started

M1 Finance Review
M1 Finance Review

It’s easy to get started with M1 Finance. There are no minimum balance requirements to meet or account opening fees to pay. Simply download the app to your phone or visit the company’s website to sign up for a free account. You can create your account in minutes.

Starting a free account requires some basic information about yourself. M1 Finance will use this information to verify your identity. You’ll also need to link a bank account. This account will be used for making deposits into your M1 Finance account. Additionally, any money withdrawn from M1 Finance will be sent to this linked bank account.

Once your account has been created, you’re ready to start investing.

The Investing Pie

Traditional brokerages let you invest in a variety of assets, including stocks, bonds, real estate, and cash. You can determine what percentage of your money you’d like to invest in each asset, but it’s up to you to maintain those percentages.

With M1 Finance, the program does everything for you. When you decide which investments to make, M1 Finance asks you to create your “Pie.” This is your set of chosen investments, which can include individual stocks or bonds, Exchange Traded Funds, and more.

Your Pie is visualized as a pie chart. It shows the breakdown of the investments that you’ve chosen. You’ll be asked to set the target percentage for each slice (investment) of your Pie.

Upon creating your Pie, all you have to do is deposit funds into your M1 Finance account. The software will automatically distribute your money to your chosen investments as specified by your Pie.

As time passes, each slice will grow or shrink based on the recorded returns. When you make additional deposits, M1 Finance will allocate your money with the goal of bringing each Slice back to its target.

If you need some help designing your Pie, you can choose from a list of curated Expert Pies.

M1 Finance Review
M1 Finance Review

These Pies have been put together by investment professionals and are aimed at different goals, risk tolerances, and industries. You can use one of these Expert Pies as an easy way to target your goals or to get exposure to specific companies in an industry.

Account Types

There are a wide variety of account types that you might want to open when you invest. If you’re investing for the medium term, you might want a taxable brokerage account. Saving for retirement lets you use special retirement accounts that offer tax benefits. If you have a partner, a joint investment account gives you both access to the money.

When you open your M1 Finance account, you’ll need to choose the type of investment account(s) that you’d like to open. The company offers individual, joint, trust, and retirement accounts.

If you want the robo-advisor to work as well as possible, you should try to keep as much of your money with M1 Finance as possible. A wide variety of account types is important for diversification.

Automatic and Rebalancing

There are two essential elements of long-term investing success: investing regularly and rebalancing your portfolio.

M1 Finance offers a variety of automation tools to make it easy for you to invest without having to think about it. You can set up automatic deposits from your bank to your M1 Finance account.

The robo-advisor will handle everything for you, from taking the money out of your account to purchasing the investments. You can schedule the deposits to be weekly, monthly, or on any other schedule that works for you.

Rebalancing is the process of keeping your asset allocation on target. If you want to have a portfolio that is 80% stocks and 20% bonds, it takes some effort to maintain that ratio. If the stock market falls, you might wind up with a portfolio that is 60% stocks and 40% bonds simply because the value of your stocks fell. The Rebalancing process entails selling high and buying low.

M1 Finance provides automatic dynamic rebalancing using the money that you deposit, saving you from the effort of calculating how you should allocate new money.

Lending

When you invest, your money is tied up in the market. You don’t want to sell your investments because you’ll incur taxes and you might miss out on gains. Still, you want some way to use your money if you need it.

M1 Finance offers lending services, allowing you to borrow up to 35% of your investment portfolio’s value.

Upon signing up for M1 Finance, you get access to its lending service instantly. There is no extra paperwork to do, no credit check, no loan officer to speak to, and no denials.

There are also very few restrictions on what you can use the money for. You can use the loan to make a down payment on a house, fund a wedding, or buy a new car. Many people use the loan to refinance existing debt at a lower interest rate. If you prefer, you can even borrow money to invest in your M1 Finance Pie, adding leverage to your portfolio.

The interest rate on M1 Finance’s loans is very low, making it an attractive choice for people who keep their money at M1 Finance. It’s even lower than typical loan sources, such as personal lenders or credit cards.

M1 Finance FAQ

Here are some of the most common questions people have about M1 Finance.

How Does M1 Finance Make Money?

M1 Finance makes money by charging interest on the loans it offers to its account holders. It also lends the securities that its customers purchase to other investors, earning money from those loans. The company does not make money from account fees charged to customers.

Does M1 Finance Allow Fractional Shares?

If you do not deposit enough money to buy a full share in a company’s stock, M1 Finance will purchase a fractional share of the stock for your account.

Is There a Minimum Amount You Can Invest in a Stock?

You can open an M1 Finance account without meeting a minimum balance requirement. Once you open an account and build your Pie, you can invest in any number of securities. While you can’t buy securities for less than a penny, M1 is able to invest your money without other minimums.

Who Should Use M1 Finance?

M1 Finance offers a lot of attractive features. Most robo-advisors charge fees that have a noticeable impact on your returns, so the chance to get free robo-advisory services can be tempting.

The people who will get the most use out of M1 Finance are those who don’t want to spend much time thinking about their investments and who don’t want to pay for more advanced advisory services. As a great “set it and forget it” solution, M1 Finances appeals to many people who prefer a simple investing solution.

M1 Finance Review Summary

Every company has its pros and cons, and M1 Finance is no exception. As a free robo-advisor that makes investing easy, M1 Finance is worth your consideration.

Pros:

  • No minimum investment
  • Multiple account types – taxable, IRA, trust, etc.
  • No fees

Cons:

  • No tax-loss harvesting service
  • Trades execute once per day

Best for: M1 Finance is a good choice of robo-advisor for most new investors. Its lack of fees and minimum investment mean that anyone can easily start using the service. Where it falls behind is in more premium features, such as tax loss harvesting, which other robo-advisors claim can make up for the fees they charge.

M1 Finance summary
M1 Finance summary

If you’re looking for a hands-off investment solution, sign up to put your investments on autopilot.

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M1 Finance Review: Is Investing Your Money on Autopilot Best for You?
M1 Finance Review

Betterment Review: Are Robo-Advisors a Safe Way to Invest in 2020

In this Betterment review, we’re going to show you the details of how Betterment works, what services it offers for investors, and whether investing with Betterment is the best choice for you.

Once upon a time, having your investments managed by a professional was reserved for the rich. Hiring a portfolio manager was expensive and often required a minimum net worth that no one but the 1% could afford.

Betterment, and companies like it, aim to change that.

By using sophisticated technology, robo-advisors can make high quality investing available to everyone. Even if you are new to investing and only have a small amount of money to start with,  robo-advisors make it possible to easily get started.

Betterment gives you an individualized, professional portfolio. All you have to do is tell them a bit about yourself, then fund your account.

We’ve researched all there is to know about this company and spill it all right here in our complete Betterment review.

Table of Contents

Betterment Review At a Glance

Best for: New investors and investors primarily with tax-advantaged accounts that want hands-off investing at a low cost.

The Bottom Line: Betterment is the largest robo-advisor on the market and is a high-quality investment option for anyone who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty optimizing their own account.

What is Betterment?

Betterment is an online service that will invest your money for you, and keep it invested in a way that is aligned with your goals using tested algorithms. Companies like Betterment are commonly referred to as robo-advisors.

Founded in 2008, Betterment is the largest robo-advisor on the market with $13.5 billion in assets under management. In 2017, it became the first online financial advisor to exceed $10 billion in assets.

For a low management fee of 0.25% and a $0 minimum investment, you can open traditional investment accounts, retirement accounts, or trusts with Betterment to help you save for a variety of goals.

Besides its standard portfolio, Betterment offers three portfolio options from which to choose. Then Betterment will manage your assets based on your goals, risk tolerance, and personal financial situation.

Betterment App

While you won’t have access to a certified financial advisor in-person or on the phone, you can ask questions at any time in Betterment’s app. All inquiries will be answered by a Certified Financial Planner (CFP). The Betterment app is certainly handy to have on your smartphone for this reason alone.

Betterment Premium

If you want a little more hand-holding, you can get unlimited phone access to CFPs for personalized advice. This service has a higher management fee of 0.40% and a minimum investment size of $100,000.

Betterment Facts & Figures

Feature Description
Founded 2008
Assets Under Management (March 2018) $13.5 billion
Account Minimum $0 for Betterment Digital $100,000 for Betterment Premium
Account Management Fee 0.25% for Betterment Digital 0.40% for Betterment Premium
Investment Expense Ratios ETF expense ratios average 0.13% for Betterment portfolios. Slightly higher for Socially Responsible, Blackrock Income and Goldman Sachs Smart Beta options
Other Account Fees None
Account Types Offered Individual and joint taxable accounts Roth, Traditional, SEP and Rollover IRAs  Trusts
Professional Support All customers can reach Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) via in-app messaging. Premium customers get unlimited access to advisors via phone.

How Does Betterment Work?

Like most robo-advisors, Betterment uses modern portfolio theory to determine asset allocation. It then invests across 12 asset classes in its standard portfolio. This portfolio automatically rebalances to keep your risk profile in-line with your goals and personal financial situation.

By using ETFs, Betterment keeps underlying investment costs low, which keeps costs from eating away at your wealth over time. The company’s platform also lets you track different financial goals, and lets you know if you’re on track each time you log in.

How Much Does It Cost to Invest With Betterment?

Betterment charges a flat management fee of 0.25%. This means a $10,000 account will pay $25 a year in management fees.

There are no trading fees, sales fees, or other fees when you invest with Betterment. However, the underlying ETFs that Betterment buys do have internal costs paid to the ETF provider, not Betterment. These fees average 0.13%.

Is there a way to lower fees?

Betterment’s promotion to lower fees for new clients isn’t much help for smaller investors. Deposits of $15,000 to $99,999 get one month free; $100,000 to $249,000 get six months free; and a deposit of over $250,000 gets one year free.

Referral program:

Betterment offers a referral program. For each friend you refer to Betterment, you get 30 days of free management, and they get three months free. To qualify, your friend needs to open and fund a new account. But refer three friends, and you get an extra free year.

Ultra-high net worth investor:

Investors with over $2 million invested will Betterment won’t be charged fees over that amount. You’ve got that hidden in the couch cushions, right?

Betterment Investment Options

The vast majority of Betterment’s assets are invested with its proprietary Betterment Portfolio. But the company recently added a few new options. All four investment strategies provided by Betterment rebalance as needed.

The Betterment Portfolio

Betterment Review

This portfolio is built with up to 12 asset classes, depending on your goals and risk tolerance. It includes domestic and international stocks and government bonds and U.S. corporate bonds.

No REITS or Commodities to Increase Betterment Returns

One knock on Betterment by professionals is that its portfolio does not include REITs or commodities. Betterment states that, based on testing, these securities can add cost but don’t benefit returns. However, both of these asset classes can provide more stability to a portfolio than one just made up of stocks and bonds.

Betterment has 3 additional portfolio strategies:

Betterment Review

Socially Responsible Portfolio

Socially responsible investing (SRI) involves investing more dollars in companies whose business practices benefit different social causes. It is a rapidly growing area in the investment world. For heart-focused investors, Betterment offers such a fund.

Betterment’s Socially Responsible Portfolio substitutes three ETFs in the standard portfolio with three SRI ETFs. These ETFs exclude companies with poor records on specific issues, while allocating more to companies with excellent records.

However, the majority of the ETFs in this portfolio are the same as the standard portfolio. Betterment is working on adding more SRI ETFs but is balancing social benefit with cost. This is a new investment arena, so options are still coming on the market. As low-cost alternatives become available, Betterment plans to switch more of the standard ETFs to SRIs.

BlackRock Target Income Portfolio

Built by BlackRock, this is a 100% bond portfolio focused on generating income from interest payments. For investors living off their assets, this can insulate you from some of the ups and downs of the stock market.

Keep in mind; the BlackRock Target Income Portfolio is only meant to be a piece of your investment strategy. Having no stock exposure limits your returns over time, which can increase the probability of running out of money in a long retirement.

Goldman Sachs Smart Beta Portfolio

Designed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, this portfolio seeks higher returns by taking on somewhat higher risks. While this strategy still sticks to Betterment’s principles of diversification and tax optimization, it is also a little less passive.

This portfolio will select for areas of the market where greater returns are expected over time, using a distinct algorithm. It looks for areas of the market with good value, high-quality, robust momentum, and low volatility.

If you’re risk averse, this strategy isn’t for you. There will be times when this portfolio will under perform the standard Betterment Portfolio, in pursuit of higher long-term returns.

Individualized Asset Allocation

Introduced in May 2018, Betterment took a small step away from formula-based robo-advising.

In the past, investors could select their balance of stocks and bonds. But they couldn’t control how much of each of the underlying ETFs in the Betterment Portfolio they owned. That was determined by the algorithm.

The problem with this was high-net worth investors who had significant investments outside of Betterment. Betterment’s platform (and all robo-advisors at the time of this writing) can’t balance asset allocations over funds they don’t manage. If an investor already owned a significant amount of international stocks in another portfolio, she might not want to own any in her Betterment portfolio.

So, Betterment handed over control to clients with more than $100,000 in assets invested at the company. The standard formula will still manage portfolio composition for most investors. But if you choose, you can alter how much your portfolio owns of the 12 different underlying asset classes.

This is for more advanced investors who want to set the rules for how their money is invested.

Tax-Loss Harvesting

No one wants to send more money to Uncle Sam than they have to. Robo-advisors like Betterment use strategies to reduce your tax burden from investment gains.

How do they do it?

Well, when you sell an asset that has increased in value you have a taxable realized gain. But when you sell an investment at a loss, that loss offsets any potential gains. So, robo-advisors like Betterment balance selling investments with losses and assets with realized gains to reduce taxable amounts.

This means that when you go to withdraw money or rebalance, Betterment is always taking tax implications into account automatically.

Betterment vs Wealthfront

Unfortunately, Betterment’s tax handling is one area where it falls short of its main competitor – Wealthfront. Wealthfront uses what is called “direct indexing” for portfolios with over $100,000 in investments. This means instead of buying an ETF; it buys all the tiny pieces that make up the ETF directly. Why? Well, it gives them far more options when looking for small offsetting losses than Betterment’s 12 ETFs. Which makes its tax-loss harvesting strategy more effective.

Betterment has added some features to be more competitive, but if your primary investments are in taxable accounts, you would still likely be better off with Wealthfront.

Tax-Coordinated Portfolios

If you have both taxable and tax-advantaged accounts, you can choose to have your asset allocation balanced across all your Betterment accounts. This allows Betterment to take advantage of asset location. Placing funds that generate a high amount of taxable returns in tax-advantaged accounts. And funds that are tax-efficient in taxable accounts.

Based on research, Betterment expects Tax-Coordinated Portfolios to provide an additional annual return from tax savings of 0.10% to 0.82%, depending on assumptions.

Spousal Tax Loss Harvesting

If you are married and file taxes jointly, Betterment can manage taxable gains for the family. Similar to tax-coordinated portfolios, this makes it easier for Betterment to reduce the total tax burden.

Betterment RetireGuide

Want to know whether you are on track for retirement? Link all your investment accounts to Betterment and give them some details about your goals.

Enter simple facts like your age, when you plan to retire, and how much you are currently saving a year. Then Betterment will let you know how much you need to set aside and whether you’re on track for success.

Betterment’s RetireGuide will also calculate your current asset allocation across all your portfolios, to help give you a full picture of your investments.

Betterment Review

Other Betterment Features

Beyond investing, we want to share in our Betterment reviews the other offers and many other benefits that Betterment provides to investors. Here are a few of their perks.

Personalized Financial Advice

Betterment’s app connects all users with Certified Financial Planners (CFPs). Get answers about your financial situation, whether or not it specifically has to do with your Betterment portfolio.

If you have complex issues or want a more personal relationship, it may make sense to upgrade to Betterment Premium or seek out a fee-based CFP. But written contact through the app can help you tackle the little things that come up.

Smart Dividend Reinvestment

When your portfolio earns dividends or interest, Betterment doesn’t automatically reinvest it in the ETF the payment came from. Instead, it uses the funds to buy whichever ETF best rebalances your portfolio.

This method results in less buying and selling, reducing your tax burden and managing your risk more efficiently over time.

Fractional Shares

Let’s say an ETF costs $50 a share and you’ve only got $40 to invest. Instead of buying one share while $10 sits in cash in your account, Betterment allows you to buy 1.25 shares. This way all of your money is always invested and working for you.

SmartDeposit

With investing, research shows the sooner you can get your money in the market, the better. But sometimes, you’re just sitting on too much cash.

Betterment helps you avoid sitting on the sidelines with its SmartDeposit tool. Let Betterment know how much you need in your checking account at any given time, and it will periodically scoop extra cash out of your checking account and invest it.

Don’t worry about cash moving without your knowledge. You will be notified before each transfer and can cancel it before it happens.

Goal-based saving

Betterment allows you to set up different accounts within your main Betterment account to save for multiple goals. Saving for a house requires a different investment strategy than preparing for retirement. The system understands that and will manage your risk. And let you know whether you’re on track.

My one issue with Betterment’s goal-based savings is its safety net goal. This is meant to be an emergency fund but recommends investing for this goal with 40% stocks and 60% bonds. In general, you don’t want your emergency fund to be invested at all. Investing is a long-term game. And you might need your emergency fund in the short-term. I would recommend a high-interest savings account like CIT Bank or Discover instead of Betterment for this particular goal.

Charitable Giving Options

Many people know that donating to charity is a tax deduction. But did you know it can save you from capital gains taxes too?

Many charitable organizations allow you to donate shares instead of cash. By gifting the shares, instead of selling it into cash first, you don’t pay capital gains tax. Plus, the full value of the shares become a tax deduction.

Betterment allows you to donate shares from taxable accounts to charities. It will even recommend the best shares to optimize your tax savings while making a positive impact.

Who Should Invest with Betterment?

If nothing else, we hope you understand from our Betterment review that this company is the largest robo-advisor on the market for a reason. Its flat, low investment fee of 0.25% with no investment minimum makes it an excellent choice for most hands-off investors.

The platform is powerful and easy to use. With continual rebalancing, tax-loss harvesting, and fractional shares Betterment makes sure your investments are always working for you. All while encouraging you towards their goals with regular progress updates. Finally, by giving more flexibility to advanced investors, it creates a middle ground for those who want a say but don’t want to be completely DIY.

However, for high-net-worth investors with significant taxable investments, the tax-loss harvesting strategy at Wealthfront is more efficient for the same fees.

Betterment Review Summary

Betterment has low fees, automatic rebalancing, and high-quality investment options. This is a top choice for hands-off investors that are planning for retirement or other significant goals.

Since Betterment has no minimum investment, you can open an account with no commitment today. Take the time to test out their tools before funding your account. You can discover if you are on track for retirement and discover how Betterment can help you get there!

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Acorns Review 2020: Pros, Cons, and How it Stacks Up to Other Apps

In this Acorns review, we’re going to show you how Acorns works, what the potential savings and risks are, and help you determine whether Acorns is a smart investment tool for you.

Remember your piggy bank or loose change jar you had as a kid? How you would drop all your nickels, dimes, and quarters in there until it was packed full?

If you’re like me, every time you brought that change in the bank it added up to more cash than you thought.

Acorns wants to take this “out of sight, out of mind” savings strategy to the next level. They round-up your expenses to the nearest dollar, then invest your nickels and dimes for future goals.

Recently, the company added retirement accounts, a debit card account, and a $10 sign-up bonus.

But can this micro-investing strategy really grow your wealth?

Let’s take a look.

What is Acorns?

What is Acorns?

Acorns is part spare change jar, part robo-advisor. This app rounds up your purchases on linked credit or debit cards — now with the option to boost those round-ups by 2x, 5x, or even 10x — and invests that money for you.

Acorns offers three levels of service:

What is Acorns?
What is Acorns?

Invest: $1/month

Summary: Round purchases up to the nearest dollar and invest the difference in a taxable account. Add cash to your investments regularly and get kickbacks to boost your investments from purchases at partner retailers.

For $1 per month, this is Acorns’ lowest cost option. To sign-up, you connect your bank account and link any credit and debit cards where you want round-up investments to occur.

Then you select the amount of money you want to contribute to your Acorns investment to get started. There is no minimum, but the app won’t actually begin investing for you until your Round-Up balance equals $5 or more.

Finally, you’ll answer some questions about your financial situation, goals, and risk tolerance. Acorns will use this to recommend one of its five ETF-based investment portfolios. You can override their selection if you want more or less risk in your portfolio.

In addition to your Round-Up investments, you can set recurring investments that occur daily, weekly or monthly. Acorns Found Money service is also partnered with over 200 brands that give you cash back, automatically invested, for purchases.

Note: This account level used to be free for college students for up to 4 years, but Acorns no longer offers this perk.

Invest + Later: $2/month

Summary: Original Acorns plus the ability to invest in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

In 2018, Acorns added retirement investments to their platform. Now you can invest in a Roth, Traditional, or SEP IRA with Acorns. Investments into your Acorns Later account occur the same way as with the original Acorns service.

Invest + Later + Spend: $3/month

Summary: Acorns online checking account with full bank services, FDIC insurance, and the ability to boost your Acorns + Acorns later investments with instant Round-Up and cash back from local retailers.

The most recent addition to the Acorns platform is a digital checking account. Acorns Spend is a full-service checking account allowing digital direct deposit, mobile check deposit and payment, and unlimited fee-reimbursed ATM withdrawals.

Acorns Spend allows for real-time Round-Ups, custom spending strategies to boost your savings, and increased Found Money cash-back with up to 10% invested from local places you regularly visit.

How Does Acorns Work?

Acorns’ investing service, like most robo-advisors, is based on Modern Portfolio Theory created by Dr. Harry Markowitz. It has five optimized portfolios to choose from and automatically rebalances your portfolio and reinvests all dividend payments regularly.

Each Acorns portfolio is made up of ETFs, or Exchange Traded Funds, with exposure across multiple asset classes. These ETFs have internal expenses that equal about 0.10% of your investment over time.

Here is how Acorns portfolios are broken down today:

Conservative:

Short Term Government Bonds 40%
Ultra Short Term Corporate Bonds 40%
Ultra Short Term Government Bonds 20%

Moderately Conservative:

Large Company Stocks – 24%
Small Company Stocks – 4%
Real Estate Stocks – 4%
Government Bonds – 30%
Corporate Bonds – 30%
International Large Company Stocks – 8%

Moderate:

Large Company Stocks – 29%
Small Company Stocks – 10%
Emerging Market Stocks – 3%
Real Estate Stocks – 6%
Government Bonds – 20%
Corporate Bonds – 20%
International Large Company Stocks – 12%

Moderately Aggressive:

Large Company Stocks – 38%
Small Company Stocks – 14%
Emerging Market Stocks – 4%
Real Estate Stocks – 8%
Government Bonds – 10%
Corporate Bonds – 10%
International Large Co. Stocks – 16%

Aggressive:

Large Company Stocks – 40%
Small Company Stocks – 20%
Emerging Market Stocks – 10%
Real Estate Stocks – 10%
International Large Company Stocks – 20%

As you add money to your account through Round-Ups or scheduled deposits, Acorns will invest that money for you based on your risk-profile. If you are using the basic Acorns account, this will occur in a taxable investment account.

You can withdraw your money from Acorns at any time, but investment withdrawals can take 5 to 7 business days. And the reality is, you don’t want to use your Acorns savings as a regular source of cash.

Investing is a long-term game. By pulling money from this account for day-to-day expenses and goals, you’ll increase the chance of losing money in the market.

Acorns Review: Frequently Asked Questions

With so many options out there, investors have questions. Here are the top queries we’ve seen around the web that we’d like to cover in our Acorns review.

Are small Round-Up investments enough to matter?

When it comes to saving for your future, every little bit helps.

At the same time, should Round-Up investments be the core part of your investing strategy? No.

But even investing $30 a month at a 7% market return adds up to over $4,900 in 10 years. Put that same amount in an online savings or money market account, and you’re only looking at just under $3,900. And the gap between investing and saving only increases over time. That’s the power of compound growth.

How much does Acorns cost?

Acorns offers three plans:

  • Invest, $1 per month
  • Invest + Later, $2 per month
  • Invest + Later + Spend,  $3 per month

For small accounts, the $1 monthly fee is very high and offsets any reasonable potential gain from the investments.

Let’s assume you had 50 Round-Up transactions a month, at an average round up value of $0.40. The Acorns app would invest $20 for you each month but would take 5% of those savings in Acorns fees.

As your account value increased, that percentage would decline. But you would need to have $5,000 invested before Acorns’ fees were as low as Betterment at 0.25%. And Betterment offers those fees with no minimum investment threshold and with access to a retirement account. You would need $10,000 invested in an Acorns IRA to match Betterment’s fees.

What a $1/mo Fee Means for a Taxable Account:

Account Balance Annual Fee
$250 4.80%
$500 2.40%
$750 1.60%
$2,000 0.60%
$5,000 0.24%

Are there risks with investing with Acorns?

As with any investment, performance isn’t guaranteed. Investing has risks which means the value of your portfolio can trend up and down over time. While the S&P 500 has consistently provided returns around 8% annually, year-to-year variations could mean your account loses substantial value — sometimes in excess of 10% or more.

The biggest risk for Acorns users is deciding to stop contributing to your account and keeping it small. Remember, the smaller your account balance remains, the more impact the monthly fee has on your overall account balance.

If you have plans for your money in the next three to five years, opt for a high-interest savings account instead. Some online banks, like Chime Bank, offer free checking accounts with automatic savings that don’t auto invest.

Is it okay to invest large sums of money with Acorns?

For hands-off investors with large sums to work with, the flat-rate fee may look attractive. For example: If you have over $10,000 to invest in the Invest + Later membership level and your fees drop to below the levels of top robo-advisor competitors like Betterment and Wealthfront, Acorns appears to be a cost effective option.

However, I would still not recommend investing large amounts with Acorns. Their investment options aren’t as robust as the bigger players. Portfolios include less diversification across asset types and no ability to customize asset allocation outside the five key portfolios.

In addition, if you are primarily investing in a taxable account (the basic Acorns level), you don’t get tax-loss harvesting to improve long-term returns offered by many competitors.

Finally, you don’t get access to professional financial support with Acorns. Larger robo-advisors provide some access to Certified Financial Planners (CFPs) to answer your burning questions. You might not have any today, but as your portfolio grows or we hit a downturn in the market, it can be a comforting option.

Who is Acorns best for?

Acorns is best for new investors who are looking for a hands-off solution to growing their savings.

Acorns App Review Summary

When it comes to round-up investing apps, Acorns is among the best in the business. It’s easy to use, has an excellent education platform for new investors, and simple, straightforward fees.

However, whether the $1-3 monthly fee is a benefit or a detriment really depends on your account balance. If you’re only adding a few dollars a month to your Acorns account, that $1 a month will hinder your investment growth.

$10 Bonus

$0 Account minimum You’ll need $5 to start investing.

$1-$3/mo Monthly Fees

DollarSprout Rating

How Acorns stands out:

The Acorns app is very easy to use, which is perfect for new investors who are learning the ropes. Users’ everyday purchases are rounded up and the change is invested, which makes investing a daily habit.

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