Robo-advisors, or digital investment managers, are a great tool for those investors who want automated investing services. The earliest platforms, which include Betterment, Wealthfront, and Empower (formerly Personal Capital), launched on the heels of the 2008 financial crisis. This quickly led to scores of new robo-advisor companies joining the field, with a focus on performing most of the tasks of a traditional financial planner for a smaller management fee.
To compile our list of the best robo-advisors, we sent a digital survey with 58 questions to each of the 19 companies we included in our rubric. Our team of researchers then verified the survey responses and collected any missing data points through online research and conversations with each company directly.?
- Best Overall: Wealthfront
- Best for Beginners: Betterment
- Best for Low Costs: M1 Finance
- Best for Mobile: E*TRADE Core Portfolios
- Best for Goal Planning: Wealthfront
- Best for Portfolio Construction: Wealthfront
- Best for Portfolio Management: Wealthfront
- Best for Cash Management: Betterment
- Best for Education: Merrill Guided Investing
- Best for Socially Responsible Investing: M1 Finance
- Best for Sophisticated Investors: M1 Finance
- Account Minimum: $500
- Fees: 0.25% for most accounts, no trading commission or fees for withdrawals, minimums, or transfers
Why We Chose It
Wealthfront has an investment and money management product for any type of investor. With low fees and a low required minimum investment, plus customizable automated portfolios, available stock investing, high-yield cash, superb digital financial planning, and lending capabilities, Wealthfront deserves the best overall robo-advisor award.
Best for Portfolio Management
Wealthfront clients and others can link their investment accounts or manually input them for a 360-degree view and analysis of their finances. Programmed to answer up to 10,000 questions, the Path digital financial planner is the closest online tool to a human financial planner.
Best for Goal Planning
Wealthfront users can integrate their robo-advisor account with their external accounts through Path for high-level goal planning. The calculators that are embedded within the Path digital financial planner help with retirement, homeownership, and college planning, along with the finances involved in taking a break from work.
Best for Portfolio Construction
Portfolios are constructed based on widely accepted investment management research such as modern portfolio theory (MPT) by Harry Markowitz. The 17 asset classes selected for the portfolios cover stocks, bonds, and inflation assets, to yield among the best constructed portfolios in the robo-advisory category.
Pros & Cons
Superb Core and ESG portfolios with vast customization options
Comprehensive account types including 529 plans for college savings
Direct indexing for accounts over $100,000
Best-in-class Path digital financial planner
No human financial advisor access
No online chat
Phone access isn’t straightforward
In 2008, technology entrepreneurs Dan Carroll and Andy Rachleff told Forbes that they were on a mission to democratize the best research-based investment strategies and make them available to the public. With $274.8 million of external funding through 39 investors, Wealthfront is at the head of the robo-advisor innovation class. From a basic algorithm-driven digital investment manager, the company has exploded to include hundreds of ETFs to add to the basic Core and ESG robo-advisory portfolios. Users can also create their own ETF portfolios for Wealthfront to manage. With the addition of an automated bond portfolio and fee-free stock trading, most investors can meet their financial needs with Wealthfront.?
At Wealthfront’s core are the automated investment portfolios. After responding to a few questions, you’ll receive a tailored investment portfolio spanning 17 asset classes to fit your goals, time horizon, and risk level. From this risk-adjusted portfolio, you can view other options with greater or lesser risk profiles (i.e., a changed ratio of riskier stocks to more conservative bonds). The portfolios are rebalanced back to your preferred asset mix. The tax-loss harvesting feature keeps taxable accounts free of unnecessary tax payments. Add in hundreds of ETFs such as sustainable investing, tech, value, growth, and crypto funds, and users can customize their holdings for an ideal investment fit.
Additional Wealthfront features include:
- Fee-free high-yield cash account and debit card
- Automated bond portfolio for steady cash flow
- Fee-free stock investing with 35-plus themed stock collections and research
- Multiple account types for investing, retirement, trusts, and 529 college planning
- Low interest rate borrowing
- Impressive Path digital financial advisor programmed to answer more than 10,000 queries
- Daily tax-loss harvesting
- Account Minimum: $0, $10 minimum to start investing
- Fees: 0.25% (annual) for investing plan accounts with at least $20,000 or at least $250 per month in recurring account deposits. Otherwise, the fee is $4/month. An additional 0.15% (annual) fee on accounts with at least $100,000 in assets provides account holders with unlimited access to certified financial planners, plus 1% crypto fee. This additional fee is applied to assets in the investment and cryptocurrency accounts, but not cash accounts. For accounts with at least $2 million, there is a fee discount of 0.10%. Crypto accounts are charged a monthly fee of 1% plus trading expenses.
Why We Chose It
Best for Beginners
Beginning investors can start investing with Betterment and create multiple goals on its intuitive platform with just $10. The vast portfolio choices and available crypto investing provide broad investment choices.
Best for Cash Management
Automatic sweep functionality and access to both a high-yield cash reserve and checking account through partner banks distinguished Betterment from competitors. Reimbursement for ATM fees is also a standout feature.?
Pros & Cons
Easy setup and tracking of multiple goals
Multiple portfolio choices including smart beta, SRI, income, and crypto
$0 account minimum and $10 to begin investing
Low-fee financial advice packages for digital customers
No borrowing or margin
Premium plan requires $100,000
No REIT exposure
Founded in 2008 by Eli Broverman and Jon Stein in New York City, Betterment has grown to become among the largest standalone robo-advisors. With $35 million in funding and 26 investors, Betterment is the top robo-advisor for beginners and cash management. Additionally, the 2022 acquisition of Makara provides Betterment with a foothold in the cryptocurrency investment arena.
Beginners will appreciate the brief questionnaire that guides users to clarify their investment goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance level. From this questionnaire, you’re presented with a portfolio of investments that fit your needs.?
Portfolio choices include:
- Core: Built for long-term investing and low costs using stocks and bond investments from around the world
- Innovative Technology: Focuses on high-growth tech companies like clean energy, semiconductors, and robots
- Climate Impact: Invests in companies with lower carbon emissions while still offering decent long-term returns
- Universe: Invests across the crypto landscape, including decentralized finances and the metaverse
- Social Impact: Provides more of a focus on companies working towards minority empowerment and gender diversity
- Goldman Sachs Smart Beta: Seeks to outperform the market by upping the risk level
- Sustainable: Looks for crypto assets that prioritize using less energy to validate transactions
- Broad Impact: Focuses on companies that rank highly in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria, balancing this filter with long-term performance
Portfolio management is your typical robo-advisory fare, with regular rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting. Those with a $100,000 account can opt-in for the Premium version for a 0.40% management fee and gain access to unlimited video visits with Certified Financial Planners.
Betterment’s fee-free cash management offers near the top of the pack with high-yield cash and checking accounts, both through partner banks. The $2 million FDIC insurance through partner banks, unlimited withdrawals, and no minimum balance add to the accounts’ allure. The checking account and Visa debit card carry $250,000 FDIC insurance through partner banks, along with an ATM fee and foreign transaction fee reimbursement.
Cash Reserve is only available to clients of Betterment LLC, which is not a bank, and cash transfers to program banks are conducted through the clients’ brokerage accounts at Betterment Securities. For Cash Reserve (“CR”), Betterment LLC only receives compensation from our program banks; Betterment LLC and Betterment Securities do not charge fees on your CR balance.
Checking accounts and the Betterment Visa Debit Card provided and issued by nbkc bank, Member FDIC. Checking made available through Betterment Financial LLC. Neither Betterment Financial LLC, nor any of their affiliates, is a bank. Betterment Financial LLC reimburses ATM fees and the Visa? 1% foreign transaction fee worldwide, everywhere Visa is accepted.
- Account Minimum: $100 ($500 minimum for retirement accounts)
- Fee: 0%; $95 per year for M1 Plus (with 3-month promotion)
Why We Chose It
Best for Sophisticated Investors
M1 Finance is a one-of-a-kind investment portal suitable for strategic investors who want access to customized expert theme-focused strategy portfolios, as well as the ability to choose their own stocks and ETFs. High-yield cash accounts and borrowing round out this best robo-advisor for sophisticated investors.
Best for Socially Responsible Investing
M1 offers two excellent and diversified sustainable SRI portfolios. The International Responsible Investing Portfolio has both U.S. and international socially responsible equity funds. The Responsible Investing Portfolio holds five U.S. sustainable equity funds. Additional socially responsible ETFs are available for self-directed investors.?
Best for Low Costs
Fee-free investing is available for customized expert-designed portfolios and self-directed stock and fund investors, helping put more of your investing dollars to work. Extra features are available for $95 per year through M1 Plus.
Pros & Cons
Opportunity to invest in 60+ customized Expert Pies or portfolios
Thousands of ETFs and stocks for self-directed investors
High-yield cash account
Low interest rate margin available
No goals or risk tolerance quiz
Platform requires some degree of investment understanding
No financial advisors available
No tax-loss harvesting
Founded by Brian Barnes in 2015, M1 Finance has received $323.2 million in external funding from eight investors. M1 Finance is distinct from the general pool of robo-advisors because it awards users more discretion in their portfolio selection than many other platforms. Where M1 intersects with other automated investment platforms is in rebalancing. Similar to Wealthfront, M1 offers pre-made, expertly designed portfolios, called Pies, and the self-directed stock and ETF assets can be rebalanced back to the user's preferred asset allocation.
The M1 Expert Pies, each including seven to 10 funds, are pre-designed investment portfolios based upon themes such as:
- General Investing: Most similar to a typical robo-advisory portfolio; seven diversified risk-adjusted stock and bond ETF portfolios ranging from ultra-conservative to ultra-aggressive.
- Plan for Retirement: Similar to a target date fund; 10 risk-adjusted stock/bond ETF portfolios for investors expected to retire between 2020 and 2035.
- Responsible Investing: Two socially responsible Pies, one with U.S. and international ESG ETFs and the other devoted to U.S. funds.
- Income Earners: Six Pies offering dividend yields between 2.012% and 3.69%; portfolios include stock and/or bond ETFs.
- Hedge Fund Followers: Eight Pies that track the investment strategies of distinct hedge fund managers like Icahn Capital, Tiger Global Management, and Berkshire Hathaway.?
- Just Stocks and Bonds: Nine Pies which each hold two Vanguard ETFs, an All-World Stock ETF, and a Total Bond ETF; each Pie varies in its asset allocation from 10% bonds and 90% stocks to 90% stocks and 10% bonds, for the most aggressive investors.
- Other Strategies: Seven Pies including value, growth, cannabis, and an Ark Innovation ETF portfolio.
For self-directed investors, there are thousands of ETFs and stocks. Three crypto coins—Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin—are also available. Additional features include a high-yield cash offer and M1 Borrow lending.
Merrill Guided Investing: Best for Education
- Account Minimum: $1,000, or $20,000 with an advisor
- Fee: Annual 0.45% of assets under management, assessed monthly. With advisor—0.85%. Discounts available for Bank of America Preferred Rewards participants.
Why We Chose It
Merrill Guided Investing benefits from integration with the Merrill Lynch and Bank of America brand and resources. The heft of this iconic company provides expansive financial education for beginners all the way through advanced investors, along with a solid robo-advisory offer.
Pros & Cons
24/7 customer service
Superior educational resources, calculators, and tools for a wide range of investors
Integration with Bank of America and Merrill Edge products provides a one-stop shop financial portal
Expansive educational tools, videos, webinars, and courses
Fees are higher than some competitors
No tax-loss harvesting
No financial advisor access for online-only offer
Sign up for Merrill Guided Investing and you’re partnering with a member of the iconic wealth management division of Bank of America. Merrill Lynch & Co. was founded in 1914 by Charles E. Merrill and was acquired by Bank of America in 2009, according to Reuters. Formerly catering to the wealthiest Americans and investment banking activities, the company now strives to serve a wider range of clients.?
Merrill Guided Investing benefits from the company’s deep well of investment management expertise and educational tools. The robo-advisor is unique with a mix of technology-based investment management and oversight by Merrill investment professionals, spearheaded by the company’s Chief Investment Office. Investment portfolios are created to reflect your goals, timeline, and risk tolerance. They also include access to sustainable ESG offers.?
The investment portfolios deviate from the standard passively managed robo-advisory offerings. They are constructed and managed using strategic and tactical asset allocations, which vary based on the user's specific goals, risk tolerance, financial situation, timeline, and expected returns, as well as current and predicted market conditions.
The standout educational offerings include webinars, Morningstar Investing Classroom, and investor education videos. Sample webinar categories include Investor Psychology, Thematic Investing with ETFs, and Sustainable Investing. The partnership with Morningstar includes scores of free courses across investment topics such as stocks, funds, bonds, ETFs, and portfolio creation. Videos span platform-specific and investment topics. Rounding out the Learn Portal are tools and calculators for retirement, investing, college planning, and personal finance.
E*TRADE Core Portfolios: Best for Mobile Experience
- Account Minimum: $500
- Fee: 0.3%
Why We Chose It
E*TRADE Core Portfolios, a member of the prestigious Morgan Stanley family of investment products, provides a solid robo-advisor platform with a user-friendly mobile app. Clients have access to all that the platform offers in the palm of their hand. ?
Pros & Cons
Multiple investment strategies including core, ESG, smart beta, and income
Mobile app enables account opening and transfers and resembles the desktop
Access to the broad Morgan Stanley lineup of investment and financial management services
Competitive robo-advisors available at lower cost
No chat available
Relatively limited goal setting in the portfolio creation process
The E*TRADE company was acquired by Morgan Stanley in October 2020, providing a vast array of investment services for self-directed investors seeking financial planner or robo-advisory advice. Similar to most robo-advisors, the E*TRADE Core Portfolios’ investment process begins with a questionnaire to assess your objectives, including goals, liquidity needs, time horizon, and risk tolerance. Based on your responses, you’re presented with a core investment portfolio to fit your criteria.
Investment portfolio choices include:
- Socially responsible?
- Smart beta
The E*TRADE mobile app includes most features of the Core Portfolios desktop version and is easy to navigate. Users can open an account on the app and seamlessly transfer money into or out of Core Portfolios. The E*TRADE integration provides checking, bill payment, and cash management. You can toggle between your Core Portfolios and self-directed trading account as well.?
- Phone support from a team of Core Portfolios specialists is available Monday through Friday
- Portfolio choices selected by the experienced E*TRADE Capital Management team
- Tax-optimized portfolios available for those with taxable accounts
- E*TRADE Morgan Stanley platform offers extensive financial and life planning guidance related to education, family finances, retirement, elder care, budgeting, and women and money
Choosing the best robo-advisor for your personal goals, financial situation, and risk tolerance depends on many factors. When making this choice, among the most important considerations are the level of customization you need, the different account types that are available, whether access to financial planners is important to you, and whether you require integrated banking or brokerage services. Investment minimums and fees are also critical considerations. Use this list of the best robo-advisors as a starting point to evaluate each platform. Then continue your research by exploring our in-depth reviews of all of the major robo-advisors.
All robo-advisors enable online account setup, but that’s where the similarities often end. Many digital wealth management platforms follow passive investment strategies attempting to match the overall growth of the market; however, different portfolio risk levels, allocation strategies, and customization methods often lead to varying portfolio performance.
|Company||Account Minimum?||Fees?||Key Features|
|Wealthfront Best Overall / Best for Goal Planning / Best for Portfolio Management / Best for Portfolio Construction||$500||0.25% for most accounts, no trading commission or fees for withdrawals, minimums, or transfers; 0.42%–0.46% for 529 plans||Sophisticated financial planning,?customized portfolios, up to $1 million FDIC insurance, mobile app on par with desktop version|
|Betterment Best for Beginners / Best for Cash Management||$0, $10 to start investing||0.25% (annual) for investing plan accounts with at least $20,000 or at least $250 per month in recurring account deposits; otherwise, $4/month||Robust cash management features, customizable asset allocation, create multiple goals, scenario test goals, sync outside accounts|
|M1 Finance Best for Low Costs / Best for Sophisticated Investors / Best for SRI||$100 ($500 minimum for retirement accounts)||0%||Low-cost, customizable portfolios; huge list of prebuilt portfolios; borrow and spend options|
|Merrill Guided Investing Best for Education||$1,000||0.45% of assets under management; 0.85% with advisor; discounts available for Bank of America Preferred Rewards participants||Easy to navigate,? superb goal-planning tools and calculators, Preferred Rewards help customers reduce fees, financial experts create and manage portfolios, excellent customer service|
|E*TRADE Best for Mobile||$500||0.30%||Best for newer or mobile-first investors, socially responsible investing options|
Everything You Need to Know About Robo-Advisor
How To Choose the Best Robo-Advisor?
Choosing the best robo-advisor is highly dependent on who you are and what you need. The first step in choosing the best robo-advisor is understanding your investment goals. Only after that can you compare platforms and choose the best robo-advisor to fit your financial needs.
Understand Your Investment Goals
Human advisors have traditionally worked to help people understand their investment goals and needs. Similarly, robo-advisors can take you through helpful prompts and provide tools to help you properly fill in the details. In the end, however, their understanding of your financial situation and future plans is based mostly on what you input. Some robo-advisors do take the extra step of profiling you based on your age and income in order to compare your needs and goals with those of similar users. That being said, you have to do some of the work yourself to get the most out of a robo-advisor.
Every investor has different goals when it comes to buying a house, saving for retirement, paying for college (for yourself or a dependent), and so on. Depending on your age, you may need to prioritize certain goals over others. The more definition you can give to your goals, the better a robo-advisor will be able to support you.?
If you are in your 20s, for example, you may have goals like buying a house and saving for retirement on your list. Retirement is likely much further away when you are in your 20s and, given that it will most likely be decades until you will be drawing on retirement funds, you can be more aggressive with the funds for that purpose. Saving for a house, however, is ideally a shorter-term goal, with capital preservation being a priority that will temper your risk tolerance.
With a timeline and a target final dollar amount, most robo-advisors will be able to recommend a portfolio with a risk/return profile to get you there. The best robo-advisors provide you with tools to test out different variables and scenarios, like what happens if you increase your contributions or if the market has a few years of bad returns or a prolonged recession, and help nudge you to take actions that will increase your chances of success.
There are some general features that almost all investors value in a robo-advisor, such as easy account setup, solid goal planning, account services, portfolio management, security features, attentive customer service, comprehensive education, and low fees. Although cost is often the main focus, we found comprehensive goal-planning tools to be one of the most important features of a robo-advisor. The best robo-advisors allow you to run scenarios on your goal planning, sync outside accounts for a more comprehensive financial picture, and prompt you to take actions that will improve your chances of success. Beyond that, choosing the best robo-advisor comes down to your specific financial situation.
Generally, a younger person saving for a single goal like retirement or buying a home will be able to make any robo-advisor work. Newer, younger investors will likely value robo-advisors with low account minimums, low fees, and basic capabilities.
Continuing the example above of an investor in their 20s looking to save for a house (near-term, preservation of capital) and retirement (long-term, growth-oriented)—this investor will probably begin looking for some universals like low fees and low account minimums. Some robo-advisors have tiers of fees where the fee goes up to give access to more features, so it is important to figure out whether you need the features of a higher tier or can make do with the basics so you can compare the options properly.
After that, this younger investor will want to look at how many of the low-cost platforms have tax-advantaged 401(k) or IRA accounts (or 403(b), rollovers, or other account types that specifically apply). Similarly, a person saving for college would likely prioritize those robo-advisors that offer 529 plans. For those looking for basic account management services, however, no special account is required.
As your life and finances become more complex, though, the ability to set multiple goals with different timelines may be more important than finding the cheapest robo-advisor. As your net worth grows and life moves forward, you may be willing to pay slightly higher fees for a platform that allows you to consolidate varied financial goals like building college funds for multiple children, saving for a variety of medium- and long-term purchases, and so on, in a single, robust robo-advisor that provides cash management and ongoing tax optimization. In fact, if our hypothetical investor was in their 50s, for example, the goal of retirement and its robo-advisor requirements would shift more to include cash management and withdrawal planning and calculators that are less of a concern for investors who are in their 20s.
Robo-advisors are challenging to evaluate in a traditional investment sense because the portfolio performance isn’t a key differentiator; almost all of them seek to mimic market returns with optimal diversification (there are some exceptions, like M1 Finance). This means it largely comes down to the features you need and the quality of those features. The good news is that the robo-advisor space continues to grow, and even investors with complex finances will still find several robo-advisors to choose from to meet their investment needs.
Robo-Advisors vs. Financial Advisors
While some investors are more concerned with choosing the best robo-advisor, there are still many people deciding between a robo-advisor and a human financial advisor. Simply put, the benefits of a robo-advisor, at its most basic, are a portfolio designed to modern portfolio theory (MPT) standards and some level of goal-planning support for a very low management fee. In contrast, the main benefits of human financial advisors tend to fall on the relationship side more than the technology or financial efficiency side.
Financial advisors can come in a number of forms, including fee-based, commissioned, and blended (a lower fee offset by commissions on some products). One strength that human advisors have is the ability to draw out important information over the course of a conversation, whereas a robo-advisor does everything assuming that your survey responses are absolutely accurate. Human advisors also tend to cover a wider range of topics outside of simple portfolio management. This can include taxation, budgeting, insurance, and even estate planning. Financial advisors can also help you stay on the course of a financial plan when you are tempted to deviate, especially when market conditions get tough. Over time, a financial advisor seeks to build a relationship with you to better understand your financial needs, both spoken and unspoken.
There are some more key differences that are worth covering, but we should note that these are generalizations and may not be true of every financial advisor or robo-advisor.
How Robo-Advisor Portfolios Are Constructed
While robo-advisors strictly adhere to MPT because it makes up the core of their algorithms, financial advisors have more flexibility. If a financial advisor has a clear picture of your finances, they aren’t held to MPT and may suggest concentrated exposure to certain asset classes and markets to offset concentrations in other places like savings bonds in banks, physical assets, real estate holdings, and so on. A financial advisor is also able to select investments outside the ETF universe, which is where most robo-advisors invest. This ability to make direct investments in specific segments of the market can lead to outperformance, as well as underperformance, versus the broader market.
The flip side of this freedom is that commission-based financial advisors may push you towards sub-optimal funds and investments that generate commission. A robo-advisor doesn’t receive a commission and so will solely consider the fee burden and portfolio fit when selecting investments. Fee-based financial advisors avoid this issue as well, but they also cost you money upfront. Finally, some commission-based advisors can appear to cost you nothing but end up with you having more expensive funds when cheaper, low-fee versions would have done the job.?
Performance and Portfolio Management
Because they have the ability to deviate from MPT, financial advisors have more variability in their performance than robo-advisors. As mentioned earlier, portfolio performance isn’t a very good differentiator for robo-advisors because they all seek to return roughly market rates through a diversified portfolio. A financial advisor can outperform or underperform the market, and will likely do a bit of both over time.?
A robo-advisor’s edge over a financial advisor is in clear investment decisions and rules-based portfolio management rather than performance. You may never beat the market, but you will have confidence that your portfolio is being regularly rebalanced to keep it optimized and may even be harvesting tax losses to offset gains on a regular basis.
Robo-Advisor Cash Management Accounts
As market interest rates rise, high-yield cash accounts grow in appeal. As the investment management landscape has grown increasingly competitive, many robo-advisors have made fee-free high-yield cash accounts available through their existing suite of offerings. These offers are typically provided through the firm's association with one or more partner banks. By using multiple banks, some robo-advisors can offer more than the standard $250,000 FDIC insurance. Most of the high-yield cash accounts offer comparable returns and adjust quickly as the Fed raises or lowers rates.?
Best?Robo-Advisors for Uninvested Cash
The fee-free Wealthfront Cash Account offers three account types, individual, joint, and trust. To open an account, all you need is $1. The interest rate fluctuates with market interest rates and currently pays 4.80% on the entire balance. Through partner banks, each account receives up to $5 million in FDIC insurance.
- Receive funds from paycheck two days in advance, with direct deposit
- App-based check deposits
- Bill pay
- Debit card with access to 19,000 no-fee ATMs
- Active fraud monitoring
Titan Smart Cash distinguishes itself from the rest of the robo-advisors’ high-yield cash accounts. Under the current regime of rapidly changing interest rates, it’s tough to know if you’re receiving the best available return on your cash. Titan Smart Cash solves this problem by searching daily across the available high-yield Treasury and cash options to find the best rate for you. Titan considers your tax rate as well to make certain that you’re receiving the best after-tax yield, up to a 5.29% maximum.
- No fees (yields shown are net of fees)
- SIPC insured up to $500,000
- Withdrawals are completed within three to four days
- Predominantly invested in the safest Treasury funds
- Earning the highest yields might require higher minimum investment amounts
Betterment offers two cash management products, Checking and Cash Reserve, through partner banks. Betterment Cash Reserve is the high-yield cash offer, currently paying a 4.75% APY. A time-limited special promotion provides new Betterment users who open their first cash account through the website’s promo link and make a qualified deposit within 14 days the opportunity to receive an additional 0.75% return through Dec. 31, 2023.?
- Up to $2 million FDIC insurance through program banks ($4 million for joint accounts)
- Unlimited withdrawals
- No minimum balance, and just $10 to begin earning interest
- Automated tools to enable multiple saving goals
What Is a Robo-Advisor?
A robo-advisor is an investment platform that makes trades on an investor’s behalf using survey responses and algorithms. The algorithms that a robo-advisor uses to manage your portfolio are based on modern portfolio theory (MPT), which seeks to select investments to maximize returns within an acceptable level of risk through diversification. The information you provide to a robo-advisor, including your age, your investment timeline, and some proxy for your risk appetite, is fed into the MPT-based algorithm to find the ideal portfolio within the asset types offered by the robo-advisor.?
Robo-advisors primarily differ from each other in their complexity and their asset offerings, in addition to the primary differences in account minimums and cost. More advanced robo-advisors can handle multiple portfolios on your behalf, with each portfolio representing a different investment goal and timeline. The most advanced robo-advisors will also take your external accounts held at other institutions into consideration to optimize your holdings and increase the likelihood of reaching your goals. As for asset offerings, most robo-advisors create the majority of your portfolio using exchange-traded funds, but some offer actual direct asset purchases to accounts of a specific size. These direct-purchase assets can include shares, bonds, REITs, actively managed funds, and so on.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Robo-Advisor?
Whether you are a savvy investment and money management person or not, there are benefits to using robo-advisors. In general, robo-advisor fees are lower than those of traditional financial managers who typically charge north of 1% to manage your assets. Most robo-advisory investment portfolios contain low-fee ETFs from diverse sections of the investment markets such as stocks, bonds, and real assets. The investment portfolio that you select is generally created to fit your time horizon, risk tolerance, and future goals.?
Due to robo-advisors’ structure and cost, investing with a robo-advisor can improve your investment discipline and prevent you from making impulsive investment decisions, such as selling after a market decline. You’ll also save money on fees and individual investments when investing with a robo-advisor vs. a financial advisor. Many robo-advisors also offer additional features such as access to human financial advisors, cash management, margin lending, and high-yield cash accounts.
Are Robo-Advisors Safe?
Robo-advisor security is comparable with bank-level security. That means your account is protected with professional security protocols, two-factor identification, and limited access by company employees to your personal information. Some robo-advisor cash accounts are protected by the same FDIC insurance that banks use, while your investment accounts typically carry SIPC insurance, which protects you if the robo-advisor goes bankrupt.
When investing in financial stock and bond markets, your investment values will go up and down. There is no insurance to protect from normal market volatility.
How Much Do You Need to Invest?
Every robo-advisor has an investment minimum. The amounts needed to begin investing vary from $10 up to $100,000. Some also offer unlimited access to human financial advisors. The most common minimums are $100 and $500. But Charles Schwab charges a $5,000 minimum for its fee-free Intelligent Portfolios platform. If you’re short on cash, then look for a robo-advisor with a low required minimum investment amount.??
Even if you don’t have a lot to invest today, it’s smart to begin investing early. As your income grows, you can increase transfers into your account and boost your long-term wealth.
How Much Do Robo-Advisors Cost to Use?
Robo-advisors typically charge less than 0.50% of assets under management, which is far below the traditional asset management fees charged by human advisors. Premium offerings from the platforms that are split into basic and premium will be closer to that 0.50% line.?
Putting this in context, a traditional human advisor will generally be double the standard robo-advisor at 1% or more. In both cases, however, there is a similar limitation in that any advisor, robo or human, can only work with the information you give as to your personal situation and financial needs.
Which Robo-Advisor Has the Best Returns?
Although some of the robo-advisors we reviewed do offer some funds designed to outperform the market, the vast majority of robo-advisors are designed to match the overall returns of the market. Many of the ETFs that robo-advisors use to develop a balanced portfolio either are or have elements of index-tracking funds. Depending on the robo-advisor, your funds may also be diversified globally as well as by asset class. This means portions of the portfolio's holdings could outperform or underperform your domestic stock market when the idea is to have the portfolio keeping pace with the overall market rather than outperforming or underperforming it.
Providing readers with unbiased, comprehensive reviews of digital wealth management companies, more commonly known as robo-advisors, is a top priority of Investopedia. Over a period of two months, our team of researchers, data collectors, and industry experts conducted an exhaustive review process that included in-depth industry research, company survey data collection, and hands-on demonstrations and evaluations of 19 robo-advisor platforms.
We then developed a quantitative model that scored each company to rate its performance across nine major categories and 57 criteria to find the best robo-advisors. The score for each company’s overall star rating is a weighted average of the criteria.
Many of the companies we reviewed also performed live demonstrations of their platforms and services in video calls with our research and editorial teams. Our team of expert writers and editors was also granted access to live accounts so they could perform hands-on testing. Through this all-encompassing data collection and review process, Investopedia has provided you with an unbiased and thorough review of the top robo-advisors.
Read our full Methodology for reviewing robo-advisors.
The above material and content should not be considered to be a recommendation. Investing in digital assets is highly speculative and volatile, and only suitable for investors who are able to bear the risk of potential loss and experience sharp drawdowns.?Digital assets are not legal tender and are not backed by the U.S. government. Digital assets are not subject to FDIC insurance or SIPC protections.
Dotdash Meredith receives cash compensation from Wealthfront Advisers LLC (“Wealthfront Advisers”) for each new client that applies for a Wealthfront Automated Investing Account through our links. This creates an incentive that results in a material conflict of interest. Dotdash Meredith is not a Wealthfront Advisers client, and this is a paid endorsement. More information is available via our links to Wealthfront Advisers.
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