Investing can be one of the best ways to meet your short-, medium-, and long-term goals. With the help of a robo-advisor, you can put together a plan and grow your wealth over time. If you’re looking for some good places to put your money, we have some suggestions.
Our list of best robo-advisors takes a look at some of the different features of each, and ways they can help you plan your finances and reach your goals.
- M1 Finance
Betterment is one of the best robo-advisors overall, offering a low account minimum and low management fees. You choose a risk tolerance and Betterment constructs a portfolio for you. On top of that, Betterment features access to different individual retirement account plans. You can also get access to features like automatic rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting. Add on the ability to speak with human financial advisors to map out strategies for long-term planning, as well as banking products, Betterment offers an all-around robo-advisor experience.
Read our Betterment review.
Wealthfront also creates a portfolio for you, based on your risk tolerance, but it also gives you the ability to customize it. Wealthfront is a solid robo-advisor that offers banking products as well as investing portfolios. On top of that, Wealthfront also offers the ability to borrow. Another notable feature is the fact that it offers access to a 529 plan. Wealthfront does have an account minimum of $500, however. So, although there are robo-advisors with lower minimums, Wealthfront does stand out with its unique offerings.
Read our Wealthfront review.
M1 Finance offers you the chance to invest in pies: pre-configured baskets of assets, similar to what you’d see with other robo-advisors. However, M1 Finance is a little different because you also have the ability to invest in individual equities, including fractional shares. Another unique feature of M1 Finance is the ability to borrow against your account when your balance reaches $10,000. Because you secure your loan with your equity holdings, you don’t need to worry about a credit check, and the interest rates are competitive.
Read our M1 Finance review.
Ellevest markets to women, but those of any gender identity or expression are welcome. However, Ellevest makes recommendations based on different salary curves related to gender. The idea is to address the pay and retirement gaps experienced by those who identify as women. Ellevest charges a flat rate with different membership levels. You can get access to reduced rates for coaching, as well as access to banking, retirement, and investing services. Plus, it offers the ability to invest for multiple goals at once.
Read our Ellevest review.
SigFig is different from others on this list of best robo-advisors. Rather than using an algorithm to create portfolios, SigFig offers managed portfolios. It can manage your TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab, or Fidelity investment portfolio on your behalf. On top of that, you get access to phone chat for your questions, and an investment advisor assigned to you. As with other robo-advisors, SigFig offers automatic rebalancing and focuses on tax efficiency. The personal touch, though, is where this advisor shines. However, that personal touch is balanced out by the high minimum balance requirement of $2,000.
Read our SigFig review.
Acorns also creates portfolios of ETFs on your behalf, using information you provide about your risk tolerance. It employs a flat-rate membership tier system that increases based on services you get, including banking products and retirement accounts. One feature that stands out with Acorns is that you can invest using pocket change, setting roundups so your purchases are rounded to the nearest dollar and the difference is invested. This allows you to begin investing without too much effort or thought, and with small amounts of money.
Read our Acorns review.
In determining our ranking of the best robo-advisors, we looked at popular companies and ranked them according to a series of weighted factors that we consider critical to the consumer. We did not evaluate all companies in the category.
FinanceBuzz ranking criteria include:
- Account minimum: Companies that offer lower minimum investments scored higher in our scoring model.
- Fees: Companies that offered lower fees scored higher in our model.
- Account types supported: The types of accounts supported vary across different robo-advisors. Those that supported more account types scored higher.
- Features: Companies offering certain features that are attractive to the customer ranked higher in our model than those that did not offer those features.
- Customer support: Companies listed offer varying types of customer support. Those that offered the most avenues for support scored higher.
How do robo-advisors work?
Robo-advisors mostly work by using algorithms to put together portfolios based on your risk tolerance. Many of them use principles of modern portfolio theory, a theory developed by Nobel Prize-winning economist Harry Markowitz. It suggests that the asset allocation of your portfolio matters more than the individual securities you hold. When you learn how to invest money, a robo-advisor can be a good place to start.
As a result, many robo-advisors use index exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to create an investment portfolio that’s designed to help you reach certain goals based on your time frame and risk tolerance. There are robo-advisors that also offer some individual securities, but in many cases, the idea is to automate portfolio management using index products.
In order to keep your portfolio on track, many of the best robo-advisors also make it a point to rebalance your portfolio, as well as maintain some tax efficiency. The algorithms used to determine what asset allocation is likely to work well for your portfolio are also used to determine whether you’re straying from the ideal. When that happens, your holdings are automatically adjusted to better reflect the desired portfolio makeup.
Finally, some robo-advisors also offer financial advice. You can usually pay an additional advisory fee for help with financial planning and suggestions on investments. This can help you figure out how much to set aside for various goals, and can complement the automated investment management of your portfolio.
Who are robo-advisors right for?
Robo-advisors are usually best for those who want to take a more hands-off approach to investing. They work especially well for long-term financial goals like saving for retirement and college planning. Although it’s possible to have success with short-term goals when using a robo-advisor, many investors prefer to use them for medium- to long-term goals.
Additionally, with many robo-advisors now offering bank products — including those that are FDIC-insured — it can make sense to use a robo-advisor if you want a one-stop-shop for your money needs.
On the other hand, if you don't like the idea of automated investing, and you want to make more individual trades, robo-advisors might not work as well for you. Although there are some ways to tweak customization with some robo-advisors, in many cases, you don’t have a lot of control over your portfolio.
Some investors like to take a hybrid approach, using one of the best robo-advisors for long-term goals like retirement, and using a more traditional broker for trading. However, for many investors, a long-term asset allocation approach, combined with dollar-cost averaging, can be a good way to build wealth over time — and robo-advisors offer that.
Robo-advisor vs. traditional brokerage
When considering where to put your money, it makes sense to consider whether a robo-advisor vs. traditional brokerage is the right investing platform for you.
In general, robo-advisors do most of the heavy lifting with your investments, using advanced formulas to settle on asset allocation and then putting together a portfolio and managing it for you. With a traditional brokerage account, you’re in charge of everything, from figuring out how to create your portfolio and when to rebalance, to choosing whether to invest in mutual funds, index funds, stocks, ETFs, or something else. You also have to determine the most tax-efficient way to approach your investments.
Traditional brokerages are more likely to provide access to human help and advisory services, though some robo-advisors are starting to expand their options so you can make use of a financial advisor.
In the past, traditional brokerages used to charge higher fees, and you’re still more likely to see trading fees with a traditional brokerage. Some traditional brokers, though, have reduced or eliminated their trading fees, making them more desirable to some traders. Robo-advisors, on the other hand, usually charge a management fee that’s relatively low, though some robo-advisors do charge flat monthly fees. In both cases, if you use funds in your portfolio, you’ll be subject to expense ratios.
For investors interested in reducing how much time and effort they spend on a portfolio, a robo-advisor can be a good choice — especially if you choose a robo-advisor that offers add-on services like human investment advice.
How to choose the right robo-advisor
When deciding among the best robo-advisors, it’s important to carefully consider your individual needs and preferences. Here are some things to keep in mind as you compare robo-advisors and make your choice.
1. Consider your budget
Start with your budget. How much can you afford to invest? Do you already have what you need set aside in a savings account? If an investment platform has a $500 minimum and you don’t have that, you might be better off with a platform that has no minimum. It’s also important to consider platform fees. Although robo-advisor fees are generally low, some platforms charge more than others, so you’ll want to consider that as you compare your options.
2. Think about how you want to invest
Before signing up with a robo-advisor, you need to think about what matters to you and what you’re looking for. Look at what asset classes are available. Even the best robo-advisors generally construct their portfolios from a limited list of ETFs or other fund-type investments. Review what they are before you open an investment account.
Also, consider whether you want socially-responsible investment options, or whether you want access to some individual stocks. There are some robo-advisors that offer access to individual stocks, as well as pre-determined portfolios, so you can add individual equities using fractional shares. Think about what you want in your portfolio, and then look for a robo-advisor that offers access to what you’re most interested in.
Another consideration is the type of accounts you need access to. For example, it’s fairly common for the best robo-advisors to offer traditional and Roth IRAs — not all of them offer SEP IRAs — as well as taxable accounts. Think about how you’ll be saving for retirement, and look for a robo-advisor that offers the account you need. Some don’t offer joint accounts, so if you have a partner and want to open an account together you might not be able to do so.
3. Compare platform technology and features
Finally, look at the different features offered by the robo-advisor. Many offer tax-loss harvesting and rebalancing, but not all do, so check to see how that works. Think about the features that matter most to you, and then choose the robo-advisor that checks the most boxes.
Consider the technology used to make sure it’s adequate for your needs. If a mobile app is important to you, compare the best investment apps to see what is likely to be the most convenient and useful for you.
Don’t forget about other features. If you want access to banking products, or if you’re looking for the ability to borrow, those are extra features. You might also be interested in a 529 plan or some other type of account. Double-check to see whether the unique features fit your needs.
FAQs about robo-advisors
Is a robo-advisor worth it?
A robo-advisor is a low-cost option that can be worth it if you choose a platform that meets your needs. If you can get a robo-advisor that helps you reach your goals, it’s probably worth the cost. If you want to invest in something specific like real estate, you might consider our list of the best investment apps. There are apps for beginner real estate investors all the way up to those with a net worth of $1 million.
How much do robo-advisors cost?
In general, robo-advisors are considered relatively cost-efficient. How much a robo-advisor costs depends on the model used. However, it’s common to see robo-advisors that charge low fees ranging from .25% and .75% per year. Additionally, there are some robo-advisors that charge flat monthly rates. It’s fairly common to see those prices range between $1 and $9 per month, depending on the features you want.
Should you use a financial advisor or a robo-advisor?
It depends on where you’re at with your finances. A robo-advisor can be good for new investors, and a way to get started investing. However, as your assets grow and your finances become more complicated, a financial planner or advisor might be a good addition. The good news is that you can use both robo- and financial advisor services, and some robo-advisors even offer human personal advisors who can provide guidance.
How often do robo-advisors rebalance your portfolio?
How often robo-advisors rebalance depends on the advisor, so you’ll want to look into that as you weigh your options. Some will evaluate your portfolio daily and make adjustments. Others rebalance monthly or quarterly. In general, though, rebalancing only takes place when your asset allocation drifts from your goals.
What is the best robo-advisor?
The best robo-advisor is the one that meets the needs and goals of your personal finances. Carefully consider the robo-advisors to see which ones offer the best choices for your particular circumstances and financial situation.