4 Radically Simple Places to Invest Your Money

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Knowing how to invest money in the financial markets can be confusing because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

Everyone’s financial situation is different. We all have different goals, amounts to invest, tolerance for risk and knowledge about investing.  

But before you get to how to invest, you need to choose a place to actually open your investing account. In this post, I’ll give you my favorite radically simple and innovative places to invest money right now.

You can use these recommendations no matter if you have lots of extra money to invest, or can only afford to set aside a few dollars each month.

4 Radically Simple Places to Invest Your Money

If you’re fortunate enough to have a retirement plan at work, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), your employer is in charge of it. That means you’re stuck with the brokerage and plan they choose.

Although you’re not in control, this is still the first place you should invest, when possible. That’s because it comes with terrific tax advantages and perhaps employer matching, to boot.

But when you don’t have access to a workplace plan, or you’re maxed out and still have extra to set aside, you need other places to invest your money.

There are many great investment firms and brokerages. Some of the biggest and well-known companies are Vanguard, Fidelity and Charles Schwab.

But just because a firm tops the charts doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for you — especially if you don’t actually use it.

Here are four radically simple places to make your money grow.

1. Acorns

Acorns is a free mobile app, which will also be a web-based application soon. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, because it allows you to automatically invest your digital spare change.

What’s digital spare change? Well, you give Acorns permission to round up your purchases on debit or credit cards and then invest the difference by automatically pulling it out of your bank checking account.

For instance, let’s say you link up a credit card and charge $12.25. Acorns would round up to $13.00 and know that you need to invest the difference of $0.75. Once you’ve accumulated at least $5 in total spare change, Acorns automatically takes it out of your checking account and invests it.

You can link up as many debit and credit cards as you like. Then you pick one of Acorn’s five investment portfolios, ranging from conservative to aggressive. Each one is made up of six exchange-traded funds (ETFs) selected to achieve the portfolio objective.

To get started investing with Acorns, all you need is $5. Then they charge $1 per month for balances under $5,000 or 0.25% per year for balances over $5,000.

I’ve been using Acorns for several months and my virtual spare change totals about $40 a month. According to their calculator, if I maintain a moderate portfolio for 20 years, my change will be worth over $20,000.

That’s certainly not enough to retire on, but it’s a terrific reward for using a free app, and an easy way to set aside a little over a dollar a day for the future, without even thinking about it.

I don’t recommend that you only use Acorns to invest. However, if you’re struggling to get started, it’s an incredibly easy and painless option! And even if you’re already a pro at saving and investing, using the Acorns app is actually fun.

2. Betterment

If you’ve been a long-time Money Girl reader or podcast listener, you know that Betterment is a frequent sponsor. But what you may not know is that I became a customer and a huge Betterment fan several years earlier.

Betterment’s founder, Jon Stein, and his great team have built an easy and efficient way to invest for any goal. It’s a one-stop shop where you can open a regular investing account or an IRA, including a rollover from an old workplace retirement plan.

It takes less than five minutes to set up a Betterment account, and you can get started for as little as $100. Their fees depend on your account balance, but as long as you have an automatic monthly deposit set up, it won’t be more than 0.35% per year.

To pick your portfolio, Betterment gives you simple slider to indicate how you feel about investment risk. Then your money is automatically allocated across a suitable portfolio of low-cost ETFs that are right for you, no matter if you’re very conservative or aggressive.

What I really like about Betterment is that each investment objective starts with a goal where you identity what you’re saving for — such as retirement, a home or a vacation — and when you want to achieve it. Then they make recommendations to help you get there.

You can set up automatic transfers so you get in the habit of investing on a regular basis. Betterment also has a great mobile app, so you can keep up with your investing progress on the go.

3. Aspiration

One of the most unusual ways to invest is through a new company called Aspiration. They launched in late 2014 with the goal of bringing middle class investors sophisticated products that were previously only available to investors with super-high net worth.

Their first product, the Aspiration Flagship Fund, is a blend of mutual funds designed to grow your money over the long term, while also limiting volatility along the way.

It uses a variety of advanced strategies to try to make money no matter if the stock market is moving up or heading down. It also watches global trends and corporate moves, in order to make profits.  

You need $500 to get started with Aspiration, but unlike most firms, they also have a maximum investment of $100,000 — so they stay focused on everyday investors. They don’t have any retirement account options right now, just a regular taxable account.

Something else that’s different about Aspiration is instead of charging a flat fee to manage your money, they charge a “pay what is fair” fee schedule. You actually get to decide what to pay them — even zero!

Aspiration believes letting you decide what to pay helps build trust. And if that weren’t generous enough, they also give away 10% of their revenue to charities in the U.S.

4. FutureAdvisor

FutureAdvisor is an online investment advisor that manages investments you already own, or new ones that you purchase through them, such as regular brokerage account or an IRA.

Their goal is to provide quality financial advice to ordinary Americans. They offer complete, top-tier portfolio management based on unbiased advice, diversification, tax-efficiency and low-cost index funds.

Think of FutureAdvisor as a management layer you add over your existing accounts to help you maximize return. They use computer modeling to analyze your investments, and then recommend the best way to allocate your money.

They work through two well-known brokerage houses: Fidelity and TD Ameritrade. So if you have accounts at other places, FutureAdvisor does the paperwork to consolidate your investments there. You’ll pay a 0.5% annual fee for the investments they manage.

The Best Place to Invest Money

The place(s) you choose to invest money will affect your customer experience, investment options, amount and quality of advice you can get, and fees you have to pay.

You’re not limited to one type of investing account or service. For instance, you could have a retirement plan at work, open up an IRA with Betterment or FutureAdvisor and have a regular investing account through Acorns or Aspiration.

You can max out both a retirement plan at work and an IRA every year. However, depending on your income, you might not get 100% of the tax benefit for an IRA when you or your spouse also have a retirement plan at work.

But no matter your situation, you can always invest any amount of money in a taxable investing account, in addition to what you contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement account.

As I mentioned, these recommendations are just a few of the many places to invest. But I hope they give you some ideas and inspiration about how simple investing really can be!

So get started by doing some research, and using at least one of them to achieve your short- or long-term financial goals this year.

Your Turn: Do you use any apps to help you invest? Will you be trying any of these tools?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

This post originally appeared at Quick and Dirty Tips, a network of podcasts and digital content offering short, actionable advice from friendly and informed authorities. Laura Adams, host of the free Money Girl podcast, is a personal finance expert and award-winning author.