Email FacebookTwitterMenu burgerClose thin

Robinhood vs. Acorns


Acorns and Robinhood are online investment tools both geared toward younger, newer investors, but they are still quite distinct. Acorns is a robo-advisor that helps people invest by automatically skimming the spare change off their digital purchases. This extra money is then invested according to the platform’s algorithms and recommendations, and the result is a set-it-and-forget-it portfolio. Robinhood is a streamlined platform designed to make investing as easy and comprehensible as possible.

If you’re looking for hands-on investment help, a financial advisor can guide you in putting together a financial plan.

Acorns vs. Robinhood: Fees

When it comes to online investment platforms, users should generally look out for four types of fees:

  • Trading fees: This can (relatively rarely) come in the form of a flat fee, or more often the broker will charge you what’s known as the “spread.” This is the difference, if any, between the buying and the selling price of an asset.
  • Trading commissions: This is when a broker will charge you a percentage of the trade based on the volume or value of each trade.
  • Inactivity fees: Any fees that the platform charges you for not trading, such as keeping money in your brokerage account for example.
  • Non-trading/Other fees: Any form of fee for trading on this platform not covered above. For example, a brokerage might charge you for making deposits into your brokerage account, taking money out of it or moving securities among platforms.

This is an area in which Robinhood has a modest advantage. Robinhood does not charge commissions or fees to open or maintain an account It’s free to put your money into and take it out and to move assets around within your account. 

However, you will pay a fee if you choose to trade on the margin, meaning with borrowed money, which carries an 11% margin interest rate. The platform also passes on regulatory transaction and trading activity fees to users. The main recurring fee that Robinhood charges is $5 per month to subscribe to Robinhood Gold, which allows margin trading at a reduced interest rate. As of April 2024, Gold subscribers earn 5% APY on idle cash.

Acorns, on the other hand, charges a monthly fee to use its service. For $3 per month you can enroll in Acorns Personal, which gives you an investment account with an pre-built portfolio, as well as a checking account and IRA. At $5 per month you can enroll in Acorns Personal Plus, which adds an emergency fund account that earns 5% APY as well as a 3% APY on your checking accounts. For $9 per month you can enroll in Acorns Premium, the platforms top tier service. Acorns Premium includes investment accounts for dependents, the ability to add individual stocks to your portfolio, among other bonus account features.

While a niche part of its service, Acorns also charges a very high fee to transfer securities out of its platform at $50 per ETF.

Acorns vs. Robinhood: Services and Features

Acorns makes a relatively novel pitch. Its service works as an automatic investor and advisor for users. You link Acorns with your financial accounts, such as your debit and credit cards. Every time you make a purchase the platform then rounds that spending up to the nearest dollar and invests the overage in your Acorns account. For example, if you buy a cup of coffee for $2.80, your credit card would show a $3 purchase and Acorns would deposit the extra $0.20 in your portfolio.

You can also invest manually, depositing money directly into your account.

Acorns invests your money into one of a handful of pre-built portfolios based on your risk tolerance and desire for growth. These portfolios range from conservative to aggressive. These portfolios are built with a weighted mix of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). These ETFs are selected based on how well they fit the portfolio’s risk and growth management strategy and automatically balanced by the platform.

The idea behind Acorns is simple: small contributions can grow into significant results over time. To achieve this goal, however, Acorns offers an extremely feature-limited platform. Only Acorns Premium subscribers select individual stocks to add to their portfolio. Otherwise, your money is locked into the automatically managed portfolio that you select, and that in turn invests exclusively in ETFs. This makes Acorns less of an investment tool than a financial management platform. Users hoping to manage their portfolio or make active investment decisions will be left frustrated, while those hoping for help managing with savings and investment may find much to offer.

However, Acorns does offer retirement accounts, banking and the ability to invest up to 5% of your portfolio into a Bitcoin-linked ETF.

Robinhood is a trading platform focused on its app (although it does offer a web presence as well). It is feature-limited and built around ease of use.

Through Robinhood users can trade a handful of the most popular assets on the market today: stocks, options, ETFs and American Depositary Receipts (ADRs). A section of Robinhood known as Robinhood crypto has recently expanded this offering to include cryptocurrency, as well.

Robinhood offers relatively few tools for managing your investments. Each asset is presented with a small set of data such as pricing history, trade volume and other related statistics and purchasing information. Assets are grouped by market sector (e.g. technology stocks) and you can quickly look up similarly situated products to invest in. Users can invest easily, making purchases from money they have uploaded to their Robinhood account or selling assets and distributing the money back there.

Acorns vs. Robinhood: Online and Mobile Experience

SmartAsset: Robinhood vs. Acorns

Both of these platforms are built around the concept of customer experience. Acorns offers a largely hands-off experience designed so that customers actually have to use it as little as possible. The app automatically rounds up your purchases and puts the overage into one of its handful of managed accounts. The whole process is designed to happen in the background of the user’s life. And this works to a very large extent.

In the app itself, Acorns is generally well designed for what it does. Accessing and managing your money is fairly easy and hassle-free, although as noted above there are fairly few options for management offered by the system. In truth, if you are actively using your Acorns account often enough for the mobile experience to matter, this is likely not the product for you.

Robinhood’s platform is also well designed for its intended purpose. Unlike Acorns, it is built around the concept of active investing, and the platform’s interface is designed with that in mind. It’s easy to pull up assets, and making trades is highly intuitive on the platform’s minimalist screens. This makes Robinhood highly accessible to new investors who may otherwise get lost in a sea of complex trading data.

Acorns suffers from a critical flaw in customer service. The platform offers nothing more than a help center with a variety of articles and pages designed to answer common questions. While this may be an appropriate model for a website or app developer, users who have their money invested may find it frustrating that they can’t simply get someone on the phone in case of a problem.

Robinhood, meanwhile, previously only offered an FAQ and email support. However, it appears to have since added 24-hour support for users with accounts.

Acorns vs. Robinhood: Who Should Use Them?

Acorns finds itself at an odd intersection of financial management and investment advice. In fact it’s best not to approach it as an investment product, because in that regard this platform is lacking. Offering nothing more than a handful of automatically managed accounts, Acorns has little to interest avid investors.

However, as a financial management tool, Acorns is potentially quite useful. Its system of rounding up your purchases to create a small, but steady, stream of investment capital is clever. It’s a good way to help new investors get into the market, particularly those who struggle to find the money. For young investors, ideally those at or around college age, this might be an excellent way to begin growing an early portfolio.

Just keep in mind that the platform’s monthly fees (most users will likely spend either $3 or $5 per month) can actually eat up a larger share of your portfolio than it seems, given that you’ll be investing a few dimes at a time.

Robinhood, on the other hand, is a poor choice for virtually any investor. The central selling point of Robinhood is that it makes investing easy. In fact, through an interface often designed to mimic app-based gameplay, Robinhood is out to make investing downright fun.

This is not a bad goal in and of itself. However, in doing so this platform creates a trading environment in which users are provided with very little information, yet prompted to take an ever-growing series of risks.

Robinhood seems poorly designed platform no matter what kind of investor you are. Experienced investors will find its streamlined interface wanting, and will quickly bump up against the limits of its information and trading tools. Novice investors may find the platform lacks the guardrails to deter high-risk trades. While Robinhood promises to make trading faster and easier for novices, this is the exact category of investor who should be slowing down and thinking their trades through.

Bottom Line

SmartAsset: Robinhood vs. Acorns

Both Acorns and Robinhood seem designed for younger, digitally native users. Robinhood is less costly to use. Acorns is basically an automatic investor and advisor so it may be more appealing to a less-active investors. Robinhood is an easy-to-use but feature-limited trading platform so it may be more appealing to an active investor. Both only offer users limited options for support.

Tips for Investing

  • If you want an expert to select and manage your investments, consider working with a financial advisor. Finding one doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • One of the most convenient digital resources for investors is a free, easy-to-use investment calculator.

Photo credit: ©, ©, ©