Investing is important. Sure, you can put your extra money in a savings account, but most of these pay low interest rates. If you want to see real growth in your savings, you need to invest in assets that can offer better returns, like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
The problem for many people is that investing can be expensive and many investment platforms have high minimum balance requirements before you can even get started.
Micro-investing is a way for people to get started with investing with a lower threshold. It lets you invest with a small balance, often as little as $1. Over time, you can build up your savings and move on to investing outside of micro-investing apps.
What Is Micro-Investing?
Micro-investing is extremely similar to regular investing. The primary difference is the amount of money involved. Many brokerage accounts or mutual funds require that customers have minimum deposits as high as $1,000 or more. Most micro-investing services have minimums in the tens or hundreds of dollars or no minimums at all.
Micro-investing relies on regular investments of small amounts. Over time, a few dollars here and there can add up. Even if you can’t make $500 mutual fund purchases every month, you can build an investment portfolio from smaller deposits over time.
Many micro-investing firms have ways to help make saving easier, such as linking with your debit card and rounding up your transactions to the nearest dollar, depositing the spare change.
Another common aspect of micro-investing apps is automatic portfolio construction. With a traditional brokerage account, you’re responsible for choosing what to invest in and making those transactions. Many micro-investing platforms let you select a small list of funds or construct your portfolio for you.
5 Best Micro-Investing Apps
If you’re considering using a micro-investing app, these are some of the most popular on the market.
Acorns is one of the most popular micro-investing apps. It was also one of the first.
What makes Acorns popular is that it’s incredibly easy to use. Download the app and sign up, then answer some questions about your investing goals and risk tolerance. Acorns will automatically design a portfolio based on your needs. Finally, link your debit card and you’re ready to get started.
Whenever you use your debit card to make a purchase, Acorns rounds the purchase up to the next dollar, investing the spare change from the transaction. For example, if you spend $4.25 on a cup of coffee, Acorns will round that transaction up to $5 and deposit $0.75 in your Acorns account.
Acorns also offers a feature called Found Money where it rewards users for shopping with partner companies. For example, you might see an offer to get 3% off your next Groupon purchase back in the form of Found Money, which gets added to your investment portfolio. This can accelerate your portfolio’s growth.
Acorns’ lite service level costs $1 per month. Lite gets you the basic experience: investing using change from round up purchases, bonus investments from purchases at Acorns’ partners, and access to Acorns’ educational articles.
You can also sign up for the company’s $3 personal service level. At this level, you can use the app to invest your spare change and unlock new features. With personal service, you can open a retirement account through Acorns, which lets you benefit from the tax advantages offered by retirement accounts. You can also open a checking account directly with Acorns. The account charges no ATM fees, reimburses other banks’ ATM fees, and offers additional opportunities to earn bonus investments.
The highest level of service, called family service, costs $5 per month. It has all the features of personal service, plus the option to open an investment account on behalf of your kids.
Acorns’ greatest drawback is its cost. Although $1 a month might not seem like a huge amount, when you’re investing nickels, dimes, and quarters, $1 a month adds up. On top of the $1 per month fee, you also have to pay the expense ratios of the exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that Acorns uses to build your portfolio, which means fees can be a huge drag on your investments’ performance.
Robinhood is a low-cost investment app that’s become popular with millennials and other young traders. Although Robinhood isn’t necessarily focused on micro-investing, some of its features make it perfect for people who want to get started with the stock market but don’t have much money to invest.
Robinhood has no account minimum, meaning anyone can open an account. Trades are commission-free, meaning you don’t have to pay every time you buy and sell shares. Fees are a major concern for micro-investing because even small fees can have a large effect on your returns when you’re making smaller trades.
Robinhood is designed for more advanced investors than most micro-investing apps. Instead of building a portfolio for you using mutual funds and ETFs, Robinhood is completely self-directed. You choose what investments to buy and when to buy them. You can invest in stocks, bonds, ETFs, or even trade cryptocurrencies or options.
With many brokerages, stock prices can be another roadblock on the path to investing. If one share of stock in a business costs $100, you can only invest in that company in $100 increments. Robinhood offers fractional shares, which means you can buy less than a full share at a time. If you only have $1, you can buy 1/100th of a share. This makes investing even easier for people with small balances.
The higher level of freedom and control that Robinhood offers is great for people who enjoy investing and want to be hands-on with their portfolio. However, one of the points of micro-investing is making investing easy, so Robinhood will only fit the bill for a subset of people looking to try micro-investing with an active investing approach.
Public is an app that combines social media with investing small amounts of cash. You can open an account with as little as $5 and invest your money in stocks and ETFs.
Like Robinhood, Public offers the option to buy fractional shares, meaning you don’t have to save up enough to buy an entire share. That makes it much easier to build your portfolio and minimize the amount of cash you’re holding. Also like Robinhood, Public charges no account fees or commissions.
One feature that sets Public apart from Robinhood is that it gives investors a bit less freedom and offers more hand-holding. Public prevents its users from day trading and doesn’t offer margin — the ability to borrow money to invest — or options trading. It also does its best to provide clear definitions to potentially confusing finance terms wherever they show up.
Public also has investing themes that customers can use to build their portfolios. By investing in a theme, you can invest in multiple companies at once, building a diversified portfolio more easily. There are many themes, focusing on topics as wide-ranging as esports, health care, and women-led companies.
Public leverages social media to make investing fun and to help people discuss their investing strategy. You can post your portfolio changes publicly and discuss them with other users, and see what other people are doing with their portfolios. You can also create private or group messages to discuss investments with your friends or colleagues.
Stash is a micro-investing platform that can grow with your account balance. The company lets you get started with as little as $5 in your account and grows your account capabilities — and its fees — as your balance grows.
Stash Beginner costs $1 per month and comes with access to a brokerage account, bank account, and financial education articles. You can use your brokerage account to invest in individual stocks and ETFs. If you don’t have enough to buy a full share, Stash lets you purchase fractional shares.
Stash Growth costs $3 per month and adds the option to open an IRA with Stash. It has all the same perks as Stash’s standard brokerage account with the additional tax advantages that retirement accounts bring.
The highest level of service, Stash+, costs $9 per month and gives account holders the option to open up to two custodial accounts on behalf of their children. They also get a metal debit card for their checking account and earn double Stock Back rewards — more on these shortly.
The Stash checking account is a solid benefit of using Stash for your investing. It charges no additional fees beyond Stash’s monthly account fee and has no overdraft fees. If you set up direct deposit to the account you can also get paid up to two days early each payday.
When you use your Stash debit card, you earn Stock Back rewards, a play on the cash back rewards credit cards offer. Whenever you swipe your Stash debit card, you get 0.125% of the purchase amount back. If you shop at a store owned by a publicly-traded company available through Stash — including companies like Walmart, Dunkin, Amazon, or Starbucks — you’ll get your rewards in the form of fractional shares of that company’s stock. This can be a fun way to add some of your favorite companies to your portfolio. (If you shop anywhere else, you get the rewards in the form of shares of a diversified ETF.)
Stash+ users earn double the rewards, meaning they get 0.25% of their purchases back. They also qualify for special offers that can deliver up to 3% back on purchases from certain merchants.
Betterment isn’t a micro-investing app in the traditional sense. Instead, it’s a robo-advisory service with no minimum balance requirement. That means you can get started with Betterment with any amount of money and add to your balance in whatever increments you desire.
Unlike many other services that charge a flat fee, Betterment charges .25% of the assets you have under its management each year. When you sign up for Betterment, you’ll answer a series of questions that help the program understand your investing goals and risk tolerance. Based on your answers, Betterment automatically constructs a diversified portfolio for you.
As you add to your Betterment account or make withdrawals, the Betterment software automatically rebalances your portfolio to match the target asset allocation.
There’s also a premium service that increases the fee to 0.4% per year. To sign up, you must have at least $100,000 in your account. The premium service adds access to certified financial planners who can help you manage your entire portfolio, including holdings outside of Betterment, like your 401(k) or real estate.
Beyond its investing service, Betterment also offers a checking and savings account. The checking account is fee-free, automatically reimburses any ATM fees you pay, and has a potentially generous rewards program (Betterment Cash Back Rewards). The savings account functions more like a cash management account, offering up to $1 million in FDIC insurance and a reasonable rate of interest.
The drawback of Betterment is that it doesn’t offer much in the way of automating your deposits beyond setting up weekly or monthly transfers of flat amounts. You can’t do round-up investing like with Acorns, so you’ll need to create a saving schedule and stick to it.
Investing is important, but it can be hard to scrape together enough cash to get started. There are a lot of approaches to micro-investing, from investing your spare change to working with a robo-advisor and making weekly or monthly transfers to your account.
It’s important to keep in mind your long-term investing plan. Micro-investing is a great starting point, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. You’ll want to move on to investing larger amounts at some point as you build a stable financial life. Some micro-investing platforms aren’t well-suited to large accounts, while others can easily scale as your balance increases. Knowing this in advance can help you choose the right micro-investing app for you.