If you’re ready to start investing, there are a few different investment apps you’ll hear about, and two big ones are Robinhood and Acorns. These two online brokerages take very different approaches — Acorns automates the experience for you, and Robinhood gives you the tools to self-direct your investments.
Acorns and Robinhood are both low-cost, tech-driven investment apps, and let’s explore their features to find out which one is best for you.
Acorns vs. Robinhood 2021 – Which Investing App is Best for You?
Founded in 2012, Acorns is one of the first spare change investing apps on the market. Its goal was to remove one of the major barriers to investing: the cost. Additionally, Acorns uses computer algorithms to determine exactly how to invest your money. You answer a series of questions about your current financial situation and goals, and Acorns recommends a portfolio for you.
That brings up one of the biggest differences between Acorns and Robinhood — Acorns is a robo-advisor. You’re not picking individual stocks; you’re trusting Acorns to invest for you.
Acorns has various account types, including an individual brokerage account, retirement account, custodial accounts for kids, and a checking account.
Acorns has a list of features all built around the micro-investing (spare change investing premise). But in case you’re unfamiliar, micro-investing is investing with small amounts of money. It works when brokerages offer fractional shares of stocks and ETFs. So instead of needing to pay $120 to buy a full share of Apple stock, you buy a small portion of it.
Now that you understand Acorns’ approach, let's get into their features.
How does Acorns work? Read my full Acorns review to learn more.
Acorns investing features
This is one of Acorns’ most prominent features. You link a credit or debit card to Acorns after signing up, and then Acorns rounds up transactions from your linked card. Once your round-up amount hits $5, Acorns withdraws money from your bank account and invests it in your portfolio.
For example, if you spend $4.63 on a latte, Acorns rounds up to $5, which is $0.37 to invest. You can use 2x, 3x, or 10x multipliers to boost your Round-Ups.
You can turn Round-Ups and Multipliers on and off in the Acorns app, and you can link to more than one credit or debit card. Acorns tracks your Round-Ups progress, so you can see how close you are to the $5 withdrawal minimum.
The Found Money feature gives you money for signing up or shopping with one of Acorns’ 350+ different partner companies. The amount you earn varies from company to company, and it can be a flat fee or percentage of your total purchase.
Below are examples of some Found Money offers:
- $35 for new Blue Apron customers
- $10 for new customers who sign up for the Disney+, Hulu, ESPN bundle
- $5 when you get a home, auto, or renters insurance quote from Liberty Mutual
Recurring and one-time deposits
Micro-investing only goes so far — you can’t retire on spare change alone — and that’s why you can also set up one-time and recurring deposits into your Acorns investing account. You can set them for as little as $5, and put recurring investments on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule.
Acorns has a partnership with ZipRecruiter to list nearby job openings. Most of the jobs are focused on freelance, work-from-home jobs, or no-experience needed. There’s also listings for jobs that invest for you. These are side gigs for places like Uber or Postmates, which will invest $5-$30 for you after you sign up and complete your first delivery.
Acorns referral program
If you invite your friends or family to start using Acorns, you will receive a $5 bonus for each person that signs up through your unique referral code. Your friend also gets $5 to start investing.
Here’s where the robo-advisory model comes into play, and that’s through five pre-built portfolios. Acorns uses Modern Portfolio Theory as a strategy to determine the best asset allocation for your needs. You answer a few short questions when you sign up about your age, income, and financial goals, and then Acorns recommends a portfolio for you.
Acorns portfolios consist of low-cost ETFs — average expense ratio is 0.10% — built by companies like BlackRock and Vanguard. Acorns does automatic rebalancing if there’s any drift that throws off your asset allocation.
Here’s a breakdown of each of Acorns portfolio:
- 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% small company stocks, 4% real estate stocks, 30% government bonds, 30% corporate bonds, 8% international large company stocks
- Moderate: 29% large company stocks, 10% small company stocks, 3% emerging market stocks, 6% real estate stocks, 20% government bonds, 20% corporate bonds, 12% international large company stocks
- Moderately aggressive: 38% large company stocks, 14% small company stocks, 4% emerging market stocks, 8% real estate stocks, 10% government bonds, 10% corporate bonds, 16% international large company stocks
- Aggressive: 40% large company stocks, 20% small company stocks, 10% emerging market stocks, 10% real estate stocks, 20% international large company stocks
Robinhood is a free investment app that you can use to trade commission-free stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrency. Robinhood launched in 2013, and it was one of the first apps to offer $0 commissions. A lot of brokerages followed suit after Robinhood launched to stay competitive and appeal to more millennial users.
Robinhood’s business model’s core is being affordable and accessible to new investors, and it’s definitely that. And the reason they’re able to maintain their low-cost approach is how they make money.
Robinhood is a much different investing app than Acorns because you are picking each of your investments. There’s no portfolio management or robo-advisor, which is exciting for new investors who want to take a hands-on approach.
Robinhood’s investing features
Robinhood offers stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrency trade, and all are commission-free. This much more than Acorns, but it’s still fewer options when you compare it with a brokerage like TD Ameritrade.
Individual brokerage accounts
Acorns sticks to only offering individual brokerage accounts, so it’s probably not going to be where you do all of your investing. You can use another brokerage for retirement savings, and many investors hold accounts with multiple brokerages.
For $5 per month, you can upgrade to Robinhood Gold, which is a premium account option that comes with professional-level research through Morningstar and Level II Market Data. Gold lets you access larger instant deposits, and you can start margin lending.
Trading on margin
Margin is a loan you take to invest, and it’s not something a brand new investor should try. But if you feel confident in your skills, Robinhood supports margin lending. You need to have at least $2,000 in your account and Robinhood Gold account. There are no fees on the first $1,000 of margin, but there’s a 2.5% yearly interest on margin beyond that.
It’s worth noting that Robinhood has some of the lowest margin rates compared to its competitors, like Webull and TD Ameritrade.
Cash management account
Robinhood now offers an FDIC-insured high-yield savings account that currently earns 0.30% APY. It’s free to open a cash management account through Robinhood, and there aren’t any overdraft, transfer, or ATM fees at over 75,000 ATMs nationwide.
The real benefit of this account is that uninvested cash can earn interest while you’re deciding when and where to invest.
As mentioned earlier, fractional shares mean you don’t have to purchase a stock or ETF for the full price — you buy a portion of it. It’s an affordable way to start investing and diversify your portfolio.
Robinhood offering fractional shares means you can put uninvested cash to work sooner, and it’s also why Robinhood is able to offer a dividend reinvestment program (DRIP) on eligible, dividend-earning stocks and ETFs.
Acorn vs. Robinhood: Fees
Acorns and Robinhood have very different approaches here, and let’s start with what Acorns charges. They have three-tiered subscription-based pricing starting at $1/month.
- Acorns Lite – $1/month: Includes a personal investment account, access to features like Round-Ups and Found Money, and access to their library of articles by financial experts.
- Acorns Personal – $3/month: Includes a personal investment account, tax-advantaged retirement account, and access to Spend, Acorn’s checking account option. Spend is a no-fee checking account with access to over 55,000 fee-free ATMs.
- Acorns Family – $5/month: In addition to personal, retirement, and checking accounts, this plan comes with custodial investment accounts for children.
Acorns doesn’t charge commission or other fees on top of their flat monthly fees.
Robinhood is free. Yep, free, and most people who sign up with Robinhood will get a lot out of the free version. For more active investors, you can pay $5 a month for Robinhood Gold, which comes with:
- Margin loans
- Morningstar and Level II market data
- Access to larger instant deposits
There are a couple things to know about Robinhood and Acorns when it comes to their pricing. First, Robinhood is still making money from you, and they do it in different ways, including something called payment for order flow (PFOF). That means they’re selling your trades to a high-frequency trading platform to execute the orders. PFOF is a somewhat questionable practice, but the SEC allows it as long as brokerages disclose their policy surrounding practice.
The second thing you need to realize is that these are vastly different investing platforms. With Acorns, you’re paying for a service— automated portfolio management.
Still, Acorns can be expensive if you have a low account balance. Other brokerages that do automated portfolio management — Betterment, for example — charge a percentage of assets under management (AUM). That could be around 0.25% AUM, which is approximately $25/year for every $10,000 invested.
Say you have $100 invested through Acorns, $1/month is a monthly management fee of 12%. It starts to shrink as your balance grows — at $10,000 it’s down to 0.12%.
Acorns vs. Robinhood: Who are they best for?
Acorns and Robinhood are both low-cost options for investing, with fractional shares, cash management accounts, and no minimum balance requirements. But they are still very different, making one or the other a better choice for certain types of investors.
Who is Acorns best for?
Acorns is good for hands-off investors who prefer to let someone else decide what’s the best way to invest their money. You could even say Acorns is best for people who aren’t even interested in investing — they can set it and forget it.
Who is Robinhood best for?
Robinhood is a good choice for active traders who want control over how their money is invested. Considering that Robinhood offers margin lending, investors should be hungry to learn more about how the market works.
Acorns vs. Robinhood: Pros & Cons
Acorns vs. Robinhood: The final word
It’s hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison with these two investment apps because they’re designed for different kinds of investors.
Acorns is a very hands-off investing app that will appeal to investors who feel like they don’t have the money or know-how. Robinhood is for investors who want to get involved in the market. Figure out what kind of investor you are, and go from there.
Acorns uses Modern Portfolio Theory to design its portfolios. MPT was created by Nobel Prize-winning economist Harry Markowitz, who won the prize for his work on MPT. This is a solid strategy, used by countless brokerages.
If you’re an active trader who wants a little more than what Robinhood offers, I recommend checking out Webull or TD Ameritrade. Both have incredibly robust trading platforms — I’m talking tech-heavy, professional-looking trading apps.
Just a quick comparison: Webull also offers cryptocurrency, but they don’t do fractional shares or have cash management. TD Ameritrade offers pretty much any kind of tradable security besides crypto, and it also has a long list of account types. Webull and TD Ameritrade also both have margin lending and options trading.
Yes, you can make money with Acorns, but Acorns is designed for long-term investing, much more of a passive investing strategy. You’re not trying to out-think the market or profit from any short-term price fluctuations, which is what a lot of investors have been attempting to do with Robinhood, and the platform allows for that kind of trading.