While we might not have the hoverboards we were promised, we are living in an era of truly incredible technology. One of the most astounding leaps forward has been in artificial intelligence and machine learning — our computers are getting smarter and smarter every day. They can do many things, including make the most of your monetary investments. That’s right,exist and they can help you use your money to make money.
For the uninitiated, robo-advisors are online financial investment platforms that create and manage an investment portfolio based on your financial goals and individual needs, with no human financial adviser or confusing financial advice required. You don’t need a lot of investing know-how and can start using a robo-advisor at any time — all you need is a little cash and to answer a few questions about your goals and investment style. It’s like you have a traditional financial advisor on call, if that financial adviser were a robot using AI to make intelligent portfolio decisions.
When signing up with a robo-advisor, you’ll answer a few questions about the type of investor you are and your financial plan. You’ll likely have to consider factors like your risk tolerance, expense ratio, minimum investment and when you plan to cash out your investments — each factor should influence which investment option the robo advisor will choose. This provides the robo-investing platform with the information it needs to build the ideal investment portfolio for you, which will continue to evolve as the markets and your investment options, financial plan, risk tolerance and overall finances change. It will also help make sure you have a diversified portfolio best set up to achieve your financial goals, such as earning enough money to add to your retirement account. Interactive robo-advisors can also help you make sense of your investment options and better understand concepts like socially responsible investing.
Robo-advisors (which include big names like Wealthfront) are ideal investing options for first-time investors, people who don’t have a lot of time for portfolio management and those who are turned off by the high management fee or advisory fee that comes with a traditional financial adviser. But they aren’t the only options available for planning your investment strategy. If you have a specific robo-advisor in mind, you can use the same criteria we do to see if it meets your expectations.and
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)
- Number of fees and their costs
- Variety of investment accounts available
- Access to a human investment manager (for financial advice and technical support)
If you’re a hands-on, or feel strongly about going to a human financial planner for investment advice, robo-investing 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 to a managed portfolio, a robo-advisor might work for you. Here are the best robo-advisor options:
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 robo-advisor service for you depends on the type of investor you are. Review our picks to choose the right robo-advisor service for you.
Betterment was one of the first robo-advisors and has stood the test of time to become one of the most popular financial planning robo-advisors.
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 on to 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 and easily moved money in, and I love the 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 have 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 by 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, that 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 account 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 life span. 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 investment goal. Not every investment management company offers sustainable, responsible and impact investing. You could see it as 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 has no minimum account balance or fees for trading, which some of our picks have. But a basic account is $1 a month and you’ll start investing your leftover money through its 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 so 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’s 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.
Essential Portfolios from TD Ameritrade is the investment company’s robo-advisor option. The $500 minimum balance and 0.30% annual fee are similar to those of competing offerings (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 investment manager experts to help you sort out your investment questions and concerns.
You can also choose socially aware investing, similar to 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 way 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.
More personal finance advice
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