You’d like to be a confident investor, but you’re overwhelmed. And why wouldn’t you be? In a given year, you see thousands of advertisements, all promising the best way to invest. And if you go it alone, you have to choose among tens of thousands of investment funds.
I’m skeptical of studies that suggest Millennials are scared of the stock market. But I do believe it intimidates us. In robo-advisors, technology may have found the answer.
The best robo-advisors offer an affordable alternative to picking stocks or mutual funds on your own or shelling over a lot of money to a wealth manager to invest your money for you.
The best time to start investing is today.
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What is a robo-advisor?
A robo-advisor is a diversified investment account that is automatically managed by a computer algorithm (as opposed to a human money manager).
To an investor, how robo-advisors work is actually quite simple:
- You choose a goal and how much to invest.
- An algorithm chooses the right asset allocation to get you there using a collection of low-cost mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
- The computers keep your portfolio balanced automatically over time and whenever you invest more money.
- For this service, the robo-advisors collect a modest fee that’s between a quarter and half of what you’d pay to an individual wealth manager.
So how do you choose the best robo-advisor account for you?
We’ve narrowed the list of investment accounts providing robo-investing to three that I feel are the best automatically managed investment accounts for young investors because of their combination of low minimum investments and low fees on small portfolios. At the end, I’ve included a few others worth watching, or that may be attractive to investors with larger amounts to invest.
The best robo-advisors for new investors compared
Here at Money Under 30, we frequently herald the benefits of starting to invest as soon as you can, even in amounts as little as $50. Traditionally, however, investing has been a losing proposition until you’ve amassed a few thousand dollars, simply because trading and minimum balance fees would eat any potential gains on smaller amounts. And then there was the fact that many mutual funds wouldn’t even accept customers with less than $2,000 or $3,000 to invest.
Some automatically-managed investment accounts are changing that by offering low minimums and low (or even non-existent) fees on small portfolios. Here we compare seven such accounts: Wealthfront, Betterment, Acorns, Personal Capital, Ally Invest Managed Portfolios, FutureAdvisor and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.
Wealthfront isn’t just one of the largest robo-advisors in the U.S., it also tops our list of best robo-advisors for new investors along with Betterment (reviewed next).
The reason is simple: Wealthfront doesn’t charge management fees on balances under $10,000.
Many robo-investing competitors charge fees that can be especially burdensome to new investors with small balances.
Wealthfront requires a $500 minimum investment and its fee is 0.25 percent fixed a year on portfolios over $10,000 – one of the more quite competitive fees. Betterment, however, undercuts Wealthfront’s pricing for investors with balances above $100,000 at just 0.15 percent a year.
Learn more about Wealthfront or open an account
Investing doesn’t get easier than Betterment.
I’ve been a fan of Betterment for years because of its simplicity and the ability to easily open sub-accounts that use different portfolios for reaching multiple goals. (For example, you could have a long-term investment account with an aggressive allocation while also be investing money for a new car at a more conservative allocation). Read our full review of Betterment here.
Betterment the best of both worlds – customers get Betterment’s core product AND human access to their team of licensed financial experts and CFPs via the mobile messaging interface.
Betterment’s pricing is also quite competitive: Its Digital plan charges 0.25 percent annually. You’ll have access to a full suite of services as well as mobile messaging to an advisor.
If you have a balance over 100k, you have the opportunity to upgrade to Betterment’s Premium plan, which includes all features of the Digital plan, plus unlimited calls to Betterment’s team of CFPs. With the premium plan you’ll be charged 0.40 percent annually.
Learn more about Betterment or open an account
Acorns is an app-based robo-advisor that makes it easy to invest amounts as little as $5 a month and is free for investors under 24 and students with a valid .edu email address. Choosing a portfolio is simple; Acorns only gives you five choices. You can also choose to link a credit or debit card, round up purchases, and invest the difference.
Acorns charges 0.25 percent a year on accounts over $5,000, but, like Betterment, Acorns dings accounts under $5,000 (if you’re not under 24 or a student). At Acorns, the fee on accounts under $5,000 is $1 a month.
If you can take advantage of the fact that Acorns is free for students, it’s a great choice for starting to invest small amounts. Just make sure you can save $5,000 before you graduate. Read our full review of Acorns here.
Learn more about Acorns or open an account
Other best robo-advisors for larger portfolios
If you already have $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 to invest, there are some other automatically-managed investment accounts to consider.
Ally Invest Managed Portfolios
Ally Invest Managed Portfolios (formerly TradeKing Advisors) is a robo-advisor offered by Ally, a large financial institution that purchased the popular low-cost stock broker, TradeKing, in 2016.
Their managed portfolios offers a helpful questionnaire to determine your investment goals and what it will take to get there. You can take it before opening an account to see what it recommends.
With a minimum investment of $2,500, you get a professionally-managed investment portfolio based upon your goals, risk preferences, and time horizon. The annual advisory fee is a fixed 0.30 percent, regardless of your account balance. Learn more about Ally Invest Managed Portfolios or open an account
Personal Capital is a bit different than the robo-advisors above as it offers a hybrid approach: Investors get award-winning online tools to gain deep insights about their portfolios but also personal attention from licensed financial advisors.
The great thing about Personal Capital is the online tools are completely free to use (and I recommend you do – they’ll help you gain a deeper understanding of your existing investments). Try it here.
For paid advisory clients, however, Personal Capital’s personal touch comes at a higher cost: Personal Capital charges 0.89 percent a year on accounts up to $1 million. Lower fees are available for clients with $3 million or more. There is a $25,000 minimum required for advisory services. Read our full Personal Capital review here.
Learn more about Personal Capital or open an account
As an automatically-managed investment account, FutureAdvisor’s flat fee of 0.5 percent is higher than the competition, but the company offers a couple of features others don’t. First, while FutureAdvisor portfolios are automatically managed, clients can call a real advisor with questions.
Second, FutureAdvisor offers everybody free tools to help you manage your 401(k), something other robo-advisors can’t do. At FutureAdvisor, anybody can create an account and get investment recommendations – you only have to pay if you want FutureAdvisor to implement those recommendations automatically on your behalf.
Learn more about FutureAdvisor or open an account
Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
Vanguard is the world’s largest mutual fund company and is responsible for making low-cost, passive investing the trend it is today. (In fact, many of the robo-advisors mentioned above construct their portfolios using mostly Vanguard funds).
Earlier in 2015, Vanguard got into the robo-advisor game with its Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. Like Personal Capital, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is a hybrid approach in which you’ll initially and occasionally work with a licensed advisor to define your goals and balance your portfolio.
Vanguard Personal Advisor Services requires a $50,000 minimum portfolio – the largest of the robo-advisors mentioned here – but charges a surprisingly low 0.30 percent a year (that’s competitive with fully automatic accounts but includes personalized advice from a human being).
Learn more about Vanguard Personal Advisor Services or open an account