My wife and I started investing for our two children within days after we brought them home from the hospital.
I know, I know. That makes it sound easy. But the only reason we were able to put our money to work so soon was because of the hours and hours of research we put in before our babies were born.
“What are the best investments for kids?” “What kind of investment account is best for a newborn?” “How can we maximize tax advantages for our children as they invest?” These are just a handful of the questions my wife and I sought to find out—and truth be told, many financial sites only provided partial answers, while others even provided downright inaccurate information.
This frustrating search is why I started Young & The Invested, and why I’m writing this article (and many other related posts).
Investing for kids is a difficult subject, and parents aren’t exactly flush with time to bounce from site to site, trying to get a complete picture of how to ensure a financially sound future for their children. So my goal is to give you what I could have used back then: a treasure trove of trustworthy information and useful resources that you can use, from birth until well after your children have gone off to college.
We’ll start with one of the most important topics: the best investments for kids. Once we’re done with that, we’ll also tell you which of the best investment accounts for kids can hold these different assets, and where you might be able to find some tax advantages that will further put your children ahead of the curve.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Investing for Kids: How Can I Invest for My Child?
Open a Fidelity Youth™ Account for your teen, and Fidelity will drop $50 into their account. Get $100 for yourself when you open a new Fidelity account and fund with $50¹.
The Best Investments for Kids
Here are seven popular, typically easy-to-access assets you can hold for your children, or that they can hold in their own investment account.
Stocks are one of the best investments for kids for a number of reasons. Among them:
- They have higher rates of returns than just about any other asset class.
- They can be held in numerous types of investment accounts.
- They can be relatable.
In my opinion, the best stocks for kids come from companies that kids are more likely to interact with and/or understand. In short, a stock is simply a piece of ownership in a company. It allows you to profit from a company’s success—most commonly, from price appreciation in shares of the stock, but in several cases, also from cash distributions (dividends) the company makes to shareholders.
When it comes to investing for kids, stocks that can both grow and pay dividends are the ultimate holding given just how much in additional returns they can generate over the long term.
Here’s a look at the return someone could expect if they received just the price returns from the S&P 500 over the past 25 years:
Now look at how much better the return is when you factor in dividends (if you had reinvested the dividends back into the S&P 500):
The price return is about 4.5x. The total return (price plus dividends) is more than 7x!
All of the child investment plans mentioned throughout the article will allow you to hold stocks in some form or fashion, whether that’s through individual stocks, or mutual or exchange-traded funds.
Fidelity Youth™ Account ($50 bonus for teens, $100 bonus for parents)
- Available: Sign up here
- Price: No account fees, no account minimum, no trading commissions*
- Platforms: Web, mobile app (Apple iOS, Android)
- Promotion: Teens get $501 on Fidelity® when they download the Fidelity Youth™ app and activate their Youth Account; parents get $100 when they fund a new account
Is your teen interested in jumpstarting their financial future? Do you want them to build smart money habits along the way?
Of course you do! Learning early about saving, spending and investing can pay off big when you start on the right foot. And one tool that can help your teen get that jump is the Fidelity Youth™ Account—an account owned by teens 13 to 17 that’s designed to help them start their money journey. They can start investing by buying most U.S. stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and Fidelity mutual funds for as little as $1!⁴
Your teen will also get a free debit card with no subscription fees, no account fees³, no minimum balances, and no domestic ATM fees⁵. And they can use this free debit card for teens to manage their cash and spend it whenever they need.
And as for building smart money habits? You and your teen can access your account through the Fidelity Youth™ app, which has a dedicated Learn tab packed with materials developed specifically to help teens develop good financial habits. Not only will Fidelity’s interactive lessons, videos, articles, tools, and calculators accelerate their learning—but for every level they complete, reward dollars will be deposited into their account to use however they want.
Controls parents want and need
A parent or guardian must have or open a brokerage account with Fidelity® to open a Fidelity Youth™ Account. For new Fidelity® customers, opening an account is easy, and there are no minimums and no account fees.
Parents and guardians have plenty of tools they can use to monitor their teen’s activity: They have online account access, can follow monthly statements and trade confirmations, and can view debit card transactions made in the account.
To make it even easier, you can set up alerts to notify you of trades, transactions, and cash management activity, keeping you firmly in the loop on actions your teen takes across the Fidelity Youth™ Account’s suite of products.
If your teen has an interest in learning about investing and taking their first steps toward building their financial journey, you should consider downloading the Fidelity Youth™ app and opening a Fidelity Youth™ Account. The account comes custom-built for their needs, which will help them become financially independent and start investing for their future.
Read more in our Fidelity Youth™ Account review.
2. Mutual Funds for Kids
Stocks are great, but you can put yourself at great risk if you spread your investment money across just a handful of them. Think about it: Companies do fail, and when they do, their stocks can go to zero. Well, if you have $10,000 invested evenly across just four stocks, and one of them goes to zero, your whole investment account has just lost 25% of its value! When it comes to investing for kids, we also suggest mutual funds.
Mutual funds are a pool of money, gathered from a large group of investors, that is invested in a large group of assets—typically stocks, bonds, or a combination of the two. A mutual fund might have a portfolio of dozens or even hundreds of stocks, so by investing in the mutual fund, you’re investing in that wide portfolio of stocks.
This can provide an important attribute called “diversification,” in which you reduce your risk by spreading out your money across many different investments. And you can diversify in a number of ways, such as holding:
- Different stocks in one area of the market (say a sector, such as technology)
- Different stocks across different sectors
- Different stocks across different countries
- Even different assets (say, stocks, bonds, and commodities like gold or oil)
Here’s how it works.
When you buy a mutual fund, you do so at a given price. That price is based on the net asset value (NAV) of the fund, which is the value of all the securities (stocks, bonds, etc.) held by the fund. When the value of those securities changes (when stock or bond prices go up or down), the NAV is adjusted accordingly. This price changes at the end of each market trading day.
Also, be aware that there are two primary types of funds: actively managed and passively managed.
Most mutual funds are actively managed, which means that one or more human investors are buying and selling investments based on their stock research and the investment strategy of the fund. Portfolio managers typically are trying to outperform a comparable benchmark (say, the S&P 500 Index, or the Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index).
However, some mutual funds are passively managed, and these are often referred to as index funds. As the name suggests, rather than trying to beat a benchmark like the S&P 500, index funds typically follow all the rules a particular index does, providing you with similar investment returns. Because they’re usually run by computer algorithms, rather than human managers, investing in index funds provides similar diversification with typically lower expenses.
You can hold a mutual fund in a number of investment accounts, including individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 529 plans, and education savings accounts (ESAs). (We’ll talk more about this in detail down below.)
529s With Backer
- Available: Sign up here
- Price: $3/mo. (one child), $6/mo. (multiple children)
A great option to consider is Backer. Backer, a hassle-free 529 Savings Plan where your family and friends can play a role, has helped families save over $20 million towards college in just minutes.
You can use the 529 plan to put your child on track to afford college; all while remaining invested in an asset class that will grow over time.
You are able to invest using Backer’s portfolio of low-cost index funds including: large company stocks (S&P 500), small cap stocks (Russell 2000) international company shares (MSCI EAFE Index), U.S. government bonds (Barclays Aggregate Bond Index).
3. Exchange-Traded Funds
If you’re investing for kids, you might also want to consider exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
ETFs are similar to mutual funds in that they hold a typically diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, and/or other investments. But ETFs have become much more popular over the past couple decades because of how they differ from traditional funds.
For one, ETFs don’t settle just once a day—instead, they trade on the stock market exchanges during regular trading hours. This makes them popular among people who want to trade them quickly in a brokerage account.
Also, unlike their mutual-fund brethren, which are primarily actively managed, most ETFs are index funds. ETFs tend to be much cheaper on average as a result. (However, even actively managed ETFs can be cheaper than comparable mutual funds.)
You can also see what an ETF holds on any given day (versus just a quarterly snapshot for mutual fund holdings), and ETFs also boast certain tax advantages that also help their returns versus similar mutual funds.
- Available: Sign up here
- Price: Acorns Premium: $9/mo. (Required for Acorns Early)
Acorns offers a custodial brokerage account, called Acorns Early, for parents and grandparents interested in opening an investment account for their family.
Acorns Early offers investment portfolios of various risk levels for kids, so you can feel confident in the account you’re opening up for your little one. This app can be a great way to teach minors how to start investing money. The best part about Acorns is that it doesn’t require any minimum deposit to get started and allows you to contribute money on a regular basis.
One of the best ways to start saving for your grandchild is through a savings and investing account product like Acorns Early, which you can access by subscribing to Acorns Premium.
Read more in our Acorns review.
4. Savings Bonds
When my parents invested for me in the 1990s, they did so by purchasing savings bonds in my name. My parents used these savings bonds so I would have money set aside to pay for education expenses.*
Parents, grandparents, family friends and anyone else interested in investing for kids still have access to these virtually zero-risk financial products. But the process is a little different.
Previously, you would buy and sell physical savings bonds at a financial institution. Now, you buy savings bonds online through TreasuryDirect.gov. You can still sell these bonds at some financial institutions (just make sure to ask your bank if they offer the service), or you can sell them online at TreasuryDirect.
A savings bond is a great investment because it’s allowed to grow tax-free. However, you still must pay federal income tax on the bond when you redeem it.
The rates on these bonds have fallen dramatically in the last decade. However, if you buy Series EE savings bonds, the U.S. Treasury guarantees that your investment will at least double if you hold it for a full 20 years.
Consider investing in savings bonds if you plan to start at least 20 years in advance and want a virtually riskless investment for your child’s future. Otherwise, the investment options above are better options if you’re less concerned about risk and want to maximize upside potential.
Also, parents might be wondering whether other types of bonds, such as investment-grade corporate bonds, are right when investing for kids. While these are good investments that can offer less risk than stocks but more yield than basic savings accounts, it’s typically difficult to invest in them individually. So if you want to invest in bonds, it’s typically best to do so through a mutual fund or ETF.
* Thankfully, once I reached college, I had earned enough scholarships and found enough financial assistance that I didn’t need the money. However, I still used the savings bonds—I cashed them out and began investing in the stock market as a teenager. And in fact, I did well enough that I used the proceeds to buy my first condo after graduate school!
Cash has perhaps the least upside of any investment. It won’t grow (unless it’s invested or put into a savings account), and in fact, it will actually lose purchasing power thanks to inflation.
But it’s the most flexible gift you can give—cash can be used for virtually anything.
There are limits if you’d like to stay within bounds on the tax implications. You can gift up to the annual gift tax exclusion per person, an amount that currently stands at $16,000. You can give up to this limit to as many people as you want annually without needing to pay the gift tax.
Married couples can combine their annual exclusions to give up to $32,000 ($16,000 x 2) to as many individuals as they like per year—tax-free.
As a parent, you can provide a financial gift for a child up to the annual exclusion each year without paying taxes. These gifts can help to pay for education expenses, a car, wedding or even a home down payment.
If you gift in excess of the annual exclusion, that value counts against the lifetime exemption from estate taxes, which comes to $12.06 million per individual and $24.12 million per couple in 2022.
Annuities are insurance contracts that make a series of payments at regular intervals.
Depending on the annuity, payments can start immediately or sometime in the future. However, when it comes to investing for kids, our suggestion is deferred annuities, which are better long-term investments because there’s ample time for the money to grow.
When you invest in annuities, you have several decisions to make. For instance, you must decide whether you want the annuity to pay out in a lump sum or a series of payments. You also can choose between fixed annuities, which pay a guaranteed interest rate, or variable annuities, which are riskier but can provide higher overall returns.
7. Insurance Policies
If you want a child to receive your life insurance after you die, make sure you arrange your policy in a way that will avoid attorney and court fees from cutting into their benefits.
You can designate that the proceeds from a life insurance policy are paid to a custodian who will hold it in a custodial account for the child. The custodian is required to distribute the funds to the child as per your wishes.
Money in a custodial account can only be used to directly benefit the child. The adult in charge of the account can’t spend the insurance money on themselves.
Your Gateway to Investing: Open a Savings Account for Kids
Starting to save can seem daunting, but parents can address this and other good money habits head-on by making it an easy task for kids through repetition and understanding.
And what better way of doing that than opening a savings account?
If you want to help your children build a savings balance or even help them open an account through a banking app for minors to handle money from their allowance or a part-time job, you’ve got numerous options. And doing so will provide your child to earn some interest while also learning how to bank.
When choosing among youth savings accounts, pay attention to the following characteristics:
- Interest rate (Generally, the higher the interest rate, the better)
- Fees (Generally, the lower the fees, the better)
- Minimum balance requirements (low minimum balance requirements are good for young children, who have little to no income)
- How your child can access the funds
- How the savings account will grow with them as they mature
Investment Accounts for Kids: Which Assets Should You Put in Each?
1. Joint Brokerage Account
When you open a brokerage account for yourself, you open an individual brokerage account. Only your name will appear on the account title as the owner. Conversely, if you decide to open a brokerage account jointly with two or more people who share in account ownership, you’re electing to open a joint brokerage account.
Brokerage accounts typically exist between spouses, and can even be opened by two or more individuals who share financial goals (say, unmarried partners or business partners). But to the point of investing for kids, joint brokerage accounts also can be opened between multiple family members (say, a parent and child).
When a parent and child have a jointly owned brokerage account, they can share in the decision-making of what to buy and sell. And opening one is easy: Many investing apps for kids allow you to open a joint brokerage account.
Financial assets you can hold within a joint brokerage account:
- Mutual funds
2. Custodial Account
Custodial accounts allow an adult to maintain financial assets for another person, usually a child. The assets held in the account are owned by the beneficiary but managed by the custodian. Parents with interest in investing on behalf of their children often use a custodial account to invest for their kids.
When the child reaches the age of majority, generally 18 or 21, but sometimes as old as 25, the assets held in the custodial account revert to the owner’s control. The account owner can withdraw money from their custodial brokerage account for any needs they may have.
Custodial accounts come in two types: Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) accounts and Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts. You can check out the full breakdown of UGMA vs. UTMA, but most important is that UGMA accounts can be used to hold financial assets. UTMA accounts can hold financial assets, too, but also any property—say, real estate or cars.
Financial assets you can hold within a custodial account:
- Mutual funds
- Life insurance policies
3. Individual Retirement Account (IRAs)
Individual retirement accounts allow you to set aside earned income toward your retirement savings in a tax-smart way. These accounts come in two primary forms:
- Traditional IRA: If you contribute to a Traditional IRA, you set aside pretax dollars that invest over time, allowing you to take a tax deduction now. However, you will have to pay taxes when you withdraw money later.
- Roth IRA: A Roth IRA allows you to invest after-tax dollars. By contributing to this tax-advantaged savings account, your Roth IRA contributions can grow tax-free. You can also withdraw from your Roth IRA without paying taxes.
Both accounts come with annual contribution limits equal to the lesser of your earned income or $6,000 per year in 2022. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute an extra $1,000.
When investing money in an IRA, you’ve got several types of investment strategies you can utilize for securing your financial future. IRAs offer access to assets extending beyond just traditional classes, such as alternatives.
Financial assets you can hold within an IRA:
- Exchange-traded funds
- Mutual funds
4. 529 Plans
529 plans are special tax-advantaged investment accounts for kids and adults saving for education expenses. The account allows you to contribute after-tax dollars that grow tax-free if used to pay for qualified education expenses for a designated beneficiary.
These investment vehicles are set up to defray the costs of formal education (keeping your child from piling up student loan debt) and have minimal impact on your financial aid eligibility. You’ve got two types of 529 plans:
- College savings plans: These accounts work much like a Roth IRA or 401(k), allowing you to invest after-tax dollars into mutual funds and other investment options. Your contributions grow tax-free, but how much they grow will depend on the performance of the investment options you choose to hold in your account.
- Prepaid tuition plans: Prepaid tuition plans allow you to pay all or a part of your public in-state college education costs. Generally, you can also convert the money to go toward a private or out-of-state college as well.
529 college savings plans offer a more limited universe of investment options as compared to joint brokerage accounts, custodial accounts, or IRAs. Most offer access to mutual funds administered at the state level, meaning each state offers different investment options. However, you can choose to invest in one state’s funds and still use the proceeds to send your child to a college in a different state.
Financial assets you can hold within a 529 plan:
- Mutual funds
5. Coverdell Plans
A Coverdell education savings account (ESA) is a custodial account or trust created to pay for a designated beneficiary’s educational expenses. Coverdell ESAs are lesser-known than 529 savings plans, but work similarly.
They also offer tax-free earnings growth and tax-free withdrawals, as long as the funds are spent on qualified education expenses.
However, the benefit doesn’t apply only to higher education expenses. Qualified elementary and secondary expenses count as well.
The account must be established prior to the beneficiary becoming an adult, unless the recipient has special needs. Contributions must be made in cash and aren’t deductible. Total contributions to the beneficiary can’t exceed $2,000 in any given year.
Financial assets you can hold within Coverdell plans:
- Mutual funds
Where to Open Bank and Investment Accounts for Children
Now that you know a little more about the types of child investment plans and accounts available for you to open on behalf of your children, you might want to consider which investment options to pick.
Thankfully, there are many all-in-one money apps for kids, allowing your kids to start saving, learn about spending and also how to invest money for the first time.
E*Trade (Our Top Pick for Custodial IRAs)
- Available: Sign up here
- Platforms: Web, mobile app (Apple iOS, Android)
Most people know E*Trade as one of the leading providers of individual brokerage accounts, but you can also put the powerful platform to work saving for your child’s future.
E*Trade’s IRA for Minors offering allows you to open up a traditional custodial IRA or a custodial Roth IRA for children under age 18 who have earned income. Within the account, you can build a personalized portfolio through thousands of stocks, bonds, ETFs, and mutual funds, or you can have E*Trade select your holdings for you through its Core Portfolio robo-advisory service.
Just like with its individual brokerage accounts, E*Trade custodial IRAs offer zero-commission stock, ETF, and options trading. It also has a leg up on some platforms by offering $0-commission mutual fund trading.
And if you want to learn more about investing—or want your young one to learn alongside you—E*Trade also boasts educational resources, including articles, videos, classes, monthly webinars, and even live events.
Visit E*Trade to learn more or sign up today.
- Available: Sign up here
- Price: Free 1-month trial, $9.98/mo. for Greenlight Max
It works best if parents and/or grandparents are involved in the process because it requires linked accounts from the adults’ banks or brokerages. Plus, parents and guardians will need to approve trades made in the investment account.
The all-in-one plan teaches them important financial skills like money management and investing fundamentals—with real money, real stocks and real-life lessons.
You can use the investing feature to:
- Start investing with as little as $1 in your account
- Buy fractional shares of companies you admire (kid-friendly stocks)
- No trading commissions beyond the monthly subscription fee
- Kids can only invest in stocks and ETFs with a market capitalization over $1 billion.
- Parents must approve every trade directly in the app.
Consider opening a Greenlight Max account to start investing in a joint investment account today.
Greenlight currently offers a free one-month trial so you can see whether it really is one of the best investments for kids and meets all of your needs.
Read more in our Greenlight Card review.
Related: GoHenry vs. Greenlight
How to Gift Investments for Kids
You can either donate shares without first selling them, or gift the shares straight to your kids. If you want to invest for your children, there are lots of different options.
Now that you’ve reviewed some of the best money apps for teens and kids above, you may want to supercharge their investment account balance by gifting stock.
Transferring stocks from your account to theirs requires additional steps and considerations that may not be obvious beforehand and require additional steps than simply depositing cash.
Capital Gains Taxes
You are on the hook for capital gains taxes when you sell your stocks and make a profit. If you transfer appreciating assets like stock at a gain, neither party will pay any capital gain at the time of transfer. Your basis and holding period transfer with the stock position.
This can be a way to show your kids how to increase net worth.
Gift Tax Rules
Next, as we’ve covered a few times above, you should also understand gift tax rules. For most individuals, this won’t pose a problem so long as the annual amount of gifted stock falls below $16,000 per person (or $32,000 per married couple filing jointly).
Finally, you’ll also want to consider how to maintain control over these positions. Giving stocks as gifts means that you surrender control of the stocks to those who receive them.
One way to invest for your children or grandchildren is through establishing a trust. Limitations can be put on the funds given in this type of investment.
Consider this resource for learning more on how to gift stock.
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