Acorns allows students to begin investing

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By Joe Longo

Acorns, a free mobile app, allows users to make micro-investments by automatically investing their spare change in the stock market.

The startup requires users to link their credit cards to the application. If a user buys a coffee for $2.75, the app rounds up to $3 and takes the remaining $.25 and invests it. Instead of singular large lump sums, the app targets constant small round-ups.JT

Launched in 2014 by Walter and Jeff Cruttenden, Acorns currently manages over 650,000 investment accounts said Taylor Dance, Acorns business developer.JT

“People generally associate investing with lots of dollars. Once people find out you can invest spare change, it becomes a very attractive concept,” said Dance. “It gives you the power to grow your investment with small frequent micro-investment.”

While Acorns is now available on web, Android and iOS platforms, it initially started as a mobile app.

“We were mobile first, because that is the way of the future,” Dance said. “It is accessible to anyone, anytime and easy to use.”

Seventy percent of people who invest with Acorns are under the age of 35.JT

Kathy Sweedler, a financial planning educator for the University of Illinois ExtensionJT, said while spare-change investing is not a new concept, the idea of mobile-first investing is.

“The thing about (Acorns) that has made investing — and really all areas of financial planning— so much better for people is it’s right there,” Sweedler said. “You can look at it frequently and get up-to-date information. That is extremely powerful.”

But, instant access can have a detrimental impact to the uninformed investor. Sweedler said she has noticed that Acorns investors, who have easy access to monitoring their ventures, quickly pull out and take a loss when their investment dips, even if only slightly.

“We want to invest for the long term. The market has volatility,” Sweedler said. “It is a given. Sometimes with our (investments,) we don’t want to be looking at it too much.”

Acorns focuses on spare-change roundups but Dance said the company provides a variety of options including recurring investments and lump sums. Acorns lets new users base investment plans on one of five portfolios, which were developed by Nobel-Prize-winning economist Harry Markowitz.JT

Because college students make up the majority of their clientele, Acorns offers free accounts to students who register with a university email. The remainder of their users pay a monthly $1 fee for investments under $5,000. When investments exceed $5,000, fees account to` 0.25% of their yearly investment.JT

For kinesiology freshman Gabby SchweitzerJT, being a college student with a tight budget leaves her reluctant to embrace round-up investing as a whole.

Sweedler said looking at the rates of fees is crucial to weighing investment opportunities.

“Fees come back to that small amounts really add up. You have to look at it both directions,” Sweedler said. “It’s really good when you’re trying to start investing to compare fees across different opportunities. Sometimes you might pay a fee in order to start investing without too much money.”

Regardless of the route toward investing, Sweedler said she encourages college students to openly discuss financial planning.

“Being informed, gathering information and asking for help — those are the steps people need to think about,” Sweedler said. “Then they can come up with a financial plan.”

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