Many of us know that we need to invest to save for retirement and other large expenses. But a lot of people don’t invest because they either don’t know how or don’t have the time.
That’s where robo-advisors come in. The best robo-advisors help you become a successful investor with minimal effort.
Maybe you’re new to the concept of
ETFs are exchange-traded funds. They’re similar to mutual funds, except that they trade like other securities on the stock exchange. ETFs are also index funds. Most track a particular stock index such as the S&P 500, but others track bonds, commodities or other types of assets.
Robo-advisors are a relatively new investing tool. They bridge the gap between do-it-yourself investing and hiring a financial advisor to manage your portfolio.
In a nutshell, robo-advisors make the investment decisions for you but charge less than a human advisor. They can be better than DIY investing because they ensure your portfolio remains diversified without becoming too aggressive or risk-averse in relation to your investing goals.
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The Best Robo-Advisors for Any Investor
On the surface, most robo-advisors employ a similar investing strategy based on your age and investing goals. As a result, your portfolio performance should be nearly identical across providers because each brokerage will invest similar dollar amounts in the same types of index funds, usually from iShares or Vanguard.
But each platform differs in several areas, including:
- Advisory fees.
- Advanced investing tools like tax-loss harvesting and financial advisor access.
- The types of accounts they manage (e.g., non-retirement accounts, IRAs or 401k’s).
When choosing a robo-advisor, you should compare advisory fees, which can erode your lifetime earnings. You should also compare any unique features that can enhance your investing experience.
For instance, paying a slightly higher advisory fee may be worth it if it grants you access to a human financial advisor who will periodically review your portfolio performance and answer your questions.
One of the oldest and largest robo-advisors is Betterment. You only need $1 to start investing in any taxable or IRA account through Betterment. This is one of the lowest initial balance requirements for robo-advisors.
You might also appreciate that Betterment has live phone support on weekdays. Email support is available 24/7.
Betterment supports the following account types:
- Individual taxable account.
- Traditional IRA.
- Roth IRA.
- SEP IRA.
- Rollover IRA.
When you create an account, Betterment will ask you a few questions to determine your investing goals. As a side note, most robo-advisors ask similar questions to create your model portfolio.
Based on your age, risk tolerance and planned withdrawal date, Betterment creates an investing plan with a basket of iShares and Vanguard stock and bond ETFs.
You can choose one of these investing plans:
- Safety Net. A conservative investing strategy consisting of 40% stocks and 60% bonds for money you plan on using in the next few years. It’s similar to your emergency fund but you’ll get a higher income potential than you would by only earning savings account interest rates.
- Retirement. Invest the money you don’t plan on using until retirement in a tax-deferred traditional IRA or a tax-free Roth IRA.
- General Investing. This is for money you can invest and withdraw penalty-free before you retire. You are responsible for paying any taxes on your gains each year.
Betterment automatically shifts your portfolio mix to hold more bonds and fewer stocks as you age. For instance, Betterment might recommend a portfolio with 90% stocks in your 20s and only 55% stocks near retirement. This automatic rebalancing helps minimize your portfolio volatility as your risk tolerance decreases.
All Betterment accounts use tax-efficient investing to minimize your tax bill. When Betterment rebalances your portfolio, it uses new cash contributions and ETF dividends to buy new shares before selling winning investments that must be reported as taxable income.
When they sell, Betterment uses tax-loss harvesting to minimize your capital gains taxes. It will try to sell losing assets to offset your taxable investing gains. But it only does this if selling and buying maintains a balanced portfolio.
If you’re married, Betterment lets you link your taxable and retirement accounts to your spouse’s accounts. This nifty feature can further optimize your portfolio to avoid taxes and maintain proper diversification.
Betterment has two different investing plans, Digital and Premium.
- Digital Plan: 0.25% annual fee.
- Premium Plan: 0.40% annual fee.
The Digital Plan is your only option until you have at least $100,000 invested through Betterment. With the Premium Plan, you have unlimited access to Betterment’s Certified Financial Planner (CFP) professionals.
The CFP team can provide advice on your non-Betterment investments. And the CFPs can help you plan for life events like having a baby or comparing retirement plans.
You don’t get complimentary CFP access with the Digital Plan. But you can purchase a one-time advice call. Fees start at $149 to talk with a licensed financial expert for 45 minutes
What We Like About Betterment
- $0 account minimum for taxable and retirement accounts.
- Tax-efficient investing for all plans.
- Unlimited CFP access with the Premium Plan.
Learn more about Betterment’s features by reading our full Betterment review.
Wealthsimple can be a good alternative to Betterment when you want financial advisor access but don’t meet the $100,000 account minimum for Betterment’s Premium Plan. All Wealthsimple members can request a free portfolio review with a financial advisor, regardless of their account balance.
In exchange for financial advisor access, the annual account fee is 0.50% for the entry-level Wealthsimple Basic Plan. If you don’t need financial advisor access, you might prefer the Betterment Digital Plan. It costs less, with a 0.25% annual fee.
With Wealthsimple, once your account balance reaches $100,000, the annual account fee drops to 0.40% with their Black Plan. One benefit of this plan is that it includes a goal-based planning session with a financial advisor. This planning session goes beyond the portfolio review you get with the Basic Plan. It involves helping you plan financially for life events.
Wealthsimple manages taxable and retirement accounts for U.S. and Canadian residents. You can choose the standard robo-advisor investing strategy of stock and bond index ETFs. Another option is one of their specialty strategies:
- Socially responsible investing. Invest in ETFs that prioritize environmental or social causes, including assets that focus on low carbon, clean tech or human rights.
- Halal investing. This strategy invests in funds that comply with Islamic law. You can invest in companies that don’t profit from activities such as gambling, firearms, tobacco or earning significant income from charging interest on loans.
Both of these investment options help you invest in companies that share your social values. Be aware that since you’re excluding certain market sectors, your investment returns may be lower than the broad market. And the ETF fund fees are slightly higher. They’re 0.24% to 0.28%, compared to regular index ETFs that charge an average 0.10%.
Regardless of which robo-advisor you use, you pay these kinds of ETF fees in addition to the robo-advisory fees. It’s how the ETF pays its fund managers and covers trading expenses.
Wealthsimple offers investing roundups as a way to boost how much you invest each month. If you choose this option, you’ll first link your credit or debit card to your Wealthsimple account. Then, Wealthsimple rounds each purchase amount from your cards to the next dollar and invests the difference.
For example, if you spend $5.66, Wealthsimple rounds up your purchase amount to $6 and invest 44 cents. With this tool, you invest each time to you make a purchase.
Why We Like Wealthsimple
- Financial advisor access for all plan levels.
- Socially responsible investing and halal investing available.
- Tax-loss harvesting for all plans.
Use our special link to get a $50 bonus when you deposit at least $100 into your account.
What if you have a 401k or a similar employer retirement plan? Most robo-advisors don’t manage 401k plans. If you don’t want to use your 401k provider’s advisory service, choose Blooom instead.
Blooom offers a free portfolio analysis for the following retirement plan types:
During the free analysis, Blooom inspects your fund fees and portfolio diversification. They want to make sure that the funds you’re investing in aren’t fee-heavy in relation to their potential performance. They’re also looking to see that the funds you have aren’t too risky or too conservative for your age and planned retirement date.
If you like Blooom’s recommendations for maximizing your plan options, you pay $120 annually for your first managed account. Each additional account costs $90 per year. At this time, they don’t offer discounts for managing your spouse’s account as well.
Because Blooom charges a flat fee regardless of your portfolio balance, you might benefit more from Blooom with a larger portfolio. But if your 401k is your only investment plan at the moment and you’re a beginner investor, the $120 is still a reasonable fee to get expert advice and start your investing career on the right foot.
Blooom will handle your portfolio allocation to align with your retirement goals. You also get complimentary access to Blooom’s human financial advisors, who will answer your 401k and other financial planning questions.
Why We Like Blooom
- Robo-advisor for company-sponsored retirement plans.
- Complimentary access to human financial advisors.
- Flat annual account fee that can save you money when you have a large portfolio balance.
One drawback of most robo-advisors is that they charge an advisory fee to manage your account. This is one reason why some people stick with DIY investing. They can invest in the same funds and rebalance their own portfolio while avoiding the 0.25% to 0.50% robo-advisor fee.
WiseBanyan is one of the exceptions, as it is a fee-free robo-advisor. However, they do offer premium packages for a monthly fee. And you still pay the unavoidable ETF fund fees that you pay even as a DIY investor.
Because WiseBanyan is a free investing app, it doesn’t have as many features as the other robo-advisors on this list. For instance, you don’t have access to financial advisors or live customer support via phone. Joint taxable accounts aren’t available at this time, either.
For a fee, you can add premium packages that include features like tax-loss harvesting. Or being able to invest in custom ETF portfolio themes to gain more exposure to a specific market sector.
WiseBanyan offers the following account types:
- Individual taxable accounts
- Traditional IRA
- Roth IRA
- SEP IRA
You only need $1 to open any WiseBanyan account. But you must open a taxable account before WiseBanyan lets you open an IRA. If you only want a retirement account, you can fund your taxable account with $1, then put the rest of your cash into your IRA account.
As with other robo-advisors, you can create multiple investing milestones in each account. These milestones assign different stock and bond target allocations based on your estimated investing horizon. In your taxable account, some of the possible milestones include buying a new car, saving cash and creating a custom goal.
It’s entirely possible to only use WiseBanyan’s free service. But their premium packages can add more flexibility to your portfolio. Before you sign up for these packages, compare their monthly fees to robo-advisors that include similar features in their annual fees.
These are the four premium packages WiseBanyan currently offers:
- Portfolio Plus ($3 monthly). Lets you invest in custom portfolios of certain industry sectors like energy, technology or consumer staples.
- Fast Money ($2 monthly). Get same-day deposits, auto-scheduled deposits more than once a month, and overdraft protection for your linked bank accounts when funding your WiseBanyan account.
- Tax Protection (0.02% monthly, up to $20 monthly). Includes tax-loss harvesting and linking of your non-WiseBanyan accounts for tax-coordinated investing to avoid “wash sale rules.”
- Teamwork ($3 monthly). Lets you link your spouse’s WiseBanyan account so you can share investing milestones and reach them sooner.
The Tax Protection package can be good because the annual fee amounts to only 0.24% of your portfolio balance. This is slightly lower than Betterment’s 0.25% annual fee. But paying an extra 0.01% annually at Betterment may be worth it for benefits like live customer support and linking to spousal accounts to achieve your investing milestones sooner.
The extra 0.01% advisory fee you pay at Betterment amounts to an extra 10 cents for every $1,000 you invest. On a $10,000 balance, your annual advisory fee is $25 at Betterment and $24 at WiseBanyan.
Why We Like WiseBanyan
- Fee-free robo-advisor.
- $1 minimum opening balance per account.
- Premium packages can still be cheaper than other robo-advisors.
5. M1 Finance
Maybe you like the robo-advisor concept but you don’t want to fully automate your portfolio. M1 Finance might be for you. It’s a free investing app that lets you pick individual stocks, ETFs and premade portfolios that M1 calls “expert pies.”
Because M1 Finance is a DIY investing platform at its core, you must perform more oversight. You can build your own portfolio and assign each holding a target allocation. M1 Finance uses your new money and dividends to automatically rebalance your portfolio by returning your underperforming holdings to their target allocation.
At this time, M1 Finance doesn’t offer tax-loss harvesting or financial advisor access.
Because you have full control of your portfolio with M1, you can automate as much or as little of the investment process as you wish. For instance, you can choose the same index ETFs and target allocation as other robo-advisors, while avoiding their advisory fees.
Doing it yourself requires more active monitoring on your part. It can be a challenge to consistently mirror the robo-advisor model portfolio, especially when the robo-advisor uses tax-loss harvesting. Unless you enjoy regular manual rebalancing, using a robo-advisor may be worth it when you can use your time more efficiently on something besides investing.
Another option is picking one or more of the M1 Finance expert pies. These pies can mimic robo-advisor investing strategies or target date retirement funds. Other expert pies focus on specific industries, socially responsible investing or popular hedge fund managers.
There isn’t an additional fee to add these expert pies to your portfolio. But you will pay the fund fees for any ETF in the expert pies you hold.
You can read the full M1 Finance review to learn more about the investing experience.
M1 Finance offers these investment account types:
- Individual taxable.
- Joint taxable.
- Traditional IRA.
- Roth IRA.
- SEP IRA.
Taxable accounts require a $100 minimum opening balance. Retirement accounts require at least $500. Until you reach these minimum balances, your cash sits idle and M1 won’t begin investing.
For future trades, your cash balance must be at least $10 for M1 to execute a buy order.
With any account type, you never pay an annual fee or trade fee. With the free plan, M1 offers one trading window that starts 10 a.m. Eastern and lasts until all open orders close. One drawback about M1 is that you must submit your order before the trade window opens for same-day execution. Submitting your order after 10 a.m. means M1 won’t fill the order until the next trading day.
For $125 annually, you can upgrade to M1 Plus. You might like this premium plan for these features:
- A second daily trading window.
- Interest-bearing online checking account. As with any interest-bearing online checking account, this is a great way to earn a little extra money on your deposits.
- Earn 1% cash back on debit card purchases.
If you’re a cost-conscious investor, the free M1 platform is sufficient.
Why We Like M1 Finance
- No account fees or trading fees.
- Option to be a DIY investor.
- Lets you trade individual stocks, ETFs and expert pies.
6. Swell Investing
If you like socially responsible investing (SRI), Swell Investing is a leading platform. In fact, they don’t offer a non-SRI portfolio. This is a good option if you want to invest in stocks, but be aware that you will need to invest in bonds with a different broker if you want to maintain a diversified portfolio.
Swell’s 0.75% annual fee is higher than the fees for similar SRI portfolios at other robo-advisors. However, you might prefer Swell because of its diverse investing themes.
Each of the six investing themes holds between 36 and 59 companies that focus on the following areas:
- Clean water
- Disease eradication
- Healthy living
- Green tech
- Renewable energy
- Zero waste
You can also choose Swell’s Impact 400 fund, which invests in up to 400 companies that pass Swell’s various social impact screeners. This fund gives you more exposure to the broad market than the themes do. Of course, the Impact 400 fund doesn’t invest in companies with controversial business models.
Swell gives you the option of investing in a single portfolio or multiple portfolios. If you invest in multiple portfolios, you can decide how many dollars to invest in each one.
Swell also uses tax-loss harvesting to minimize your annual tax burden. Swell doesn’t offer access to financial advisors.
- Taxable account.
- Traditional IRA.
- Roth IRA.
- SEP IRA.
With each account type, Swell requires a minimum $50 starting balance. After that, you pay a 0.75% annual fee on your account balance. This fee covers all trading costs.
Why We Like Swell Investing
- Seven unique socially responsible investing portfolio themes.
- Tax-loss harvesting.
- Taxable account and IRA accounts only require a $50 minimum balance.
Acorns can be a fun way to invest your pocket change using spending roundups. You can also fund your account with recurring cash contributions and cash back from shopping online.
Start investing by choosing a portfolio allocation that matches your risk tolerance. They range from conservative to aggressive. The aggressive strategy will hold more stock ETFs than bond ETFs. Vice-versa for the conservative investing plan.
There are three different plans, which cost between $1 and $3 each month. To only invest, choose either the $1 or $2 plan:
- Acorns Core ($1 monthly). Taxable investing account only.
- Acorns Later ($2 monthly). Taxable account and a traditional or Roth IRA.
- Acorns Spend ($3 monthly). Fee-free checking account plus the Acorns Core taxable and Acorns Later IRA.
If you make recurring cash contributions, Acorns can be cheaper than other robo-advisors because of the flat monthly fee.
However, you don’t get tax-loss harvesting or financial advisor advice. Not having these extra perks might be worth the lower advisory fee. But this tradeoff is something to consider before making Acorns your primary robo-advisor.
With either investing account type, Acorns makes new investments when your cash balance is at least $5.
If you only plan on using Acorns to invest small amounts of cash, you may not contribute enough to retire on. Make sure you know how much is enough for your retirement. If necessary, invest with other brokerages or in your 401k to meet your investing goals.
Why We Like Acorns
- Lets you invest spending roundups and cash-back purchase rewards.
- Taxable and IRA retirement accounts are available.
- The flat monthly fee can be cheaper than a percentage-based advisory fee.
8. Personal Capital
If you have at least $100,000 to invest, you might prefer the personal touch Personal Capitaloffers. The annual fee is 0.89% when your portfolio balance is below $1 million. This fee is one of the highest for
The premium Personal Capital plan also includes free 401k advice. And you get access to Personal Capital’s advisory team and a tax-efficient ETF portfolio.
Even if you don’t yet have a six-figure portfolio, you can still enjoy free investing advice.
Personal Capital’s free investing tools include:
- Investment checkup, which compares fund fees and portfolio diversification.
- Net worth and expense tracker.
- Retirement planner.
You can read our Personal Capital review to compare the free and premium services.
Why We Like Personal Capital
- Free investing tools help track and compare your existing investments.
- Premium investing service can be more personal than other robo-advisors.
9. Fidelity Go
As far as traditional brokerage robo-advisors go, Fidelity Go is one of the friendliest for investors because of its lower initial balance requirement. You only need $10 to start investing. The annual advisory fee is a reasonable 0.35% of your portfolio balance.
Most robo-advisors invest in ETFs to minimize your investing expenses. Fidelity Go invests your cash in Fidelity Flex mutual funds. Some of these funds don’t charge a fund fee, which means more of your cash invests instead of covering fund expenses.
You can use Fidelity Go for your taxable and retirement investment accounts. At this time, Fidelity Go doesn’t provide tax loss harvesting.
Why We Like Fidelity Go
- $10 account minimum to make the initial investment.
- 0.35% advisory fee is lower than those of other robo-advisors.
- Lets you invest in Fidelity Flex funds (some with $0 fund fees).
10. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios
If you can plunk down at least $5,000 to open an account and you like the idea of going with a traditional brokerage, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is an excellent option. You don’t pay any annual fees or trade fees. And you can use the service for taxable, retirement, custodial or trust accounts.
Another reason to consider Schwab is that it allows you to invest in the Schwab ETF family. While some of the other robo-advisors use a few Schwab funds, they primarily favor iShares and Vanguard funds. Long-term fund performance for Schwab ETFs should be similar to that of iShares and Vanguard ETFs, but some people may prefer the Schwab name.
Additionally, risk-averse investors might prefer Schwab because at least 6% of your portfolio is held in cash. This means the Intelligent Portfolios might have a lower potential return than portfolios that hold stocks and bonds exclusively. On the other hand, your portfolio might be less volatile.
One downside, besides the high account minimum, is that tax-loss harvesting is only available once your portfolio balance reaches $50,000.
Why We Like Schwab Intelligent Portfolios
- No advisory fees or trade fees.
- Lets you invest in Schwab ETFs.
The best robo-advisors help make investing easy when you don’t have the time, skill or desire to be a DIY investor. You can use them for any investing goal and you can start with an initial investment of as low as $1.
Which one do you think is the best robo-advisor? Tell us why on in the comments section.