If you are reading this, congratulations! You’ve already taken the first step towards diving into the world of investing.

Getting started can definitely be daunting. Even if you’ve decided you want to try your hand at investing, a look into the numerous trading platforms could make you shy away.

But don’t let that discourage you! There are plenty of cheap and effective ways for college students to invest. Below, I highlight three potential investing platforms to meet your needs as a typical college student.


Robinhood

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Pros
  • Lots of individual control over investments
  • No fees
  • No minimum investing amount

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Cons
  • No management assistant/stock suggestions
  • An emphasis on picking individual stocks

Robinhood is my personal favorite investing app to use for one simple reason: It is completely free. While some investing platforms have management fees, transaction fees or minimum account balances, Robinhood is free and easy to use with any initial investment amount.

Robinhood also provides you with by far the most customization options of any of these investing platforms. You can pick individual stocks or invest in index funds like on any other platform. If you like having a personal stake in your investments (i.e. picking what stocks are a part of your portfolio), Robinhood is a good place to start.

There are a couple of potential downsides. Notably, if you’re not super comfortable with the stock market and do not like the idea of picking your own investments, Robinhood doesn’t have an automated management function, and it doesn’t really provide suggestions for how beginners should start their portfolio. The emphasis on picking individual stocks exposes you to more risk than if you were to go with a traditional, more diversified investment portfolio.

Acorns

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Pros
  • Extremely passive investing structure
  • Effective way to slowly, but steadily, grow your portfolio
  • Minimum balance of only $5
  • Balanced portfolios
  • Management fees waived for college students (for accounts up to $5,000 in value)

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Cons
  • Be wary of the round-ups feature
  • Lack of individual control

I just started using Acorns in early August of 2018, and I really like its novel approach to building an investment portfolio. The primary feature of the Acorns app is the ability to “round-up” purchases on your credit or debit card and invest the difference.

For example, if you bought a coffee from Starbucks for $3.50, the Acorns app would round up your purchase to $4.00 and invest the remaining 50 cents into your account. You set up your portfolio with a minimum investment of $5, then you can enable the round-ups feature (which automatically invests your round-ups when they total $5) and regularly scheduled deposits (such as $10 every week). This method of investing is a great way to slowly build your investing profile without ever having to think about it. Since the app automatically invests your money using Acorns’ own algorithm, you will always have a balanced portfolio.

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Unlike Robinhood, there is a $1 monthly management fee for accounts with a balance lower than $5,000, but this fee is waived for college students! If you sign up for an account, be sure to use your WKU student email address.

The biggest concern with Acorns is that if you use the round-ups feature, you must be vigilant about the amount of money you keep in your checking account. After using the app for only three weeks, my roundups totaled roughly $19 which was automatically withdrawn from my bank account (of course, this depends on your own individual spending habits). When using Acorns, be sure to maintain a decent sized bank balance so you avoid overdraft fees.

 

Wealthfront

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Pros

  • Free questionnaire to match your investing style with one of 20 portfolio structures
  • Robo-advisers offer a passive investing structure
  • Free management for accounts up to $10,000 in value

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Cons

  • $500 account minimum
  • Lack of individual control

Wealthfront is the most traditional investing platform of these three. The first thing you do when setting up an account is fill out a questionnaire to determine your investing goals, risk tolerance and how long you plan to hold your investments. After this questionnaire, Wealthfront sets you up with one of 20 recommended investment portfolio structures, which you can adjust to your liking. Another benefit of Wealthfront is there are no management fees for accounts with a value of under $10,000.

While you can utilize Robinhood and Acorns with virtually any investment amount, Wealthfront requires an initial deposit of at least $500. This is typical among traditional investing platforms, especially those with robo-advisers that attempt to balance your portfolio for you. Similar to Acorns, your control over individual investments is limited.


Each of these investing platforms has strong merits, so ultimately it comes down to your own individual investing style. If you prefer to have more individual control over your investments and learn more about the stock market, Robinhood might be the best way to start. If you are looking for a passive way to start investing without much money up front, Acorns is probably the best fit. Finally, if you have a bit more money to invest and want a more traditional investing experience, you can’t go wrong with looking into Wealthfront.

Good luck and happy investing!



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