There are several investment apps you can use for investing a few dollars at a time. Three of the most popular platforms for new and experienced investors are Acorns, Robinhood, and Stash.
Each service has different investment options and account amenities. This comparison of these popular micro-investing apps can help you choose the best platform for your investing goals and personal preferences.
These platforms can be a good way to start investing for the first time. Experienced investors may enjoy the micro-investing conveniences their full-time brokerage may not offer.
Table of Contents
- About Acorns
- About Robinhood
- About Stash
- Platform Fees
- Account Minimums
- Investment Options
- Research Tools
- Cash Management Accounts
- Unique Features
- What is the Best Investing App?
Acorns offers premade ETF portfolios with risk tolerance-based asset allocations of stocks and bonds with taxable, brokerage and custodial accounts. This platform doesn’t offer individual stocks.
Other notable features include an online checking account and an online shopping portal to earn bonus investing cash. It’s also possible to round up debit and credit card purchases to increase your investing frequency.
Read our full Acorns review to learn more about spare change investing.
Robinhood is the most similar of the three services to a traditional online brokerage and the only one not charging a monthly account fee. Investors can trade almost any stock or ETF on-demand with a $1 minimum investment.
Only taxable brokerage accounts are available but customers can open a cash management account that earns interest and offers over 75,000 surcharge-free ATMs.
Read our Robinhood review for an in-depth look.
Stash offers unlimited trades in many stocks and ETFs but members pay a monthly fee. It’s possible to open a taxable brokerage, tax-advantaged retirement, and custodial accounts.
It’s also possible to open an online banking account and a Stock-Back Card that can earn free stock rewards for the brands you shop at – like getting McDonald’s stock when you buy a Big Mac.
Two of the three platforms charge a monthly fee. More expensive plans offer more features, including retirement and custodial accounts.
Acorns has a fee structure similar to Stash with three monthly plans:
- Lite ($1/month): Taxable brokerage account and rewards shopping portal
- Personal ($3/month): Retirement account and online checking account
- Family ($5/month): Child custodian accounts
You will need to choose the Personal of Family plan to access the online checking account in addition to the retirement and custodial accounts. The entry-level Lite plan only offers a taxable investment account.
Robinhood doesn’t charge a monthly or annual fee for its brokerage account or cash management account.
Stock and ETF trades are free but there is a commission on options contracts.
There is also an optional Robinhood Gold account that costs $5 per month.
Gold benefits include:
- Morningstar research reports
- Level II market data
- Margin trading account
- Increased instant deposits
Stash offers three monthly plans:
- Beginner ($1/month): Taxable account, Stock-Back Card, banking account
- Growth ($3/month): Retirement accounts, robo-advisor, personalized retirement advice
- Stash+ ($9/month): Custodial accounts, exclusive Stock-Back Card bonuses, premium research
The monthly fee can be a nuisance but there are no trade commissions to buy or sell stocks and ETFs.
If you decide to invest with Stash, the best monthly plan depends on which investment accounts you want. The retirement and child custodian accounts require a higher plan fee.
Springing for the Stash+ plan can be worth the upgrade if you regularly use the Stock-Back Card for local and online purchases. Premium users can earn double stock rewards and earn exclusive offers.
It’s possible to open a basic account with $0 with each brokerage. The monthly plan fees for Stash and Acorns start once your balance reaches $5. The five-dollar mark is the investment minimum for both platforms.
Robinhood has a $1 minimum investment for buying stocks and funds. Options trades require purchasing at least 100 contracts.
All three platforms have different investment options.
Acorns only offers five different stock and bond index ETF portfolios. Each portfolio pursues a different risk strategy:
- Conservative (100% bonds)
- Moderately conservative (40% stocks and 60% bonds)
- Moderate (60% stocks and 40% bonds)
- Moderately aggressive (80% stocks and 20% bonds)
- Aggressive (100% stocks)
The platform rebalances the portfolio with each new investment. It’s possible to change portfolios as your investing goals transform.
Investors wanting a self-directed brokerage account should consider Stash or Robinhood to access stocks and ETFs of their choosing.
Robinhood offers most stocks and ETFs that trade on the US stock exchanges. Some exceptions can be OTC and ADR stocks with thin trading volumes and additional trading commissions.
Advanced investors can buy or sell options. A robo-advisor account isn’t available.
Stash lets investors buy most stocks and ETFs although it may not be possible to buy select stocks with low trading volumes or certain sector ETFs. But the investment selection is excellent for most investors.
It’s possible to browse stocks and funds by sector or investment theme.
The company also offers a Smart Portfolio robo-advisor with its middle and upper plans. This feature invests in stock and bond index funds proportional to the investor’s risk tolerance.
This platform can be the best option that want a portion of their portfolio in the managed Smart Portfolio and the rest in individual stocks and ETFs. Acorns only offers managed portfolios and Robinhood only provides self-directed accounts.
No platform offers in-depth research tools like a traditional online broker such as Fidelity, Schwab or Ally Invest. But investors can easily access basic information.
Acorns doesn’t provide any research tools as investors can only invest in premade portfolios. Investors can read the ETF prospectus for each fund in their portfolio to understand how the fund can make money along with the potential risks.
The basic Robinhood membership offers these research tools:
- Historical price chart
- Analyst ratings
- Quarterly earnings data
- Recent market headlines
The numerous investment options but scant research tools may have you wonder if Robinhood is safe. It is, but other platforms may have better practices.
Robinhood Gold customers can read Morningstar research reports that can help investors make informed decisions. Active traders may also appreciate the Level II market data to see how much investors are willing to buy or sell their shares for.
Stash provides a basic price chart and news headlines for stocks and ETFs.
The Stash+ plan provides a monthly market insights report that provides analysis on the stock market and specific sectors. Overall, free stock analysis tools can be more effective.
Cash Management Accounts
All three platforms offer an FDIC-insured cash management account or an online checking equivalent. Being able to bank and invest with the same app can be a valuable convenience.
Each service requires opening an investment account before launching a banking account. Consider an app’s investment features before their banking options to choose the best one.
The Acorns Spend online checking account is only available with the two highest monthly plans. There are no additional fees and account features include:
- “Smart Deposit” automated savings rules
- Visa debit card
- 55,000+ fee-free ATMs (Allpoint network)
- Up to $250,000 in FDIC Insurance
The Smart Deposit savings feature can set aside a portion of each deposit to a savings goal. Doing so can prevent accidentally money you’ll need later.
You can also get free ATM withdrawals at over 55,000 locations across the United States and the world.
Another nifty feature is getting a tungsten metal debit card. It works like a traditional plastic card and can be an interesting conversation starter with friends.
The Robinhood cash management account is fee-free and can offer more banking perks than the other two apps.
Key account features include:
- 75,000+ fee-free ATMs (Allpoint and MoneyPass networks)
- Earn interest
- Online bill payments
- Up to $1.25 million FDIC Insurance
This account doesn’t charge any monthly service fees and comes with a Mastercard debit card. Two unique features include earning interest on the entire account balance and up to $1.25 million in FDIC Insurance.
Robinhood partners with several banks that each offer the $250,000 FDIC insurance limit by sweeping your uninvested cash to different institutions. Some of the partner banks include Goldman Sachs Bank, Citibank, HSBC Bank and Wells Fargo.
This account may not offer automated savings features or shopping rewards like Stash or Acorns but can be an exciting online banking option.
A Stash banking account is available with every monthly plan. There are no additional fees to bank with Stash.
Account features include:
- Automated savings tools
- Stock-Back debit card
- 19,000+ fee-free Allpoint ATMs
- Receive direct deposit up to two days early
- Up to $250,000 in FDIC Insurance
This account can round up purchases to increase the account balance. Another automated feature is scheduling recurring investments.
All banking members can get a Stock-Back debit card. Switching to this debit card can be worth it to earn free stock shares for stores you make purchases at. Stores without a publicly-traded stock can earn free shares of an S&P 500 index fund.
The first $250,000 is FDIC-insured with Green Dot Bank.
It’s possible to earn passive income and park your uninvested cash into a rewards banking account. These unique perks can play a deciding factor in choose the best investing platform.
Acorns can be one of the best options for a fully automated investing app. It can also be easier to earn shopping rewards than Stash.
The Earn features give members several options to earn bonus cash to invest. One way is to activate shopping offers at over 350 partners in the Acorns app and paying with a linked debit card or credit card.
A second option is installing the Chrome browser extension to shop online at over 12,000 brands.
Acorns deposits the cash rewards into the investing account and invests the balance when it reaches $5.
Another neat feature is rounding up debit and credit purchases to the next dollar and investing the round-up amount. The platform invests the roundups with a $5 balance but the Acorns debit card can instantly invest the round-up amount.
Stash also offers this feature but only for its Stock-Back Card.
Users can also set auto-deposit rules that routinely deposit cash into their investing account from a linked bank account.
Robinhood gives investors more control of the investment process but doesn’t offer the shopping rewards to get free stock unless you refer friends.
Investors that don’t want to be restricted to certain trading windows will like Robinhood. It’s possible to place market-type orders during normal market hours and buy or sell positions at the current market price.
It’s also possible to place limit orders to only trade at or within a certain trading range.
Stash two trading windows in the morning and two in the afternoon, for example. Acorns only offers ETF portfolios.
$1 Fractional Investing
Being able to buy stock and ETF shares with as little as $1 means Robinhood has the lowest investment minimum and there are no trade commissions or monthly service fees. The other platforms require a $5 balance which is also reasonable.
Investors that want to trade using margin will need to upgrade to Robinhood Gold for $5 per month. The margin loan interest rates are lower than most brokerages.
Other Gold features include Morningstar research reports, Level II trading data and higher instant deposit amounts. Upgrading doesn’t provide interactive charts or technical analysis. Another free online broker is more likely to offer more robust charting tools and third-party analyst reports.
Stash can be a good option for beginner investors because of its educational tools and shopping rewards program.
The Stock-Back Card can be one of the best reasons to choose Stash. The benefits of this rewards debit card can easily offset the monthly fee.
Most purchases earn 0.125% back and up to 5% at select brands. For example, Amazon purchases earn Amazon stock and Starbucks trips can earn Starbucks stock.
Rewards for non-traded brands are for an S&P 500 index fund.
All investors have access to the Stash Learn library that’s an online knowledge base covering investment basics. New investors can learn how stocks, ETFs and the stock market work.
Term Life Insurance
The bottom and middle plans come with $1,000 in term life insurance from Avibra. Premium Stash+ members get up to $10,000 in coverage with an active subscription.
What is the Best Investing App?
Who wins the Stash vs Robinhood vs Acorns battle? The winner depends on your investment needs and here is a brief assessment.
Choose Acorns if you only want to invest in the prebuilt index ETF portfolios instead of a self-directed portfolio. The banking and shopping rewards can add additional value.
- Automatic portfolio rebalancing
- Shopping rewards
- Round up debit and credit card purchases
- Cannot invest in individual stocks or ETFs
- Monthly fee
Consider Robinhood to be able to invest as little as $1 in stocks and ETFs that other brokerage may require you to buy whole shares.
The platform can also be easier to use than other apps. But you should be cautious of the “gamification” factor that can make investing seem like entertainment and forget that you can lose real money.
- Many stock and ETF investment options
- $1 fractional investing
- Cash management account earns interest
- No monthly fees
- Basic charting and research tools
- No robo-advisor feature
- No shopping rewards like Stash and Acorns
Stash is a better option for new investors that want the Stash Learn educational resources while having access to individual stocks and ETFs.
- Can invest in stocks and ETFs
- Smart Portfolio robo-advisor
- Learning library
- Earn stock rewards on Stock-Back debit card purchases
- Monthly plan fee
- Fewer sector ETFs than traditional online brokers
- Limited research tools
These three investment apps all make it easy to invest small amounts of money and enjoy the rewards of a cash management account. Comparing the investment features and monthly fees can help you pick the best platform to start investing more frequently.