There’s a growing list of micro-investing apps that make it easier than ever to invest with small amounts of money. Because micro-investing is buying fractional shares of stocks and ETFs instead of full shares, you can start investing with less money than the traditional approach.
Selling fractional shares has become an essential feature that’s made investing more accessible than ever before, and even established trading platforms are now offering micro-investing to attract new investors.
Micro-investing is a great first step to building your portfolio. But with so many new micro-investing apps on the market, how do investors decide which is the right one? This guide will introduce you to the best micro-investing apps and cover everything you need to know about micro-investing.
7 Best Micro-Investment Apps of 2023 & What Beginners Need to Know
Best Micro-Investment App for Beginners
Stash is one of the best micro-investment apps for beginners who want to be hands-on and learn the ins and outs of investing. Stash has flat monthly fees starting at $3/month, and there are no additional trading fees or commissions. Read our full Stash review for more details.
Once you’ve signed up for your Stash account, you're asked a series of questions about your current financial situation and goals to determine your investment risk level. Stash uses this information to make recommendations designed to help you reach your short and long-term financial goals.
What’s unique about Stash is that you can automate the process or be in total control of your investments. Stash organizes stocks and ETFs based on themes, so you can choose to invest your money in causes that are important to you, specific interests or companies, socially-responsible investments (SRIs), etc.
You can view all of the essential data about each stock or ETF before you buy, including performance, position, and expense ratio. The goal is to get to know each of your investments so you can make educated investing decisions.
Stash’s Smart Portfolio is a newer feature that Stash recommends for accounts with at least $20. It gives you the option to invest in one of three different portfolios instead of self-directing your funds, and comes with standard automated features like automatic rebalancing.
Additionally, Stash has in-app educational content in the form of short blog posts. They also have an integrated bank account that comes with a Stock-Back debit card. This card earns you matching pieces of stocks on your purchases.
Stash has two different account options, and you’ll need $5 in your account to start with either:
- Growth $3/month: Includes a personal investment account, retirement account, personalized retirement advice, unlimited trades, Stock-Back card, and a $1,000 life insurance policy from Avibra.
- Stash+ $9/month: Includes everything in Growth plus custodial accounts for up to two children, 2x stock with the Stock-Back card, and a $10,000 life insurance policy through Avibra.
Stash pros and cons:
Best Micro-Investment App for Low Costs
The Robinhood app was created in 2013 with the intent to “democratize finance for all.” It pioneered the commission-free model and caused so much disruption that major players like Charles Schwab and Fidelity quickly eliminated commissions to stay competitive. Learn more in our full Robinhood review.
Robinhood’s commitment to low costs means there are $0 commissions and no trading fees for micro or full shares of stocks and ETFs. There are also no monthly management fees or fees for signing up.
Besides the low costs, one of the main benefits of using Robinhood is that this micro-investment app is simple and designed with new investors in mind. It’s stripped down with an intuitive design that provides a no-frills experience, which is ideal when you’re learning how to invest.
Additionally, Robinhood has a cash management account that earns you 0.30% on uninvested cash, and you can trade cryptocurrency on the app. Plus, they have a subscription-based Gold account, which gives investors access to margin lending (a risky option for new investors, but worth mentioning), bigger deposits, and faster access to funds.
Robinhood is a great choice if you want to learn how to start trading stocks, but would rather learn on a smaller scale. It’s worth mentioning that Robinhood makes money through payment for order flow (PFOF), which is a controversial but very common practice with trading apps.
Robinhood pros and cons:
Best Micro-Investment App for Automated Investing
Acorns launched in 2012 as one of the first micro-investing apps, but it’s also part robo-advisor, making it a good fit for hands-off investors. Acorns invests your money in micro shares of ETFs, and they automate most of the investment process for you, from recommending the ideal portfolio for your financial goals to a feature called Round-Ups that automatically pulls money from your bank account to invest. Check out our Acorns review for more details.
Round-Ups is Acorns’ most popular feature by far, and is built on the idea that spare change adds up over time if you do something with it. Here’s how Round-Ups works:
- You link a debit or credit card to your Acorns account.
- When you purchase with your linked card, Acorns will round that amount up to the next dollar.
- Acorns pulls the difference from your funding source and invests it for you.
For example, if you spent $4.37 on a latte, Acorns will round that transaction up to $5, meaning that’s $0.63 to invest. Once you hit $5 in Round-Ups, Acorns transfers money from your linked bank account to your Acorns account and invests the difference.
Acorns also has a Found Money feature, which is a Google Chrome extension that earns you extra cash for investing when you shop at any one of over 350 different partner companies, including Hulu, Nike, Apple, etc.
When you sign up for Acorns, this app will recommend one of five different portfolios based on your current age, projected age of retirement, and the level of risk you’re comfortable with. Acorns developed its portfolios using Nobel Prize-winning research. Each portfolio includes a diverse set of ETFs (exchanged-traded funds).
New from Acorns
Because more and more investors are focusing on companies and investments that represent their values and beliefs, Acorns now offers four sustainable ESG (environmental, social, and governance) portfolios. Each of these portfolios meets MSCI criteria for companies that focus on sustainability, meaning they are ideally better positioned for long-term growth.
- Acorns Core: $1/month. This is a personal taxable investment account.
- Acorns Core + Acorns Later: $2/month. You can also invest in an IRA, which is a tax-advantaged retirement fund.
- Acorns Core + Acorns Later + Acorns Spend: $3/month. This adds on a checking account that has zero account fees and reimbursed ATM fees.
Acorns pros and cons:
Best Micro-Investment App for Retirement Investors
Betterment is known as the OG robo-advisor, which means it was one of the first investment apps to leverage technology to simplify the investment process. Robo-advisors are inherently hands-off, but Betterment offers access to certified financial planners if you want human support — one of the reasons we like it so much. Find more details in our complete Betterment review.
When you sign up for an account with Betterment, they’ll help you identify your financial goals, and then make a portfolio recommendation for each of your goals. Yes, that means you can set up and invest for more than one goal at a time. Each goal’s portfolio has a different asset allocation, depending on the goal and timeline. Betterment uses low-cost ETFs in each of their portfolios, and they’re transparent about how they’ve built their portfolios.
Betterment feels a little more like a traditional investment brokerage because it gives you lots of different account options, including individual taxable accounts, joint accounts, IRAs (traditional, Roth, and SEP), and 401(k) and 403(b) rollovers.
Because Betterment offers micro shares of ETFs, multiple retirement account options, and low fees, Betterment is one of the best micro-investing apps for retirement investors.
There are two options when you sign up:
- Betterment Digital: 0.25% annually with $0 account minimums. Once your account hits $2 million invested, your fees drop to 0.15% annually.
- Betterment Premium: 0.40% annually with a $100,000 account minimum, which drops to 0.30% when your account hits $2 million. You receive unlimited access to Betterment’s certified financial planners. These CFPs are fiduciaries who can help you with accounts both in and out of Betterment.
Betterment also has financial advice packages starting at $299. All accounts have access to Cash Reserve, Betterment’s no-fee, high-yield cash account. It offers 0.30% APY and has a two-way sweep feature that automatically moves extra cash between your linked bank account to and from your Cash Reserve account as needed.
New from Betterment
Betterment Checking is a mobile-first checking account and Visa debit card for daily spending. This account has $0 fees, and you can earn cash back rewards on thousands of brands.
Betterment pros and cons:
5. M1 Finance
Best Micro-Investment App for Banking Features
M1 Finance is a kind of hybrid micro-investing app that combines the robo-advisory service you get with Betterment and Acorns with the hands-on control you get from Stash and Acorns. For that reason, it’s one of the best micro-investment apps for investors who want a little of everything. Read our M1 Finance review for more information.
Besides a unique approach to micro-investing, M1 Finance also charges $0 monthly management fees and $0 commissions or trading fees. When you combine the low cost, and hybrid approach, M1 Finance is a very millennial-friendly choice.
The way M1 Finance works is that once you sign up and create your free account, you can start building your “pie.” That’s what they call your personal investment portfolio. You can invest in individual company stocks or funds. You can also invest in one of their over 80 Expert Pies or Community Pies. These are curated portfolios that give you more control and customization.
M1 Finance also has a checking account feature called M1 Spend, which comes with a debit card, there is a $0 account minimum, and you’re reimbursed one ATM fee per month.
There’s also M1 Borrow — M1 Finance’s margin loan feature, which is available if you have a portfolio value of at least $10,000, and you can borrow up to 35% of your account’s equity balance. Margin is traditionally used as portfolio leverage, but M1 Finance advertises M1 Borrow as a line of credit that can be used in place of a HELOC, personal loan, auto loan, etc. When you think about it in those terms, M1 Borrow has highly competitive rates at 3.5% or 2% if you’re an M1 Plus subscriber.
M1 Finance is free to use for Basic accounts, or you can upgrade to M1 Plus for $125/year. Plus adds a high-interest rate checking account, cash back rewards, more ATM reimbursements, lower Borrow rates, and more.
M1 Finance pros and cons:
Best for Micro-Investment App for Free Advisor Access
SoFi Invest is part of the larger SoFi financial company that does student loan refinancing, personal loans, insurance, mortgages, and more. SoFi Invest is for all types of investors: active, retirement, and investors interested in automating the process.
One of the most exciting things about SoFi is that all clients have unlimited access to SoFi’s team of certified financial planners. They don’t work on commission, and they hold fiduciary standards to their clients. Advisors are available for phone or video chat support between 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. EST Monday through Thursday, and 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. EST on Fridays.
SoFi offers individual brokerage and retirement accounts, including Roth, traditional IRAs, rollover IRAs, and SEP IRAs. There are no additional fees on retirement accounts, and you can let SoFi automatically manage your retirement portfolio for you.
SoFi pros and cons:
Best for Micro-Investment App for Transparency
The Public app is a free investing app that describes itself as the "investing social network," which means you can follow friends and creators and see how they're investing their money. Being able to follow industry leaders is meant to give you context as to why the market moves the way it does. Check out our Public review for more details.
Public’s commitment to transparency is what led them to drop PFOF in 2021, and they’ve switched to accepting tips. It’s a unique approach that definitely sets this micro-investing app apart.
Additionally, investors will soon have access to alternative investments like NFTs, art, and collectibles.
After you create your account, you can start browsing their list of over 5,000 stocks and ETFs. Stocks and ETFs are organized by theme or category. The purpose is to make it easier for you to find companies that match your interests. For example, you can look up companies focused on space exploration, genetic engineering, or cannabis. You can also look for stocks and funds that match your values, like diverse leadership or green energy.
Public pros and cons:
What Beginners Need to Know About Micro-Investing Apps
How to choose a micro-investing app
The way to pick the best micro-investment app for you is to start by thinking about how hands-on you want to be with your investments. Apps like Acorns and Betterment do the hard work for you, setting you up with the right portfolio, while Stash and Robinhood give you more control over your investments.
Also consider what types of accounts you want to invest in. Betterment has the largest variety of account options, whereas Robinhood has limited choices.
Low starting deposits
When you ask people why they aren’t investing yet, the number one reason is because they think they can’t afford it.
However, these micro-investing apps blow up the myth that you need a lot of money to start investing:
- It takes just $5 to invest with Acorns
- Stash takes $5 to start investing
- Betterment has a $0 account minimum
Investing has suddenly become accessible for everyone.
What the returns are like
Micro-investing is all about investing with small amounts of money, which is super accessible. But if you only invest with a little cash here and there, you’re going to see micro results.
You’re not going to get rich on spare change, and micro-investing alone shouldn’t be your retirement plan.
Seriously, not even the power of compound interest will turn that spare change into enough money to fund your golden years, especially if you want to retire early.
That doesn’t mean you still can’t earn money from micro-investing. It’s a great way to passively save money for vacation, a downpayment, etc.
You’ll still experience market volatility
The first time you see your portfolio value drop is a feeling you will not forget. You worked hard to save that money, and then suddenly you’ve lost a chunk of it. Well… that’s the stock market.
But the point of investing is to let your money sit somewhere and build over time. The market recovers, you earn back what you lost, and then earn some more. Micro-investing apps will help you get comfortable with how the market moves up and down over time.
The cost of micro-investing
Non-investors aren’t just turned off by the perceived high cost of the actual investment, they’re also bummed out by all the fees — brokerage fees, commissions, advisory fees, inactivity fees, and more.
The best micro-investing apps have simplified fee structures that ultimately let you invest more of your cash. Acorns and Stash all charge flat monthly fees. These are better for accounts with higher balances, but the percentage model that Betterment charges is better for smaller balances.
Free micro-investing apps like Robinhood and M1 Finance make investing even more affordable, but they’re still making money from investors.
Micro investing is still investing real money
You don’t need to know a lot about the stock market to start micro-investing, but I strongly believe that taking the educational aspect of investing into your own hands can turn you into a smarter investor overall.
Those small amounts of money are still money… real money… so if you’re going to choose any of these micro-investing apps, work on growing your overall knowledge of the market.
The Final Word on the Best Micro-Investment Apps
We are big fans of anything that encourages people to build good financial habits, and learning how to invest is a great habit to start.
The apps we’ve covered are all great places to start, and here’s a tl;dr rundown of each:
- Stash: Best for Beginners
- Robinhood: Best for Low Costs
- Betterment: Best for Retirement Investors
- Acorns: Best for Automated Investing
- M1 Finance: Best Millennial-Friendly Investing App
- SoFi: Best for Free Advisor Access
- Public: Best for Transparency
Micro-investing isn’t going to make you rich. It’s not even going to give you enough cushion for retirement. But what it does well is introducing newbie investors to the market. It makes investing an approachable option for people who don’t feel like they have much money to put towards investing in the first place, and that’s pretty cool in itself.
There’s a growing list of micro-investment apps that make it easy to invest in fractional shares of stocks and ETFs. Our top picks are Stash, Robinhood, Acorns, Betterment, M1 Finance, SoFi, and Public. We choose these apps because of their unique features, low fees, customer support, and educational support.
Great stuff, Bobby. Totally agree with you that the greatest value of micro-investing might simply be that it helps to build the habit of putting a portion of each month’s income away for the future.
I’m also looking forward to seeing studies down the road on the effect that micro-investing will ultimately end up having on millennials’ overall investing habits.
Thanks for your hard work and the great content that you continue to put out!
Millennial Money Man
Thanks so much Clint, glad you liked the post! Yeah I mean people like to hate on the micro-investing apps…but if it gets people started, isn’t that a good thing?
I love me some Robinhood but you’re right about the lack of research, which kind of comes with the territory of being free. I personally use thinkorswim for my research and then trade options on Robinhood. I would classify this more as an additional income stream than as investing, but if you know the math, if you’re trading at a premium or discount, being “in the money” or “out of the money,” etc., you can stand to make a lot of money. Or lose a lot. Your choice.
Also, Acorns now offers an Acorns Later service where they invest your spare change into an IRA, which you can set up as a traditional, Roth, or SEP, though I think most people should stick with services like Vanguard or Fidelity. I personally use a self-directed IRA since I like to be super hands on with my investments, but that’s also something I don’t recommend to the layperson.
As a matter of fact, if you’re a millennial looking to get into investing, ignore everything I just wrote.
Millennial Money Man
Haha the end of this post is great!
This was a great way to compare ‘real’ investing with ‘micro’ investing. I think the idea of giving someone an app and a connection to their bank account with little to no fees attached is a great way for a person to get an idea of what its like to watch a small amount grow. Though you will have to go through the taxes and fees that are involved with investing if you can pull out of a ‘micro’ account before the 5000$ ‘cap’ wouldn’t that give you a decent way of transitioning to a more tradition investment account where you either manage your portfolio much more personally?
I first started with Acorns in college due to the waved monthly fee. The little bit taken each month was small enough that I didn’t realize how much was gone until a year or so after graduating when I needed a little extra for a down payment on a house and that account was close to $1000. I now use Acorns to help me put extra money aside, then I transfer that amount every so often to Robinhood. I use Robinhood as my “play money.” Instead of playing the lottery, I play with stocks hoping to pick some big winners. But I only do so with the little bit Acorns has put aside for me. If one of those stocks or ETFs happen to go big, then I’d just reinvest the money or take it out for a vacation or whatever.
For actual retirement I use a TD Ameritrade account that has my Roth IRA account and has more serious investments in low cost ETFs. I also speak with a no-fee financial advisor for additional advice.
So my opinion is that the Micro-Investing apps are not retirement options, they’re more high interest savings accounts for fun stuff or new toys.
Millennial Money Man
I agree – definitely not retirement options but more of a gateway drug into investing 🙂
I’ve experimented with micro-investing via Vanguard’s no-transaction fee ETF platform for several years now with some success, gradually increasing my contributions to build a nice base of assets, but that’s not really what you’re talking about here. I recently opened a Robinhood account to see if microinvesting in dividend paying/dividend growth stocks can help beginning savers build up a reasonable stream of income to help prepare them for financial independence or retirement.
I am also going to open an Acorns account for a similar experiment early next year.
I’ve entered into my experiment with microinvesting with an open, but skeptical mind. We’ll see if the snowball gets large enough to make a difference. Personally, I don’t think a serious early stage investor can do any better than Vanguard or Fidelity – and for those who really want to ‘set it and forget it,’ Betterment, WealthFront or Personal Capital are probably superior to microinvesting services at this point.
Millennial Money Man
I’d agree that PC, Betterment, etc. are probably a better option for set it and forget it, but if someone wants to open up an Acorns account to get started I’m fine with that too.
I love using the micro investing apps. My Acorns app is my dogs end of life fund. I hooked both my cards and my wife’s cards up to it so we are rounding maybe $15 a week into it. In ten years, we should have ~$9,000 in it without really noticing. We’ll have a great fund to take care of our dog in his later years. Set it and forget it.
Yes, of course, this is not for our retirement or anything. It is just a fun account to have for our dog. You could do one for a kid’s wedding in 20 years or a first child’s car in 16 years.
Use the micro investing apps for something that is ten years away that you know you won’t save for unless it is automatic.
Millennial Money Man
This is really interesting! I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone use micro investing accounts to passively build emergency savings before!