Micro-Investing: How You Can Start Investing With as Little as $5


Reviewed by Molly Moorhead, CFP®
A man uses a magnifying glass to look at the stock market while holding a money coin in this illustration.
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Myth: You need lots of money to start investing.

Micro-investing apps are giving everyday people access to the stock market for as little as $5.

Micro-investing allows you to start small — really small. Apps like Acorns and Stash work by transferring small sums of money from your bank account to a diversified portfolio.

Research shows that these tiny money moves can really add up.

According to a recent consumer study by Cornerstone Advisors, saving and investing apps like Acorns, Digit and Qapital helped consumers save an average of $600 a year above their standard level of savings — and one in five users saved more than $1,000.

Is a micro-investment app right for you? The answer depends on your financial goals and income.

What Is Micro-Investing?

Micro-investing allows you to automatically allocate small amounts of money into a portfolio of stocks and bonds — even if you know nothing about investing.

This fintech term applies to a handful of mobile-based platforms that make investing easy and painless.

Here are a few common features these micro-investing apps share:

  • The ability to set up recurring transfers from your bank account to your investment account.
  • The option to round up purchases and sweep the spare change into your investment account.
  • Robo-advisors that select a portfolio of diversified investments tailored to your goals and risk tolerance.
  • Fractional shares of stocks, which allows you to start investing with $5 or less.
  • A flat monthly fee for services or a fee equal to a percentage of your account balance.
  • Educational resources that teach you about personal finance.

Micro-investing can be a good option if you’re tight on extra cash or you’re new to investing and not sure where to start.

You can customize how much money you invest and how often — putting you in the driver’s seat. These apps also remove some of the barriers of traditional brokerage accounts, such as account minimums and trading fees.

“Micro-investing apps lower the cost of entry, which opens up investment opportunities to a wider audience,” said Summer Red, a financial advisor and education manager at the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education. “Investing is complex, and the best way to learn about it is to actually invest.”

You can use a micro-investing app like training wheels to support you as you begin your investing journey.

Or you can use it as a second emergency fund or as an auxiliary account to save for a mid-term goal, like buying a home.

Still, most financial advisors agree these apps should be just one small (some might even say micro) piece of your long-term financial picture. They aren’t intended to replace your emergency fund or make you a millionaire.

You’re going to need to do more than round-up your Uber Eats orders to save enough money for retirement.

How Micro-Investing Platforms Work

Here’s what to expect once you dive into micro-investing.

Where Is My Money Invested?

After you download a micro-investing app and create an account, you’ll need to link a debit card or bank account.

You’ll also be prompted to complete a survey designed to determine your risk tolerance and financial goals.

From there, many apps select a pre-made portfolio where your money gets invested. You can usually choose a different portfolio if you disagree with the algorithm but you may not be able to select individual stocks or other assets.

In this way, micro-investing apps also work like robo-advisors or online brokers that use advanced software to invest money and manage your portfolio.

Portfolios are most often comprised of exchange-traded funds, or ETFs. ETFs bundle many different investments into one fund, giving you exposure to hundreds of stocks (and/or bonds) with a single purchase.

Exchange-traded funds provide instant diversification, and are considered less risky than investing in individual stocks. They’re similar to mutual funds in that respect, but at a much lower cost.

From there, you can customize how much money you want to invest and how often.

How Does Rounding Up Work in a Micro-Investing App?

Several micro-investing apps work by rounding your purchases to the nearest dollar before tucking the difference into your investment account.

So, if you spend $10.35 on Amazon, you’ll actually get charged $11 and the app will set aside 65 cents.

Once your round-ups total a certain amount (usually $5 or more), the app transfers the spare change to your personal investment account.

Round-ups are an attractive option for new investors because they’re simple, easy and automatic.

According to Acorns, users invest about $30 a month, or $360 a year, with the app’s Round-Up feature. If you’re new to investing, $360 in the stock market is a step in the right direction.

Recurring Transfers, Retirement Accounts and Other Features

Every app also lets you set up recurring transfers from your checking or savings account on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. You can enable this automated investing feature in addition to spare change round-ups so your money grows even faster.

For example, you can set your account to automatically withdraw $20 a week from your bank.

Investing a fixed amount of money each week or month plays into a key investing strategy known as dollar cost averaging.

By making regular, fixed-amount investments, you average out the roller coaster highs and lows of the stock market. You end up buying more when the price is low and less when the price is high.

Some investment apps also give users the option to put money into sustainable portfolios that align with your social or environmental views. You can make some green while supporting green companies, a nice plus for many Millennial and Gen Z investors.

Finally, these apps offer other services, such as access to a financial advisor or a tax-advantaged retirement account — but you’ll pay more for these features.

Most apps automatically invest you in a taxable brokerage account, but for a couple bucks more a month, you can opt for a Roth or traditional individual retirement account (IRA).

Retirement accounts come with special perks from the federal government, like a deduction on your yearly tax bill. But it’s important to learn about IRS early withdrawal penalties and other restrictions before opening an IRA.


Pros
  • Easy to use
  • Safe
  • Diversification
  • Low minimum deposits
  • Educational tools

Cons
  • Miss out on retirement plan tax perks
  • Account fees
  • Limited investment choices
  • Not enough to reach retirement goals

Pros and Cons of Micro-Investing

If you’re not investing already, the first step is always the hardest. Micro-investing apps make the process less intimidating and stressful for beginners.

“They’ve changed the format and experience so it’s much easier to get started than it was with old-fashioned investment companies,” said Justin Chidester, a certified financial planner and owner of the fee-only firm Wealth Mode Financial Planning in Logan, Utah.

Realistically, these apps can help you set aside a few hundred dollars a year — no small feat if you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck.

But over time, Chidester and other experts say you should adopt a more robust investing strategy by stepping up your 401(k) contributions at work and speaking with a financial advisor about retirement planning.

Pros of Micro-Investing

Easy to Use

You do everything else on your phone — why not start investing? Micro-investing apps feature easy-to-use interfaces that make it super simple to round up your purchases and manage your account.

Safe

Apps like Acorns use multiple security features, including encryption, secure servers and alerts about unusual activity to keep your money safe. Stick with well-known apps from companies registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Diversification

Buying individual stocks as a newbie can be risky. Diversification and asset allocation are the easiest ways to mitigate risk, and micro-investors do a great job at this by spreading your money across broad-based ETFs.

Low Minimum Deposits

ETFs can cost hundreds of dollars per share. But these apps get you started with an initial investment of $5 or less. How? By purchasing fractional shares of ETFs, which isn’t possible at many traditional brokerage firms. This gets you invested quickly — even if you can’t afford to purchase an entire share at first.

Educational Tools

These apps provide lots of educational resources and financial and investment advice for beginning investors, from definitions of financial lingo to daily market commentary. They hammer home the importance of investing for the long haul. If you’re trying to boost your financial literacy know-how, definitely read up and take advantage of these free resources.

Micro-investing apps are a great place to start, but most financial advisors agree that you shouldn’t stop there.

“Something that invests a few dollars a month for you isn’t going to make you rich,” Chidester told The Penny Hoarder. “You’re never going to be able to save for retirement unless you intentionally invest a higher and consistent amount of money.”

Cons of Micro-Investing Apps

Miss Out on Retirement Plan Tax Perks — or Pay More

Since most micro-investing apps offer taxable investment accounts, you won’t get the sweet tax perks of retirement savings plans like a 401(k). While apps like Acorns and Stash offer the choice to open an IRA, you’ll pay more, usually $3 a month.

Paying $36 a year to access an IRA is a pretty lousy deal. More robust robo-advisors like Betterment offer IRA access for a yearly charge of 0.25%, or just $2.50 per every $1,000 invested.

Account Fees

Account fees for these apps vary widely. Some charge a flat amount for basic service, like $3 a month, while others charge a small percentage of your portfolio balance.

A micro-investing app may feature free trades until your account reaches a certain amount, such as $5,000. Most will offer additional services, like access to a checking account, for a higher monthly fee of $5 or $9.

This may not seem like much, but it adds up. For example, a monthly $3 charge equals 36% in fees each year if you only have $100 in your account. Meanwhile, most brokerage services, like Robinhood, offer free trades and no monthly fees.

Limited Investment Choices

As you learn more about investing, you might want to DIY your portfolio or add specific assets. Unfortunately, micro-apps don’t provide much wiggle room as your investment strategy evolves.

Some apps won’t let you invest in cryptocurrency, and you may not be able to pick individual stocks. Many apps also lack access to professional investment advisory services.

Not Enough to Reach Retirement Goals

Micro-investments often lead to micro results. Meanwhile, retirement is really expensive: According to Fidelity Investments, you should aim to retire with about 10 times your current income banked.

So, if you make $50,000 a year, you’ll need at least $500,000 in retirement savings by the time you stop working. You can round up your Starbucks purchases for 30 years — and still fall miserably short of your retirement nest egg goal.

How to Start Micro-Investing

Thanks to technology, entering the investing world is as easy as doing some research and downloading an app.

But here’s a quick rundown of a few of the best micro-investing apps on the market.

Acorns

Acorns lets you invest your spare change through a linked debit card and/or make recurring deposits to your account. This investing app works as a robo-advisor by creating a portfolio tailored to your goals and risk tolerance. Accounts cost $3 to $5 a month.

Stash

Stash offers many of the same perks as Acorns, including round-ups, fractional shares, recurring deposits and the option to open an IRA. However, this investing app also allows a user to tweak their investment portfolio, with more than 3,000 ETFs and individual stocks available. Monthly fees range from $3 to $9.

Public

Public lets you buy fractional shares of companies, and offers “themes” of stocks, such as health care and tech companies. This investing app also incorporates a social media-like feed, letting users keep track of other users’ stock portfolios. Public is a free app with no membership or commission fees.

See Also: Best Micro Investing Apps

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Is Micro-Investing?

Micro-investing works by saving small amounts of money and consistently investing it into a portfolio of ETFs or fractional shares of individual stocks.

Is Micro-Investing a Good Idea?

It depends. Micro-investing can be a fit for new investors who want an easy, relatively hands-off approach to growing their cash. It’s not a great option for more experienced investors seeking customization or crafting a long-term retirement strategy. 

And investment advice on an app isn’t the same as investment advice from a financial professional.

What Is a Micro-Investing Platform?

Micro-investing platforms are apps that let users contribute small sums of money — as little as a few dollars — to a brokerage account. By connecting a debit card, a micro-investing platform can round up your purchases or make automatic transfers on your behalf.

Rachel Christian is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.