Clark Howard

Stash Review: How It Works, Pros & Cons

You can make investing simple. Think target date funds — the easy button of retirement investing.

But it can be tempting to add complexity to investing. Also the more you know, the more obvious it becomes that when it comes to money, it’s hard to speak in absolutes.

The Stash investing app is a clear example of those concepts. It can help inexperienced investors get into the habit of saving money for retirement. And it can do so in a passive, automated way.

But on a small scale, the Stash fees can be costly. And Stash’s long list of bells and whistles can confuse an inexperienced investor into thinking that the price tag comes with more value than it does.

It’s a glass half-full or half-empty type of Rorschach test with low stakes.

In this article, I'll explain how much Stash costs, who should use Stash and whether there are better alternative investing companies.

Table of Contents

What Is Stash?

Stash is a fintech company that combines banking, investing and education.

With the tagline “investing made easy,” Stash gives inexperienced investors a simple way to save for retirement.

It’s best known for automated investing.

When you buy with a Stash-issued debit card, Stash rounds up your purchase to the nearest dollar. It then invests that extra change through an automated portfolio (essentially a robo-advisor).

Investors pay a variable fee because it’s a subscription-based investment plan. It’s $3 per month for Stash Growth or $9 per month for Stash+ (more on that shortly).

Co-founded in 2015 by a pair of Wall Street veterans, Stash got rid of crypto as an investment option in 2023 and hired a CEO in ’24.

In addition to recurring, automated investments, Stash offers fractional shares, educational content, cash back via the Stash Stock-Back® Debit Mastercard®, direct deposit, custodial accounts for children and more.

How Does Stash Work?

When you enroll, you select from six goal options, pick between the $3 and $9 a month subscription plans and add a credit card. You’ll receive online banking, including ATM access and your Stash Stock-Back debit card.

When you use the debit card tied to your Stash account, Stash’s “Stock Round-Ups” feature rounds up to the nearest dollar and sets aside your change. For example, if you buy a candy bar for $1.40 at a gas station, Stash will set aside 60 additional cents of your money into a digital piggy bank of sorts. Your total purchase will be $2.

When the digital piggy bank holds at least $1, Stash will sweep the money into your Stash investment account. (You can also make automatic or one-time scheduled transfers).

Stash will invest your "loose change" into Smart Portfolio, the company's robo-advisor. It also gives you the ability to invest on your own in more than 4,000 individual stocks and ETFs either through a taxable brokerage account or IRA.

How Much Does Stash Cost?

When full-fledged financial advisors charge 1% of assets under management annually, and a client gives them millions of dollars to manage every year, it can seem like they’re committing highway robbery.

Yet when platforms such as Stash or Acorns sometimes charge much higher fees on a less wealthy class of investor, it's ignored as low consequence because there are fewer zeros involved.

Stash offers two tiers: Stash Growth, which is $3 a month or $36 a year, and Stash+, which is $9 a month or $108 a year.

With the more expensive plan, you unlock:

  • Two Kids Portfolios: Custodial investment accounts for up to two children.
  • Earn 1% in stock on card purchases: The lower tier offers "cash back" in the form of stock at 0.125%.
  • $10,000 in group life insurance: Provided by Avibra, Inc., this policy is only available to Stash users ages 18 to 54 who meet terms and conditions. (The lower tier offers $1,000 in group life insurance.)

Stash Growth “was made for beginners,” the company website writes, while Stash+ “includes every tool, feature, and account type that we offer.”

Back to the fees. Betterment and Wealthfront are Team Clark's two favorite robo-advisors. They each charge a 0.25% annual fee and offer a 0.09% weighted expense ratio.

The expense ratios that Stash offers are competitive (0.08 to 0.14%). But if you’re paying $36 or even $108 per year for a service, your de facto annual fee is going to vary dramatically based on the amount of money you’re investing each year.

If you’re not making any automated transactions and you’re making 10 debit card purchases per week with an average roundup of 50 cents per purchase, you’re contributing $260 to your investment account for the entire year. Stash Growth members are paying an annual fee of 13.8%. Stash+ members: 41.5%(!).

To get to the 0.25% annual fee that Betterment and Wealthfront are charging, you’ll need to contribute $43,200 if you subscribe to Stash+ and $14,400 if you subscribe to Stash Growth.

If you're investing more than pocket change, you're probably using one of Clark's three favorites: Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard. By default, you're (almost certainly) paying way too much in annual fees if you're using Stash.

Investing With Stash

When you invest with Stash, you can either use the robo-advisor or you can handle your own investments. With the robo-advisor, you'll get slotted into one of a few prebuilt portfolios based on your age, risk tolerance and goals.

You may also choose a blend of robo-investing and managing your own investments.

Investing on your own through Stash gives you the option to contribute and invest in a Roth or traditional IRA.

Stash offers users multiple ways to invest:

  • Stash Stock-Back Card: Earn "cash back" in the form of bonus stock
  • Stock Round-Ups: Debit card purchases round up to the nearest dollar and the spare change gets invested
  • Recurring Investments: Automated, scheduled transfers from your bank account
  • Dividend Reinvestment: Stash can automatically reinvest any dividends you earn
  • Invest Anywhere: Manage your own investments within Stash
  • Personalized Guidance: Use the Stash portfolio allocation software to get recommendations on diversifying your portfolio.

Stash gives away free fractional shares through what it calls Stock Parties. However, don't get too excited. On June 5, for example, Stash gave away $10,939 of Disney stock. But about 96,000 Stash customers split the pie. That's about 11 cents of Disney stock per person.

Smart Portfolio, the prebuilt robo-advisor investing option, rebalances your investment allocation each quarter and when you contribute or withdraw. But it doesn’t offer any sort of tax-loss harvesting or prebuilt socially responsible investing options.

You’ll also pay an Automated Customer Account Transfer (ACAT) of $75 to move your funds to another brokerage.

Stash Review: Where It Shines

Here are some of the areas where Stash excels:

  • Manage your own investments, automate them or blend both. A typical robo-advisor doesn't offer the opportunity to manage your own investments. You're stuck with the prebuilt portfolios that the company offers. With Stash, you can invest on your own and via the automated Smart Portfolio.
  • Access fractional share investing. Those who are investing in the tens, hundreds or low thousands of dollars often rely on fractional shares to invest in a balanced portfolio. Fortunately, Stash offers the opportunity to do so.
  • Build an investing habit. Money expert Clark Howard loves behavioral economics. Anything that gets people in motion toward saving for retirement in a consistent, automated way is a good thing.

Stash Review: Where It Falls Short

Here are some of the areas where Stash falls short:

  • Expensive fees. Unless you're pouring four figures into your Stash investment account each month, you're likely losing money via fees. It's relatively low consequence though. If you're investing just $300, even a high annual management fee isn't going to amount to life-changing money. But just as it's good to get in the habit of investing early, it's also important to prioritize low fees, not high ones.
  • No human advice. New investors may not feel comfortable navigating this online-only, automated, every person for themselves world. It's typical of a fintech, so we're not singling out Stash here.
  • No tax-loss harvesting or automated IRA investing. Clark loves, loves, loves automated investing. He's also obsessed with the Roth IRA. He'd rather you open a Roth IRA somewhere that allows you to invest automatically.
  • Reports of poor customer service. Stash scored just 1.4 out of 5 via TrustPilot on a high volume of reviews (nearly 750). Some common issues expressed include trouble withdrawing money and difficulty getting a customer service agent to engage and help. To be fair, Stash offers phone support Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET and Saturday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET.

Who Should Use Stash?

Do you identify with any of these groups of people? If so, Stash may be a great investment option for you.

  • Novice investors. Stash can be a good starting point to build the habit of investing. Going from $0 saved toward retirement to managing your own investment portfolio can be daunting. Dipping into the shallow end of the investing pool and getting more comfortable through automated investing can help.
  • Bad savers. Do you spend every dollar of your paycheck and then find your bank account sitting empty until next payday? This sort of "forced" saving mechanism may be good for you.
  • Passive investors with $10,000+. To overcome the cheapest tier's $36 annual fee and break even vs. other robo-advisor options, you'd need to put nearly $15,000 into your Stash account.

Stash Alternatives

Acorns is the closest competitor to Stash that I’ve reviewed. The price range for Acorns also is $3-9 per month. The two services offer similar features. I find Acorns to be more streamlined. So unless you want specific features that Stash offers, it may be the better choice of the two.

I personally would not use Acorns or Stash due to the fee structure.

I've already mentioned Betterment and Wealthfront as our favorite robo-advisor options. Unless you're pouring tens of thousands of dollars into your Stash account each year, chances are you're losing on fees. Those two companies also provide significant budgeting and retirement goal software.

Stash offers some educational reading material that appears appropriate for beginning investors. However, if you need serious advice from a real human, consider a fiduciary financial advisor or a hybrid advisor.

All of Clark’s favorite investment companies — again, Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard — offer some level of automated investing.

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t started investing for retirement and the idea of putting some loose change into a Stash account every time you use your debit card is much less intimidating than, say, opening a Vanguard account, by all means, go for it.

Even if you’re putting in $200 a year and losing $36 on the fees, if it’s teaching you the habit of investing, it will be worth it.

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