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If you’re a regular reader of this website, then you’ve got to know my opinions on investing by this point: Everyone should be doing it, and the sooner you can get started, the better. College students and recent graduates especially should start putting their money to work as soon as possible to help them reach their financial goals.
But where exactly should newbie investors turn to get started? You’ve got a lot of options (you can check out a whole list of different investment options here) but I’ve gotta be honest: Building your own portfolio from scratch and watching the market for buying opportunities can be intimidating for beginners. That’s why I typically don’t recommend that beginner investors open a brokerage account or anything like that. Instead, I think it’s smarter to start testing the waters by using an investment app that makes the whole process easy and straightforward.
Want to learn the basics of investing? Check out our guide to the essential investment terms and definitions for beginners!
Acorns is one investment app that I personally use and love: It’s really easy to use and offers a lot of opportunities to earn money. (You should check out my complete review of Acorns here to learn more.) But I’ll admit, you don’t have a lot of control over the kinds of companies that your money gets invested in. That makes it good for absolute beginners who don’t want to build their own portfolio, but makes it not so good for those who want a little more control.
If you’re looking for an investment app that is easy to use, doesn’t require a lot of money to get started, and gives you a bit more control to build your own portfolio of investments, the Stash investment app might be a great place to start.
Before we dive into the specifics about Stash, though, I just want to say that if you read this article, click on the link that I provide to sign up for Stash, and do actually sign up for the service, I do earn a little bit of money. Specifically, I earn $5 that will be deposited directly into my Stash account. But the awesome thing is, you’ll get $5 too!
This might seem like it’s incentive for me to talk up the app just to get people to sign up, but that’s honestly not the case. I wrote this article because I believe that Stash is a.) a great service, b.) a great way for college students to start investing, and c.) an easy way to mindlessly start saving and investing money.
Now that we’ve got that little bit of awkwardness out of the way, we can dive into the meat of the article: Namely, what is Stash, and how does it work?
What is Stash? How does Stash work?
Stash is an investment app that was created with the idea that it shouldn’t take a lot of money for people to begin investing and saving for their future.
Time is the single most important and powerful tool that we have when it comes to growing our money, and waiting until we have a lot of extra cash to start investing is a surefire way to squander that time. That’s why Stash was designed to let you start investing with as little as $5.
Even if you don’t want to invest, but want to start saving money, you can do that with Stash. Money transferred from your checking account into you Stash savings account will earn .55% interest. That’s lower than some other online banks like Ally, but a whole lot higher than you’d get in your typical checking or savings account.
The app was built using a feature called “Auto-Stash” that helps to make investing and saving automatic and easy. By automating your investing and saving, you no longer have to make the conscious decision to move your money around.
- To Save: Just choose an amount you’d like to save ($5, $25, $50, or $100 per week) and Stash will automatically transfer your funds without you needing to think about it.
- To Invest: Once you select a portfolio that you want to invest in (more on those below) you can either make a one-time investment, or you can set up a weekly recurring investment.
Plus, the app is incredibly cheap to use. Your first month using Stash is free, so you can test the waters and see if it’s something you like. After that, you’ll pay just $1/month for accounts up to $5,000.
Once your account surpasses $5,000, you’ll pay 0.25% of your account’s value every year as a fee—an incredibly low fee in the world of investing. To put that in perspective: For accounts of $5,000, that equals $12.50/year, or $1.04/month.
What’s the sign-up process like?
Signing up for Stash is incredibly easy, and takes only about 5 minutes (or less) to do.
When you first start, the app will ask you a number of questions. These questions are designed to a.) get you thinking about your investment goals and b.) so that they can recommend a specific diversified portfolio to you that you can use to reach your financial goals. (Whether you decide to invest in the portfolio they recommend is completely up to you.
The first question they ask is about your risk tolerance. How much volatility are you able to stomach in your investments? Do you plan on investing conservatively, moderately, or aggressively?
Stash then asks you a number of questions regarding your employment status (are you a student, unemployed, employed, or retired?), your income, and your net worth. These questions are designed to help figure out how much money you may be able to invest, and can also speak to your risk tolerance.
Then Stash will ask you about your investment timeline: When you think you’ll need to use the money that you save and invest. Your answer to this question will play heavily into your investment strategy, as money you’ll need in the short term should be kept relatively low-risk (mostly in savings or low-risk investments) while money that won’t be needed for a long time can be in riskier investments (stocks).
After you’ve answered these questions about your investment style, Stash will need to verify your identity (by law) and will do so by collecting some sensitive information including:
- Your citizenship status (Are you a U.S. Citizen, a Green Card holder, a Visa holder, or do you have some other status?)
- Your Social Security Number (which they fully encrypt before sending)
- Your phone number and home address
- A few questions that have to do with financial compliance (below)
After that, you’ve just got to agree to the terms and conditions, create a 4-digit pin, and your account is created!
Your next step is to decide how much money you want to automatically save every week ($5, $25, $50, or $100 per week) and then link the app to your checking account. Once you find your bank, you will need to supply your bank’s routing number and your checking account number so that the app has access to transfer money when you tell it to.
Stash will then make two small deposits into your checking account (each under $1) to verify your account. You’ll need to look at your transaction history in your bank, find each of those amounts, and enter them into the app to fully verify your account. Depending on your bank, it could take a few business days for the deposits to show, so just be patient.
And that’s it! Once your bank is verified, you can begin saving and investing using Stash. But even if it takes a while for the deposits to show up, you can begin poking around the app and learning more. Below, we discuss some of the other great features of Stash, including the different kinds of portfolios they offer, and different ways that you can use the app to learn more about investing.
What kind of portfolios does Stash offer?
When it comes to investing through Stash, you’ve got a lot of options (seriously, there are more than 40 different funds that you can choose from).
Before we get into the specifics of the investment funds, lets lay some groundwork. Stash calls its investment options “Themes.” Themes consist of exchange traded funds (ETFs), meaning that no theme consists of just one company: By investing in an exchange traded fund, you will be investing in multiple companies, offering you at least some level of diversification.
How much diversification depends on which theme you choose. Some themes are focused around general investment goals. You can choose from thematic portfolios, you can choose from Stash’s “Risk Level Mixes,” or you can decide to invest in a mix of different themes to create a portfolio truly unique to your own investment goals.
Stash’s Risk Level Mixes
These are the “Risk Level Mixes” that Stash has built to help you reach your financial goals. There are currently three “Mixes” available: The Conservative Mix, Moderate Mix, and Aggressive Mix. Once you’ve answered the signup questions and opened your account, Stash will recommend one of these three options to you (which you can sign up for or disregard).
The Conservative Mix consists largely of bonds, along with some stocks. The bonds, being a more stable investment, allow you to earn a bit of money on your investment while safeguarding you against rapid swings in value. The stocks, on the other hand, are a little riskier, and offer you the potential to make a bit more money on your investment. This portfolio is good for those with extremely low risk tolerance or who will need/plan to use their money in the short term. It will at least allow you to (hopefully) keep up with inflation.
The Moderate Mix is roughly evenly split between stocks and bonds (it’s got a bit more stocks than it has bonds), giving your money the opportunity to grow while also insulating it a bit from wild swings in value. This mix is best suited for people with a moderate risk tolerance and who don’t expect to need their money in the short term. It would hopefully outpace inflation and allow you to actually make some money off of your investment.
The Aggressive Mix consists predominantly of stocks, with some exposure to bonds. This gives your money the potential to grow substantially, but also means that you’ll be open to potentially wild swings in valuation. That makes the aggressive mix ideal for investors who have high risk tolerance and who are investing for the long term—say, retirement.
Stash Investment Themes
Want to take a little more control over the specific companies or industries that you invest in? With Stash’s Themes, you can.
Each theme is built around a particular idea or concept consisting of ETFs. For example, some possible themes that you can invest in are things like:
- Blue Chips, which invests in large, established companies
- Clean and Green, which invests in clean energy and similar stocks
- Equality Works, which invests in companies that champion LGBTQ+ rights
- Women Who Lead, which invests in Women-led companies
- Internet Titans, which invests in, well, internet titans
- Robots Rising, which invests in robotics companies
- Corporate Cannabis, which allows you to invest in companies involved with marijuana
- And many, many more
Each of these themes offers a portfolio that is diversified at least within an industry (none of them consist of a single company). That being said, the themes are likely not as diversified as the mixes above, and are therefore a tad riskier.
When it comes to selecting a theme that works for you, the app aims to provide as much information as possible so that you know exactly what you’re getting into. The “Overview” tab (below), details the mission of the Theme, explains how risky of an investment it is, and shows some of the top holdings so that you can get a sense of the companies you are investing in.
And if you want to know how a particular Theme has performed in the past, all you need to do is tap into the “Performance” tab (below), which details the historical performance of the fund over time. This will typically include information like the Last Price, the 1-Day Change, Year to Date Change (YTD), and the historical performance over the last 12 months, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and total.
Don’t know what you want to invest in? When you first start using the app, you will have the opportunity to tell them the kinds of things that matter most to you, which they will use to recommend themes that you might be interested in. Below, you’ll see my selections…
along with the specific recommendations that Stash gave me in terms of Themes that I should consider investing in.
Can you buy individual stocks on Stash?
Stash is not meant to act as a regular brokerage firm or stock trading app. Originally, you could only use Stash to buy shares of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) which consist of multiple investments. (The one exception to this is the Roll with Buffet Theme, which consists solely of Berkshire Hathaway Class B Shares.)
But there’s some good news for investors who want a little more control over where their money is invested. Starting on February 28, 2018, investors on Stash can use the app invest in certain individual company stocks if they decide that that’s what they want to do.
It’s important to note, though, that it is not possible to invest in any individual company through Stash: They have selected only the most popular, high-value companies for their initial launch, which included just 10 companies and recently expanded to 20 (with the promise of more to come). The initial individual companies that you can now purchase through Stash are:
- Alibaba (BABA)
- Alphabet (GOOGL)
- Amazon (AMZN)
- Apple (AAPL)
- Boeing (BA)
- Cisco (CSCS)
- ExxonMobil (XOM)
- Facebook (FB)
- General Electric Company (GE)
- Home Depot (HD)
- Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)
- Microsoft (MSFT)
- Netflix (NFLX)
- Nike (NKE)
- NVIDIA (NVDA)
- Snapchat (SNAP)
- Starbucks (SBUX)
- Coca-Cola (KO)
- Disney (DIS)
- Walmart (WMT)
These companies live within their own tab in the app, making it easy to find the individual companies available.
And, just like with Stash’s Themes and Mixes, by clicking into an individual stock you can learn more about the companies overview, how aggressive of an investment it is, what its performance has been, and who (in the Stash community) currently owns it in their portfolio.
You should also keep in mind that investing in individual stocks is extremely risky: If that one stock does poorly, then the value of your portfolio can take a substantial hit. That’s why it’s important to make sure you diversify your investments. Themes and Mixes all offer at least some level of diversification that you won’t find with individual stocks. If you decide to invest in these individual stocks, you should be sure to choose a number of companies from different industries so that you can safeguard your investments at least somewhat.
The other good news is that, just like with their Themes and Mixes, investors only need $5 to buy into individual stocks. This is possible through the concept of “fractional shares,” which essentially means that you can purchase a small portion of a share even if you can’t afford a full share. (That’s the same way that their ETFs work, in essence.)
How can you make money with Stash?
People who use Stash can potentially earn money in a number of ways.
1. If your investment grows in value and you sell
The first way that you can potentially make money is if your investments grow in value and you then sell your investments for a profit. Though there’s no surefire way of knowing whether your investments will go up or down in the short-, mid-, and long-term, one thing is certain: Their value will almost surely fluctuate at least a little. Even if you’re invested in a Conservative mix.
It is important to keep in mind, too, that you’ll have to pay taxes on any profit you gain from selling your investments. This is called the capital gains tax, and exactly how much you owe will depend on a number of factors including your income and how long you held your investment. (Generally speaking, holding an investment for at least 1 year will lower the amount that you will pay in capital gains when you do eventually sell it.
2. If your investments pay out a dividend
The second way that you can potentially make money using Stash is if your investments pay out a dividend. Dividends are essentially a portion of the company’s profits that are paid back out to investors on a quarterly, annual, or one-time basis. Many companies pay dividends; they’re incentives for investors to hold onto your stock, and many investors build their portfolios around dividend-paying companies because they act as income. In fact, Stash even offers an investment Theme called Delicious Dividends that consists largely of companies known to pay out strong dividends (below).
The majority (though not all) of investment Themes and mixes offered through Stash pay at least some sort of dividend, which you can find at the bottom of the Overview tab for each investment, in a section called the “Dividend Yield.” The Dividend Yield is represented as a percentage of the last price of the investment. For example, the Delicious Dividend Theme below has a last purchase price of $51.10 and a Dividend Yield of 2.63%. That means that it pays a dividend of roughly $1.34 per share.
That being said, dividends are not guaranteed. Just because a company currently pays out a dividend doesn’t mean they always will; a bad year or quarter could lead a company to slash their dividend rate or even get rid of the dividend altogether to free up cash for business. (GE just recently slashed its previously notable dividend a few months ago.)
Dividends are often reinvested (meaning, they are used to buy more stock) and not actually paid out as cash. That being said, you will owe income taxes on your dividends in the year that they are paid to you even if they are reinvested into your portfolio and you never see the cash directly, unless they are being paid into a qualified retirement account like an IRA or 401k. In those cases, you will be taxed when you withdraw the money in retirement.
3. If you refer a friend
When you sign up for Stash, you will receive a referral link (like mine here) that you can send to friends and family members. If they sign up for Stash by using your referral link, both of you will earn $5, deposited into your account. Normally you can earn up to $250 each year through referrals, but sometimes Stash will have special promotions where you can earn more—say, $100 if 10 friends sign up.
4. If you keep money in your Stash savings account
Even if you aren’t investing through Stash, if you use the app to, ahem, stash away a little cash in a Stash savings account, you can earn some money. Stash savings accounts are currently paying about .55% in interest, which, though not as high as the 1.45% offered by online banks like Ally, is certainly nothing to sneeze at. It’s much higher than you could expect from larger banks like People’s or Wells Fargo.
How much money can you make with Stash?
As with any investment, it’s impossible to predict exactly how much money you’ll make by investing through the Stash investment app. There are just so many variables to take into account: Which portfolio you choose, the assets that make up that portfolio, etc.
That being said, the app includes information on each portfolio’s past performance, which details how well it has performed in the last 12 months, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and in total (since inception). Past performance is no indication of how an investment is going to perform in the future, but it can be helpful in spotting trends in the market
Determining your account’s potential future value
Stash knows that investing can be confusing for newbie investors, especially when you start talking about things like percents and whatnot. But they also want to make sure that their customers understand just how important even a little bit of growth can be.
For that reason, they pulled together a nifty tab called “Potential” which is designed to show you how your investment might perform under different scenarios, over the course of 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. For example, the scenario below shows you how much money you would have in your account if you invested $100 per month and earned nothing on your investment.
If you adjust the Growth Potential up to very reasonable 8% growth (For context, the S&P 500 has returned an average annual yield of almost 10% over the last 90 years), then you’ll see your balance rise accordingly. This growth is not a guarantee, but it’s meant to show you how even one or two percent return (or 4, or 8) can go far in helping you reach your financial goals.
Stash Coach is a feature of the app that aims to help investors a.) get used to using Stash for investing and b.) help teach complete beginners the basics of good investment habits.
It does this by giving app users different “challenges” to complete, sort of like achievements in a video game. Things like linking your bank to the app, making a deposit, and referring friends, for example, will help you complete the “Getting Started” quest. Owning certain recommended investment themes that will give you a diversified portfolio, on the other hand, would help you complete the “Smart Investing” quest.
Are there any benefits to completing all of the challenges? Besides bragging rights, no. But it’s still a smart thing to do, especially for beginners, because it’ll help lay the groundwork for long-term investing success.
Stash Learn is the knowledge center that Stash uses to help educate its users. Think of it sort of like a financial blog that lives on the web but also within the app so that you always have the information that you need to make an informed decision about your finances.
Within Stash Learn, you’ll find a number of different kinds of information, including:
- A Quick Guide to get you off on the right foot using Stash
- Details about individual investment Themes that you might be considering
- Articles about general personal finance that you can use to make sure you’re being smart with your money
All in all, it’s a great resource on its own. Paired with the app, it becomes an information powerhouse.
The Bottom Line
I really enjoy using the Stash investment app and think that you might too. It’s great for college students and newbie/beginner investors for a number of reasons, but the top ones are:
- You don’t need to have hundreds or thousands of dollars to get started. It takes just $5 to open an account and begin investing.
- The app’s “Auto-stash” feature makes it easy to automate your investing so that you can begin growing your portfolio over time, without needing to think about it.
- The first month is free, so you can try it out and see if it’s something you like before you get charged.
- If you sign up through a referral link (like mine here!) you’ll get $5 that you can use to save or invest. Not groundbreaking, but better than nothing!
- It’s cheap to use, costing just $1 per month until your account reaches $5,000. After that, you’ll pay 0.25% on your account balance, which is very low in the world of investing.
- You can either invest in premade portfolios that are diversified based on your financial goals and risk tolerance. This is especially helpful for beginners or those who don’t want to go through the hassle of making individual investment decisions on their own.
- If you want to be more hands on, you can be: By buying from individual stock “themes,” you can build a custom portfolio that more closely align to your interests and personal values.
- Through Stash Learn and Stash Coach, you can learn more about the world of investing so that you can become more confident in your ability to make the right financial decisions.
If you’ve been wanting to start investing but don’t know where to start, Stash is a great place to begin.
Ultimately though, the most important thing is that you just get started. Whether that means using Stash or an alternative like Acorns or Betterment or Robinhood doesn’t really matter as long as you start now and get your money working for you!