Want a simple way to invest without managing it yourself? Robo-advisors are automated investing apps that help you build a balanced investment portfolio for a fraction of the cost of a traditional financial advisor.
There are quite a few options to choose from, and each robo-advisor has its own focus. Some offer low fees (or none!), others have a huge selection of portfolios to choose from, and a few are designed for high-net-worth individuals.
I’ve reviewed nearly two dozen options to find the best robo-advisor platforms for different types of investors. And I won’t pull any punches. While the list below represents the best of the best, there are downsides to each, so be sure to pay attention to those before making a decision.
Overview: Best robo-advisors
- Best for beginners: Acorns
- Best for low-cost ETFs: Vanguard Digital Advisor®
- Best for Roth IRAs: Betterment
- Best for tax-loss harvesting: Wealthfront
- Best for 401(k) accounts: blooom
- Best for low fees: SoFi Automated Investing
- Best for DIY investors: M1
- Best for high-net-worth individuals: Empower
Acorns: Best robo-advisor for beginners
Management fees: $3 or $5 per month
Account minimum: $0
Promotions: $10 sign-up bonus, terms apply
Acorns makes investing easy for beginners by simply rounding up purchases to the nearest dollar and investing the difference. Add to that a simple onboarding process and well-balanced Acorns portfolios consisting of low-cost index funds, and Acorns is a great way to help new investors build a solid investment plan without much work.
Acorns offers the standard robo-advisor features, such as recurring investments (as little as $5 at a time), automatic portfolio rebalancing, and dividend reinvestment, as well as discounts at online retailers for ordering through their shopping portal. The monthly fee can be costly, though, especially if you have a small amount invested, in which the fees might erase your gains.
- Well-designed mobile app
- Invest spare change with Round-Ups®
- Decent selection of low-cost index funds
- Lots of educational resources
- High monthly fee compared to other robo-advisors
- Limited customization of investments
Vanguard Digital Advisor®: Best robo-advisor for low-cost ETFs
Management fees: Net of approximately 0.15%
Account minimum: $3,000
Promotions: 90 days with no advisory fee, terms apply
Vanguard is one of the strongest names in the investing world, and for good reason. With rock-bottom fees, access to a variety of index funds, and a member-owned business structure, Vanguard is always looking out for its members. The Vanguard Digital Advisor® service is an entry-level robo-advisor that offers simple tools and access to broadly diversified, low-cost ETFs.
The expense ratios on the Vanguard ETFs average around 0.05% annually, meaning you are only charged $5 for every $10,000 Vanguard manages. Vanguard Digital Advisor® automates the process by rebalancing the portfolio as needed and facilitating recurring investments. The approximate 0.15% annual fee is lower than most robo-advisors too, keeping the overall costs to a minimum.
There are some additional tools as well, including a debt payoff tool, and a dashboard that tracks your progress toward retirement and other goals. Overall, Vanguard offers a simple approach to retirement planning, and keeps fees lower than competitors.
Bonus: If you want access to a human advisor, Vanguard lets you upgrade your Digital Advisor® to its Vanguard Personal Advisor Services® offering, giving you unlimited access to Vanguard financial planners for only an annual fee of up to 0.30% ($50,000 minimum investment).
- Simple retirement planning tools
- Very low fees
- Automated management
- Access to famous Vanguard ETFs
- Limited investment selection
- No tax-loss harvesting
All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.
Vanguard Digital Advisor® services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc. (“VAI”), a federally registered investment advisor. VAI is a subsidiary of VGI and an affiliate of VMC. Neither VAI nor its affiliates guarantee profits or protection from losses.
Vanguard Digital Advisor is an all-digital service. Digital Advisor charges a 0.20% annual gross advisory fee to manage Vanguard Brokerage Accounts for a typical Digital Advisor managed portfolio. The gross advisory fee is reduced by a credit of the actual revenue The Vanguard Group, Inc. ("VGI"), or its affiliates retain from investments in each enrolled account, resulting in a net advisory fee that will be the actual fee collected from your account. A typical Vanguard ETF® portfolio will be credited approximately 0.05%, resulting in a net advisory fee of approximately 0.15%. The actual net fee amount will vary based on your unique asset allocation, account type, and specific holdings in each enrolled account. Note that this fee doesn't include investment expense ratios, but we generally recommend using low-cost Vanguard funds to build your portfolio. For more information on the services, see the Form CRS and the Vanguard Digital Advisor Brochure.
Vanguard Marketing Corporation, Distributor of the Vanguard Funds. Vanguard Disclosure - Vanguard Personal Advisor Services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc., a registered investment advisor, or by Vanguard National Trust Company, a federally chartered, limited purpose trust company.
The services provided to clients who elect to receive ongoing advice will vary based upon the amount of assets in a portfolio. Please review the Form CRS and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Brochure for important details about the service, including its asset based service levels and fee breakpoints.
VAI is a subsidiary of VGI and an affiliate of VMC. Neither VAI nor its affiliates guarantee profits or protection from losses.
Betterment: Best robo-advisor for Roth IRAs
Management fees: 0.25% or 0.40%
Account minimum: $10 to start investing
Promotions: Up to one year of free management, terms apply
Betterment offers a suite of financial planning tools and access to both standard brokerage accounts and retirement accounts. The Betterment Roth IRA has a large selection of portfolio options to invest in.
Betterment boasts a low 0.25% management fee, which gives you access to all of its planning and goal-setting tools, as well as ETFs in over a dozen asset classes. Betterment also has a Premium plan for high-net-worth individuals, offering access to CFP® practitioners and full-service financial planning for an additional 0.15% annual fee. For retirement accounts, Betterment is one of the best all-around robo-advisors available.
- Low advisory fee (0.25%)
- Goal-setting and planning tools built into app
- CFP® access for a relatively small additional fee
- No access to REITs
- Premium plan requires $100,000 minimum
Wealthfront: Best robo-advisor for tax-loss harvesting
Management fees: 0.25%
Account minimum: $500
Promotions: $5K managed for free, terms apply
Wealthfront offers some of the more sophisticated investing tools of any robo-advisor, including Smart Beta, direct indexing, and advanced tax-loss harvesting. In fact, in taxable accounts with more than $100,000 invested, Wealthfront offers stock-level tax loss harvesting on a daily basis.
Wealthfront also offers quite a few other notable perks for a robo-advisor, including portfolio loans on taxable accounts, access to ETFs in 11 different asset classes, and a free financial planning and goal-setting tool called “Path.” Wealthfront also offers a cash account with a high interest rate and up to $5 million in FDIC insurance.
Wealthfront may be the most complete robo-advisor service available today, and with a low annual fee, it’s also one of the best.
- Multiple ways to lower taxes
- Access to free financial planning tool
- Access to portfolio loans
- Low overall fees for management and funds
- No fractional share investing
- Relatively high account minimum to open ($500)
- Can’t access best tax savings with under $100K balance
- No access to human advisors
blooom: Best robo-advisor for 401(k) accounts
Management fees: $0 to $295 annually
Account minimum: $0
blooom is one of the only robo-advisors that connects to your 401(k) or other workplace retirement account to help you analyze your fees and investment choices. It can also manage IRA accounts as well, helping build a diverse retirement portfolio between both accounts.
blooom offers a free analysis by simply connecting your retirement accounts to the service, and will provide insights on your current investments and call out any high fees you are currently paying. There are three tiers to its paid service, with the two higher tiers giving you access to licensed financial advisors.
blooom does come with an annual flat fee (instead of charging a percentage of your investments) for investment recommendations or active management. But this can make it cheaper for you if you have a larger investment balance. These plans start at $120 per year and go up to $295 annually.
- Management of 401(k) and other workplace retirement accounts
- Free portfolio analysis and planning tools
- Can fully automate investments
- Access to human advisors
- Costly for users with small account balances
- Cannot manage standard brokerage accounts
- Non-custodial (they aren’t a broker themselves, but place trades on your behalf)
SoFi Automated Investing: Best robo-advisor for low fees
Management fees: None
Account minimum: $0
SoFi offers a unique robo-advisor service, with no management fees, fully-automated investing, and access to human financial advisors and career counselors at no extra cost. The only fees you pay are the expense ratios for ETFs in the portfolio, but SoFi also waives the fees on the SoFi-owned funds for users.
SoFi offers access to a wide selection of investments, with ETFs in a dozen asset classes, and the ability to open both taxable and retirement accounts. The platform has standard robo-advisor services (such as automatic rebalancing, recurring investments, etc.), but also lets you hop on a call with a licensed financial advisor for advice on how to invest and save toward your goals.
SoFi is an all-in-one finance company that also administers other financial products, such as student loan financing, personal loans, a rewards credit card, crypto investing, and even full banking services. Members that utilize the SoFi Automated Investing service receive discounts on other SoFi products (such as lower rates on loans).
Overall, SoFi is the lowest-cost robo-advisor around, and is designed to help you with more than just investing.
- No management fees
- Large investment selection
- Access to financial planner and career counselors (for free)
- Discounts on other SoFi products
- No tax-loss harvesting
- Utilizes SoFi ETFs in portfolios, which don’t have a long track record
M1: Best robo-advisor for DIY investors
M1 is not a typical robo-advisor, but does offer automated investing solutions through its platform and mobile app. M1 Finance is an investing app that allows users to create their own investing “pie,” which is just a simple way of saying portfolio. M1 Finance also offers “Expert” pies, which are pre-made investing portfolios selected by experts, according to different investing styles. You can also choose to copy the portfolio of other users that share their custom pie on the platform.
When you invest, M1 Finance automatically divides the money up between the different investments in your pie, and automatically keeps the asset allocation in check by rebalancing every time you invest. M1 Finance also offers “smart transfers,” which allows you to create “if this, then that” rules to transfer and invest your money automatically. For example, you could set a rule that says: “Invest all extra funds when my account balance reaches $1,000.”
M1 Finance is free for most users, but there are a few features that require upgrading to an M1 Plus membership, which costs $125 annually. These features include:
- Smart transfers
- Kids’ custodial accounts
- Additional trading windows
- Lower fees on margin loans
- A higher interest rate for the checking account
M1 Finance is for DIY investors, as they don’t make investment decisions for you, and don’t give you access to financial advisors to help you invest. But if you are someone who wants to automate your investments, but have the freedom to pick and choose what you’d like to invest in, M1 Finance could be a good option.
- No commissions on stock and ETF trading
- Access to thousands of investment choices
- Copy the investment pie of experts or other users
- Some features are locked behind “M1 Plus” membership, which is $125/year
- Not a managed service
- No access to human advisors
*Your free trial (a $31.25 value) begins the date you enroll in the M1 Plus subscription, and ends 90 days after ("Free Trial"). Upon expiry of the Free Trial, your account is automatically billed an annual subscription fee of $125 unless you cancel under your Membership details in the M1 Platform. M1 Invest Disclosure: This article is not investment advice. All investing involves risk, including the risk of losing the money you invest. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Brokerage products and services offered by M1 Finance, LLC Member FINRA/SIPC, and a wholly owned subsidiary of M1 Holdings, Inc.
Empower: Best robo-advisor for high-net-worth individuals
Management fees: 0.49% to 0.89%
Account minimum: $100,000
Empower is best known as a free investment tracker and analysis tool, allowing you to link up your financial accounts and see how your investments are performing. In addition to the free tools, Empower is a high-end advisory firm, offering customized investment plans for high-net-worth individuals at a fair price.
Empower’s wealth management services are available once you have $100,000 or more to invest, and come with unlimited access to licensed financial advisors, a full financial plan, and access to all of Empower’s online tools to track your investments. While management fees start at 0.89% annually, the fees can be as low as 0.49% if you have over $10 million invested.
- Access to free financial planning tools
- Access to licensed financial advisors
- Holistic, customized financial planning
- Only available if investing over $100,000
- Management fees are higher than most robo-advisors
(Personal Capital is now Empower)
How I chose these robo-advisors
I reviewed nearly two-dozen robo-advisor services, and filtered out those that were too costly, or that didn’t offer competitive features and services. I picked robo-advisors that appeal to different types of investors to give a wide variety of choices. All robo-advisors on this list offer low-cost ETFs, and are registered with FINRA, keeping them compliant with investment laws in the U.S.
What is a robo-advisor?
A robo-advisor is an automated investing service that helps you choose investments based on your risk tolerance, investing goals, and investing timelines. Robo-advisors do not rely on human interaction, and make investment decisions based on advanced algorithms and pre-selected portfolios.
Robo-advisors typically invest in low-cost ETFs, offering investment diversification while keeping the fees to a minimum. Robo-advisors also manage your investment for you, meaning that portfolios are automatically rebalanced on a regular basis, and some offer tax-loss harvesting to reduce your capital gains tax liability.
Read more: Capital gains and losses explained
How does a robo-advisor work?
Robo-advisors typically onboard new users by asking a series of questions about your money, your life, and your personality, which helps them gauge your risk tolerance and select the right types of investments for you.
You are then presented with an investment mix of ETFs that comprise your portfolio, and you can adjust this by choosing a more “aggressive” or “conservative” investment approach. Once the portfolio is selected and your account is funded, the robo-advisor keeps your portfolio in balance (by rebalancing), and invests new funds according to your asset allocation.
Robo-advisors are driven by algorithms and pre-defined parameters that help determine how to invest for a wide range of users.
Robo-advisors make investing easier, and there are quite a few robo-advisor services to choose from today. If you want to invest like a pro, but without paying the hefty annual fees of a financial advisor, a robo-advisor may be a good option for you.
Choosing the right robo-advisor means thinking about your investing goals, what features you absolutely need, and how “hands-off” you want to be. And don’t forget to consider the fees, as they can take a considerable chunk out of your investment earnings over time.
Featured image: Shutterstock.com/ Indypendenz
Read more:MoneyUnder30 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. MoneyUnder30 is not a Wealthfront Advisers client, and this is a paid endorsement. More information is available via our links to Wealthfront Advisers.
Empower Personal Wealth, LLC (“EPW”) compensates Webpals Systems S. C LTD for new leads. Webpals Systems S. C LTD is not an investment client of Personal Capital Advisors Corporation or Empower Advisory Group, LLC.