Not everyone is a stock market whiz. Not even the investment experts can time the market’s ups and downs. Trying to play it exactly right is a waste, so why not let someone (or something) handle that for you?
That’s where a robo-advisor comes in. Robo-advisors are online financial investment platforms that create and manage an investment portfolio based on your individual needs and financial goals. You don’t need to have a lot of investing know-how. Rather, all you need is a little bit of cash and to answer a few questions about your investment style. It’s like have a financial advisor on call — if that advisor was a robot and was using AI to make intelligent portfolio decisions.
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When signing up with a robo-advisor, you’ll answer a few questions about the type of investor you are, like when you plan to cash out on your investments and your risk tolerance. This provides the platform with the information needed to build the ideal asset allocation investment portfolio for you, which will continue to evolve as the markets, your financial plan, investment options, overall finances and risk tolerance change. It will also help ensure you have a diversified portfolio best set up to achieve your financial goals.
Robo-advisors (which include big names like Betterment and Wealthfront) are ideal investing solutions for first-time investors, people who don’t have a lot of time to manage a portfolio and those who are turned off by other, high management fee options that come with traditional advisors. But they aren’t the only options available. If you have a specific robo-advisor in mind, you can use the same criteria to see if it meets your expectations.
Read more: How to start investing right now
How we chose the best robo-advisor
To determine the best robo-advisor out there, we reviewed them based on:
- Minimum account opening balances and ongoing balances (if any)
- The number of fees and their costs
- Variety of investment accounts available
- Access to humans (financial advice and technical support)
If you’re a hands-on investor, a robo-advisor probably isn’t for you. Instead, try using a portfolio manager or selecting your portfolio investments yourself. But if you prefer the hands-off approach, a robo-advisor might work for you. Here are the best ones:
1. Betterment: Best for beginners.
2. Wealthfront: Best for the lowest fees.
3. SoFi: Best for extra perks.
4. Ellevest: Best for women.
5. Acorns: Best for micro-investing.
6. TD Ameritrade: Best for traditional investors.
Many of the best robo-advisors have a lot in common, but the best advisor service for you depends on the type of investor you are. Review our picks to choose the right one for you.
Read more: What is a robo-advisor? How Wealthfront, Betterment and others manage your money
Betterment was one of the first robo-advisors and has stood the test of time to be one of the most popular financial planning robo-advisors among users.
With Betterment, you only pay one fee — 0.25% annually on your balance (or $25 for every $10,000 you have). Betterment also offers a premium tier: a 0.40% annual fee, which includes unlimited access to certified financial planners and advice on all your investments — even those that aren’t with Betterment. Thanks to automatic rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting, you won’t hang onto assets that aren’t working their hardest for you. Tax-loss harvesting is when a security is sold at a loss and a similar one is bought to replace it, offsetting taxable gains and income. Along with that, the $0 minimum balance means you can get started right now.
Wealthfront and Betterment are two of the biggest robo-advisors available. I’ve had an investment portfolio account with Wealthfront for years and I’m happy with what its asset allocation platform offers. I signed up quickly, easily moved money in and I love my monthly reports about how my portfolio is doing. I can make asset adjustments as necessary, like if I want to have more conservative investments or riskier ones.
Wealthfront offers stock level tax-loss harvesting where individual stocks that are losing you money get moved around for more favorable ones. This is good news for stock investors because you get the benefit of minimizing your taxable gains with your higher-risk stock investments. This, plus many of the enhanced features are available if your account is over $100,000. For example, Smart Beta (for portfolios $500,000 and up) uses many different risk factors to determine the weight of investments in your portfolio. It analyzes value, dividend yield and volatility, among others. But you don’t need to pay a higher annual fee to access them, just more money in your investment account.
SoFi is best known for handling loans, but it’s recently gotten into financial investments as well.
SoFi doesn’t charge any fees for automated investing and you have access to financial experts anytime through email, phone or chat. Like Betterment and Wealthfront, SoFi is a fiduciary, which means it won’t sell you unnecessary products or give you financial advice that doesn’t work for you. You can start investing with as little as $1 right now. With no advisory, administrative or other account fees, your investment money goes to your investments — not to someone or something managing it. No matter your account portfolio balance, you have free, unlimited access to human certified financial planners in case you need specific financial planning help. With Betterment, it comes with an extra fee.
Ellevest was created by women especially for women — although anyone can sign up. Having launched with a fee-based model, Ellevest has now shifted to a flat monthly membership fee. For $1 a month, the Essential plan gives you access to investing and banking tools, educational materials and a 20% discount on the company’s coaching service (sessions start at $125). The Plus plan, which costs $5 a month, adds personalized retirement planning. And the $9 per month Executive tier accommodates multigoal investing and management of up to six investment accounts.
The Ellevest algorithm bases your asset allocation investments on your salary, gender and expected lifespan. Since women historically earn less than men do — and live longer — an Ellevest portfolio reflects that. You have the option to select impact portfolios, or companies that match your goals. Not every investment management company offers sustainable, responsible and impact investing. It’s a way for women to invest in women, furthering their economic growth and sustainability.
Acorns is a micro-investment platform. You don’t need a lot to get started or to keep your investments growing.
If all you have is a little spare change, consider Acorns. This robo-advisor works by rounding up your transactions to the nearest dollar and putting the leftover change into your investment account. There’s no minimum account balance or fees for trading, which some other picks have. But a basic account is $1 a month and you’ll start investing your leftover money through their automatic Round Ups program. When you make a purchase on a linked card, your transaction is rounded up to the nearest dollar and your leftover change goes into your Acorns investment account. It makes investing hands-off you don’t even need to worry about logging in to make minimum investment contributions. It’s great if you don’t have a lot of cash to devote to investing right now but still want to get started.
There’s also a $3 a month personal account that has many accounts in one, including investing, retirement, checking and a physical debit card. The $5 a month family plan gives you investment accounts for kids plus investing, retirement and checking accounts.
The Essential Portfolios from TD Ameritrade is the investment company’s robo-advisor option. The $500 minimum balance and 0.30% annual fee are like its competitors (Wealthfront and Betterment charge 0.25%) and the traditional brokerage gets you a host of investment portfolio asset allocation options. For instance, you get a robo-advisor but still have access to financial experts to help you sort out your investment questions and concerns.
You can also choose socially aware investing, like Ellevest’s impact portfolios. When you go with TD Ameritrade, you have your pick from more than a dozen different types of financial planning investment accounts, including:
- Individual brokerage
- Traditional IRA
- Roth IRA
- Rollover IRA
- Minor IRA
- Minor Roth IRA
- SEP IRA
- SIMPLE IRA
- Beneficiary IRA
- Individual 401(k)
- 529 college savings plan
- Uniform Transfers to Minors Act/Uniform Gifts to Minors Act
Plus a slew of other types of investment accounts, like joint and minor accounts. The wide variety of portfolio options means you can open nearly any account you want with only a few hundred dollars. If you want the comfort of having a longstanding investment company while still taking advantage of a robo-advisor, TD Ameritrade is a solid choice.
A robo-advisor is a great option to get into investing without much money or time. If you know investing is important but don’t want to put in a lot of work (or cash), a robo-advisor might work for you.
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