Starting to invest in the stock market is often an exciting time. You’re taking a step toward potentially growing your wealth. These days you could choose to invest your money using any one of many options, whether you’re just learning how to invest or you’re already a seasoned investor.
Finding the right trading platform for you depends on your goals and how you want to invest. Each service provides different investing options, fee schedules, and other differences that may make one a smarter fit for you than others.
Robinhood vs. Acorns vs. Stash
Robinhood, Acorns, and Stash all enable you to invest for your future but they have different investing options. Here’s a quick look at how they compare against each other.
|Minimum investment||None||None||None to $1, depending on account type|
|Management fees||None||$1 to $5 per month||$1 to $9 per month4|
|Asset classes||Stocks, ETFs, options, cryptocurrency||ETFs in prebuilt portfolios||Stocks and ETFs5|
|Account types available||
|Best for...||Someone who wants to pick individual investments and trade in real time||Someone who wants to invest in a prebuilt diversified portfolio, or invest in an IRA or custodial account||Someone who wants to pick their investments and invest in an IRA or custodial account|
|Visit Robinhood||Visit Acorns||Visit Stash|
How does Robinhood work?
Robinhood allows investors to buy and sell stocks, ETFs (exchange-traded funds), options, and cryptocurrency without incurring trade commission fees. At the time Robinhood first started offering this service, commission-free trades were unheard of. Today, many brokerage firms have followed Robinhood’s lead by offering no-commission trades.
The Robinhood app also allows you to buy fractional shares of an investment. This means you could buy a part of a share, which is advantageous when you want to invest in a large company with a high stock price. For instance, you could use $10 to buy 1/10th of a share in a company with a $100 stock price. Without fractional share investing, you’d have to save up the whole $100 to purchase a share.
Robinhood doesn’t offer automated portfolio options, automatic rebalancing, or other robo-advisory services as some other brokerages do. Instead, you pick which investments to buy and sell and when to make the trades.
If you outgrow your Robinhood basic account, you could upgrade to Robinhood Gold and get access to professional research and the ability to trade on margin, which is borrowing money to invest. This costs $5 per month for access to the first $1,000 of margin. Additional margin above $1,000 comes with a 2.5% interest rate.
Read our Robinhood review for more details.
How does Acorns work?
Acorns focuses on making it easy for people to find money to start investing. They simplify the investing process by allowing investors to pick from one of five premade investment portfolios comprised of ETFs. Acorns rebalances the portfolios as necessary to maintain the goals of the investment mixes.
As a micro-investing app, Acorns also offers a few features that make it easier to start investing. Their Round-Ups feature allows you to link a payment card to their service. Whenever you make a purchase, the transaction is rounded up to the nearest dollar. Once that spare change adds up to $5, it gets invested for you. You have the ability to set up automatic recurring investments outside of the Round-Ups feature, too.
Acorns charges anywhere from $1 to $5 per month depending on the features you want. The Acorns Invest plan offers access to Round-Ups and a basic investment account. The $3 per month plan adds the ability to invest using an IRA (known as Acorns Later) and access to a checking account (known as Acorns Spend). The $5 per month plan adds the option of using a custodial account to invest for children on their behalf.
Read our Acorns review for more details.
How does Stash work?
Like Robinhood and Acorns, Stash allows fractional share investing to help you start investing without a large sum of money.3 You could also invest in stocks and ETFs with Stash, but transactions only get executed during specific trading windows each day.5 This means you don’t have total control over when you buy or sell, but it could also discourage people from trying to time the market.
Investors who choose either the Growth or Stash+ tiers will also have the option to invest in Stash's Smart Portfolios. These carefully designed portfolios enable you to be diversified and regularly invest in your portfolio without having to make all your own investment decisions. Stash will also rebalance your portfolio for you, as well as reinvest your dividends.
In an interesting twist, Stash offers a Stock-Back® debit card.8 It allows you to earn stock based on your purchases instead of cash back as many credit cards provide.7 Unfortunately, the earning rate is not competitive compared to a cashback credit card, but it could provide a way for some people to invest found money without having to think about it.
Stash charges a monthly fee to use their service which ranges from $1 to $9 per month.4 The $1 plan includes a taxable investment account, a Stock-Back® card, access to a bank account, and personalized advice.6 The $3 per month plan adds the option to set up a Roth or traditional IRA and personalized retirement advice.1 The $9 per month plan adds custodial account options to invest on behalf of children, as well as premium research and advice.2
Read our Stash review for more details.
What all three investment platforms excel at
Robinhood, Acorns, and Stash all excel in a few key areas:
No minimum investment amount to get started
Some brokerage firms may require $3,000 as an account minimum just to start investing in a particular mutual fund. None of these three investing services requires you to put down a large initial investment. You could get started with just a few dollars.
Fractional share investing
Robinhood, Acorns, and Stash all allow you to buy fractional shares, either of individual stocks or in ETFs.5 The ability to buy partial shares of stock is key to allowing investors to get started without large sums of money. If you have $5, you could throw it into your account and invest it very quickly.
Keep costs relatively low for investors
None of the three firms charge commissions on trades and all three are fairly low-cost overall. While Acorns does charge $1 to $5 per month and Stash charges $1 to $9 per month4, depending on the plan you choose, these account fees aren’t going to eat up a significant portion of a larger portfolio. But these fees could have a negative impact for new investors that have a small initial balance.
7 important differences between Robinhood vs. Acorns vs. Stash
Though all three investing platforms share some fantastic features in common, they also differ significantly in key areas. Finding the right option for you depends on which service offers the unique features that meet your needs.
1. Investment options
A Robinhood account allows you to invest in stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrency. Stash allows you to invest in stocks and ETFs while Acorns provides only five prebuilt ETF portfolios to choose from.5
Robinhood is the only one of the three investing apps that helps you with how to buy cryptocurrency and allows you to invest in cryptocurrency as well as options. In particular, they offer Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrencies. If a wide range of investment opportunities is important to you, Robinhood wins this category.
2. Trading on margin
If you pay the $5 per month to upgrade to Robinhood Gold, you could invest with up to $1,000 of margin. Additional margin costs 2.5%. While this is an option you could take advantage of, trading with a margin account isn’t something everyone should do. It’s a risky endeavor that could result in large losses and only people with experience and a high risk tolerance should consider it.
Because Robinhood is the only company that offers this feature, they win this category. However, most investors probably won’t use this feature so it may not be a deciding factor for you.
3. Real-time trading
You could trade in real time with Robinhood, which is essential if you want to buy or sell an investment immediately. If bad news breaks about a company you’re considering buying, you might want to buy the stock quickly to take advantage of any temporary dip in the stock price.
Stash lets you invest in ETFs and stocks, but you don’t get to choose precisely when you make the purchases and sales.5 Instead, all trades are put into one of four daily trading windows. This discourages day trading, which is a good thing. Yet, it doesn’t give you complete control over your investments.
Acorns focuses on portfolio-based investing, so trading in real time isn’t a major issue. If you want to be able to control the timing on your trading, Robinhood is the clear winner.
4. Account type options
Acorns and Stash both allow you to open a retirement or custodial account.2 These options require paying for a higher monthly plan, but it may be worth the advantages each account type offers. Robinhood only offers taxable brokerage accounts. You can’t invest using a traditional IRA, Roth IRA, or custodial account.
If tax-advantaged retirement accounts and the option to set up investment accounts for your children is part of your long-term investment plans, Acorns and Stash are probably your best options. If you’re a business owner, Acorns has the better account options over Stash as Acorns offers a SEP IRA.
If you’re looking for a way to increase the amount of money you invest, the Round-Ups feature from either Acorns or Stash might be the answer. Both these companies allow you to link a payment card, round up your purchases, and invest the money from your funding account each time it adds up to $5. If you are interested in this type of automatic micro-investing, then you’d want to choose Acorns or Stash over Robinhood, which does not have this feature.
6. Monthly fees
Acorns charges users anywhere from $1 to $5 per month depending on the account level they choose. Similarly, Stash’s monthly fees range from $1 to $9 per month.4 These monthly fees won’t break the bank if you have $10,000 invested. But they will significantly reduce your returns if you’re only able to invest $10 or $20 per month initially.
Robinhood doesn’t charge monthly fees unless you sign up for Robinhood Gold’s $5 per month service. Most users won’t need this. For this reason, Robinhood wins the pricing category.
7. Stock-Back® card
Stash’s Stock-Back® debit card is a unique way to earn stock for making everyday purchases.8,7 You can earn stock in the companies where you make your purchases or, if stock isn’t available for that company, you earn shares of an ETF instead.
Unfortunately, you only earn 0.125% back or $0.01 per purchase, whichever is greater. When a standard cashback credit card with no annual fee could earn 2% cash back, using this card might not be the smartest choice for your finances.
Neither Robinhood nor Acorns offer Stock-Back®, but this difference isn’t a big deal with such a low earning rate.
Which investing app should you choose?
Choosing between Robinhood, Acorns, or Stash comes down to a few key decisions:
- What do you want to invest in? Based on your goals, you need to decide if you want to choose individual stocks, ETFs, options, or crypto. Robinhood is the only option for options and cryptocurrency. Acorns and Stash are the only options for prebuilt portfolios.
- What account types do you want access to? You should decide which types of accounts you want to open before picking a service. If you’re interested in a taxable brokerage account, all three companies offer that option. If you need a SEP IRA, Acorns is your only choice. Are you setting up custodial accounts for your children? Then you can narrow your decision to Acorns and Stash.
- Do you want a prebuilt portfolio or to choose your investments yourself? People who want a predetermined portfolio should consider Stash and Acorns. Investors who want to pick and choose investments could use either Robinhood or Stash depending on the type of assets they wish to buy.
- Do you want to try to time the market? Robinhood is the clear choice if having access to real-time stock trading is important to you.
- Do you care about specific features? If you’ve fallen in love with the idea of round-ups (Acorns and Stash) or the Stock-Back® debit card (Stash), you’re limited to the company that offers that particular feature.
Who Robinhood is best for
Robinhood could be a smart choice for people who want to pick their own investments and trade in real-time. It may not be a good fit for people who are learning to invest and who want help choosing a diversified portfolio.
Who Stash is best for
Stash could be a smart choice for people who want to pick their stocks and ETFs, but who also want access to a retirement account, such as a Roth IRA or Traditional IRA.9,1
Who Acorns is best for
An Acorns account could be a smart choice for new investors who want to invest in a diversified portfolio without choosing individual stocks. It is the only option for people who need access to a SEP IRA, as well.
Is it safe to invest with Robinhood, Acorns, or Stash?
Investing is inherently risky. If your investment’s value drops to zero, you could lose all your money. If you invest with a margin account, you can lose more than you invest.
You don’t have to worry about losing your earned investments if Robinhood, Acorns, or Stash go out of business. All three are SIPC insured, which means your investments are covered up to $500,000 if a brokerage fails. You are not covered if your investments decrease in value.
Which investing app is best for cryptocurrency?
Robinhood is the only app out of Robinhood, Acorns, and Stash that allows cryptocurrency trading.
Is Robinhood good for beginners?
Robinhood could be suitable for beginners who want to learn how to trade stocks and ETFs. It isn’t a good fit for people who prefer a robo-advisor service that automatically helps you invest in a diversified portfolio.
What’s the difference between Robinhood and Acorns?
Acorns focuses on helping new investors get started without worrying about picking individual stocks or ETFs. Robinhood targets customers who want more control over their investments and prefer active trading over long-term buy-and-hold strategies.
Acorns also offers round-ups, which could help you invest extra money without feeling a pinch by collecting your spare change. Robinhood doesn’t provide a similar feature.
Acorns allows you to choose taxable accounts, retirement accounts, or custodial accounts while Robinhood only supports taxable brokerage accounts.
What’s the difference between Robinhood and Stash?
Robinhood offers real-time trading in stocks, ETFs, options, and cryptocurrency while Stash only allows you to buy and sell stocks and ETFs during four trading windows per day. Robinhood offers more flexibility for trading, but Stash supports more account types, including retirement and custodial accounts.
Once you know the basics of how to invest money, then determining the best brokerage accounts or best investment apps just depends on your goals and your financial plan. Robinhood, Acorns, and Stash are all mobile apps that could help people invest with as little money as they have available to get started. Each company goes about this in different ways, but they’re all solid options you might consider signing up for.
Ultimately, you need to decide for yourself which company’s offerings would make a smart fit for your investment goals and personal finance needs.