Updated: Android app now available, new $5 offer for new client sign-ups. Got five bucks, a smartphone, and a bank account? You’re just a few taps from investing and owning a piece of hundreds of businesses.
Stash is a new smartphone app with a real brokerage account underneath that lets you invest in a curated selection of roughly 30 different ETFs. You can start with as little as $5 and add more in any increment via fractional share ownership. The app interface is nice and shiny, but I took some time to look under the hood a bit.
What do you need to sign up?
- Download the app. Now available on both iOS and Android.
- Your personal information (name, address, SSN), same as with all SIPC-insured brokerage accounts.
- Fill out a short risk questionnaire to help guide towards an appropriate investment.
- Pick your investment, which you can change later. See below for details.
- Fund with any bank account. Verification can be done via two small test deposits. For selected banks, you can expedite the linking process by using your bank login credentials instead.
Portfolio details. You can choose from about 30 different “investments”, which are really just re-labelled exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that anyone can buy with any brokerage account. The idea is to make things more approachable and not to scare you away with things like ticker symbols, limit orders, and so on. Here are some pairings of their investment names and the underlying ETF.
- Aggressive Mix – iShares Core Growth Allocation ETF (ticker AOR)
- Moderate Mix – iShares Core Moderate Allocation (AOM)
- Blue Chips – Vanguard Mega Cap ETF (MGC)
- Park my Cash – PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active ETF (MINT)
- Roll with Buffett – Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Class B Shares (BRK.B)
- Slow & Steady – PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility ETF (SPLV)
- Home Sweet Home – SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB)
- Clean & Green – iShares Global Clean Energy ETFm (ICLN)
- Global Citizen – Vanguard Total World Stock ETF (VT)
Based on a risk questionnaire, you will be identified as either a Conservative, Moderate or Aggressive investor. Some of the options, like the Aggressive Mix / iShares Core Growth Allocation ETF are essentially a old-fashioned balanced fund with 60% stocks and 40% bonds. (Moderate Mix is only 40% stocks and 60% bonds.) Others, like just buying shares of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK), are more focused and potentially volatile. You will only be shown options that are below or at your designated risk level.
I personally like Global Citizen – Vanguard Total World Stock ETF (VT) as you basically own a slice of all of the world’s largest businesses. Warren Buffett fans may enjoy an easy way to build up a Berkshire position in $5 increments.
Fractional shares are used. That means you can invest odd numbers like $7 or $217 and still have it fully invested in something that costs $100 a share. Based on their FAQ, dividends are not automatically reinvested. Dividends are deposited as cash and will stay there until you decided to invest it.
You cannot invest in individual stocks (unless they happen to be listed an investment).
Fees. Free for the first 3 months. After that, $1 per month for balances below $5,000. Once you reach $5,000, it switches over to 0.25% of your balance per year. (Example. $10,000 x 0.25% = $25 per year.) Fees are taken from your bank account, not from your Stash investment portfolio. Stash does not charge monthly subscription fees if your account balance is $0.
Each underlying ETF has their own embedded expense ratio. No commission fee for stock trades. No fee for deposits or withdrawals via electronic bank transfer.
I installed the app and started the account opening process, but didn’t actually open account. I usually would, but with all these new robo-brokers I’ve been getting a flood of 1099-B forms with lots of tiny little tax lots. That gets tiresome at tax filing time.
This and that. After reading through their FAQs and disclosures, here are other notable items:
- You can only link one bank account at a time to Stash. If you wish to make a change, you must e-mail them at email@example.com.
- Online statements are free. Paper statements are $5 each.
- You may only deposit up to $10,000 per day via online bank transfer. You cannot deposit physical checks.
- you may only withdraw up to $10,000 per day via online bank transfer. You cannot request a withdrawals via physical check.
- Stash uses Apex Clearing as their custodian firm. Many other similar brokerage sites use Apex.
Final thoughts. I may be too old to be a Millennial, but I can still appreciate the power of a good smartphone app. I will even counter the people that point out that $1 a month on even a $600 balance is a 2% management fee. Yes, 2% would be a lot of money a $500,000 portfolio. But $1 is also how much people pay for a song or silly game. The more important question is – will this app start a habit of saving and investing? I don’t know, but this BuzzFeed article describes how Stash used focus groups to suggest their “make-things-not-so-scary” approach will get newbie investors over the hump. It’s hard to get less scary than just $5 a week.
Perhaps nearly as important – Stash already has some serious competition. The Robinhood app also has a nice user interface on top of a traditional brokerage account (no fractional shares) that lets you trade any stock with no commissions (with no simplification or investment guidance). The “invest in your interests” idea and fractional share ownership is also available at Motif Investing. The Acorns app adds a behavioral trick where it rounds up your daily purchases and sweeps the “spare change” over automatically.
Stash reached out to me and if you click through this special link, Stash will give new clients $5 to make an investment of your choice.