Betterment is a popular online investment service that simplifies the investing process, using advanced computer software to help users save for retirement and other financial goals. Betterment allows investors to pick an investment portfolio (a mix of investments) that fits their preferences, and will manage it for them. If investors want to speak with a financial advisor, Betterment Premium service gives users access to a CFP® for 1-on-1 financial advice.
Acorns is a financial app that allows users to invest their spare change by rounding up purchases. Acorns also offers a bank account, as well as cash back rewards for shopping online through the Acorns app or Chrome extension.
Both Betterment and Acorns are designed to help beginners start investing. We’ve compared both Betterment’s and Acorns’ robo advisory services, breaking down the pricing, investment options, security, and user experience of each.
Betterment vs Acorns Overview
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Betterment is a robo advisory service that uses software-based investment strategies to help users invest their money. There are no account minimums, which makes it a good option for beginners, and it charges a reasonable 0.25% management fee for the Betterment Digital service. It also offers advanced tax-efficient investing options, as well as socially-responsible investing (SRI) portfolios for those who want to invest in socially and environmentally focused investments.
Betterment offers an intuitive mobile app that allows investors to monitor their finances from their mobile device. For those that want to speak to a licensed financial advisor, Betterment offers access to Certified Financial PlannersTM (CFPs®) with the Betterment Premium service. This service charges a 0.40% annual fee, and allows investors to speak with human advisors to have their financial questions answered, as well as creating a custom financial plan for their investments.
- Note: Betterment Premium requires a $100,000 minimum investment amount.
Acorns is an investing app and robo-advisor that allows users to invest small amounts by rounding up purchases to the nearest dollar. These “round-up” amounts are then transferred to Acorns from a linked checking account. Once the rounded up change amounts to $5 or more, the funds are invested into the user’s investment portfolio. Users also have the ability to set up a recurring investment into the portfolio.
In addition, Acorns offers a bank account with a debit card and reimbursed ATM fees. Users can invest in a range of low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which Acorns uses to build investment portfolios, ranging from conservative to aggressive.
There are two levels of service available:
Acorns Personal: For $3 per month, users can open a brokerage account, individual retirement account (IRA), and checking account with a debit card.
Acorns Family: For $5 per month, users get access to everything from Acorns Personal, plus the ability for parents to open kids’ investment accounts (as a custodian).
Main Features of Betterment vs Acorns
Both Betterment and Acorns are designed to make investing easy. They both offer intuitive mobile apps, and both allow users to set up recurring investments for a “set-it and forget-it” approach to investing. Here are a few more of the standout features of each platform.
Acorns Round-Up Feature
Acorns is best-known for its round-up feature, which rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar, and then transfers the difference from a linked checking account. Once the balance of these transfers reaches $5, the funds will be invested. They have coined this “micro-investing,” helping users invest small amounts of money that are hardly noticeable.
- Note: Users can link a debit or credit card to round-up purchases, but funds can only be transferred from a linked checking account.
Acorns Kids’ Investing Accounts (UTMA/UGMA)
With the Acorns Family plan, users can open investing accounts for their kids. These UTMA/UGMA custodial investing accounts are similar to standard Acorns’ investing accounts, with access to the same ETFs and investment options, but they are also transferable to the child once they turn 18 years old. This is a great way for kids to start investing small amounts and build a habit of saving money.
- Note: UTMA/UGMA accounts may reduce a child’s eligibility for financial aid, such as student loans or grants. We recommend consulting with a financial professional before opening a custodial account for your child.
Acorns has partnered with over 12,000 online retailers to offer cash back when you use the Acorns Earn Chrome extension. This extension allows users to earn bonuses while shopping online, and the cash back bonus is deposited into a user’s Acorns account. As with the round-up feature, once the cash back balance reaches $5, it is invested.
Acorns also offers rewards for shopping at partner retailers or finding a job through the Acorns mobile app. This helps users turn cash back rewards into investments, directly from the Acorns app.
You can also receive a $10 sign-up bonus from Acorns. Get your $10 bonus here.
Betterment Tax Optimization
Betterment gives users a few different ways to save on taxes while investing. It offers tax-loss harvesting, which lowers the capital gains taxes for investors with taxable (non-retirement) investment accounts. For users with both standard and retirement investment accounts, Betterment places funds that produce more taxes into tax-advantaged accounts, such as an individual retirement account (IRA). Betterment also offers a “tax impact preview” tool that shows users the possible taxes owed for any buying or selling within their investment portfolio.
Betterment Investment and Portfolio Options
Betterment offers access to a large selection of low-cost ETFs in 14 different asset classes, which makes up each investment portfolio. This allows users to build a diversified investment portfolio. Here are the portfolios offered by Betterment:
- Betterment Core - Offers a mix of stock and bond ETFs
- Goldman Sachs Smart Beta - This portfolio is designed to attempt beating the stock market
- Blackrock Target Income - 100% bond investments designed as an income-producing portfolio for retirees
- Betterment Cash - Not an investment portfolio but a high-yield savings account
Betterment also offers 3 different SRI Portfolios to choose from:
- Broad Impact - Stock portfolio of ETFs that have high ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) ratings
- Climate Impact - Climate-conscious ETFs with low carbon footprint
- Social Impact - Two ETFs (NACP and SHE) supporting minority empowerment and gender diversity
Betterment Access to Financial Advisors
Betterment offers several ways to access a CFP® as part of its service. If you’re a Betterment Digital customer, you can book a consultation with a CFP® for a flat fee. The cost is $299 for a 45-minute consultation, and $399 for a 60-minute consultation.
If you’re a Betterment Premium customer, for a 0.40% annual fee, you’ll get unlimited access to a team of CFPs®, via phone or video calls. This option is great for investors that want help building a custom financial plan for their lifestyle and needs. Betterment Premium requires a minimum $100,000 investment portfolio.
Who Betterment Is Best For
Betterment is ideal for beginner investors that want access to a wide range of investing options and tools for a low annual cost. Betterment’s goal-based mobile app, tax optimized investing strategies, and selection of investing portfolios make Betterment one of the best robo-advisors on the market today.
For those with $100,000 to invest (or more), Betterment Premium is a good option to gain access to CFPs® for one-on-one investing advice. While the fee is higher than Betterment Digital, paying 0.40% for access to human advisors is a relatively low cost.
Overall, Betterment Digital is a great option for beginner investors that want an investment service to take care of the details for them, and Betterment Premium is a good option for investors with larger account balances that want unlimited access to human advisors.
Want more? Check out our full Betterment Robo Advisor Review.
Who Acorns Is Best For
Acorns is ideal for new investors that want to invest small amounts of money without having to personally choose the investments. Acorns offers simple investment portfolio options, and the spare change is invested according to a user’s investment portfolio.
Acorns also offers full banking services, such as a checking account, rewards debit card, and access to free ATMs around the country. Acorns is also a good option for investors that love cash back rewards, but want those rewards invested. The free $10 from Acorns to get started doesn't hurt either.
Want more? Check out our full Acorns Review.
Both Betterment and Acorns help beginners start investing with a small amount of money, offering no account minimums and the ability to set up recurring investments. Both also help investors choose a diversified investment portfolio of ETFs, helping them invest toward long-term goals.
While Betterment offers far more advanced investing tools, such as tax-loss harvesting and multiple portfolio options, Acorns allows users to gamify investing by rounding up purchases and investing the spare change. Betterment does offer a better value for those with lower investment balances, as the Acorns flat fee may end up costing more. But both services encourage beginners to invest regularly, which is ultimately a win for everyone.
My personal choice between these two companies is Betterment. With goal-based planning, automated investment management, multiple ways to save on taxes, and access to financial planners for Premium users, Betterment is one of the best all-around robo-advisor services.
When to choose Betterment
- You prefer a wide selection of portfolio options
- You want access to tax-loss harvesting
- You want a fully-managed portfolio
- You want access to ETFs in over a dozen asset classes
- You want access to human advisors
When to choose Acorns
- You want to start investing in small amounts
- You prefer gamifying your investments
- You prefer a flat-fee for your investment service
- You want access to discounts and rewards
Looking for the best robo advisors? Check out our complete guide: The 13 Best Robo Advisors