The best robo-advisors offer easy account setup, robust goal planning, account services, portfolio management, and security features, attentive customer service, comprehensive education, and low fees.
Best Robo-Advisors of 2019:
- M1 Finance
- Personal Capital
- Interactive Advisors
- Account Minimum: $500
- Fees: 0.25% for most accounts, no trading commission or fees for withdrawals, minimums, or transfers. 0.42%–0.46% for 529 plans. Underlying portfolios of ETFs average 0.07%–0.16% management fee
Wealthfront earns the top spot in our robo-advisor ranking with its winning combination of goal-planning assistance, ease of use, transparency when building a portfolio, and account services. Even without having a Wealthfront account, you can use their financial planning tool, Path, which gives you a picture of your financial situation and whether you are on track towards retiring comfortably. Wealthfront allows you to borrow against the value of your portfolio as a line of credit. This can only be done once your portfolio has accumulated at least $25,000. As your account balance increases, you have access to additional services such as adding individual stocks and their Smart Beta program.
Financial planning tools that help you see the big picture
The best goal planning capabilities of all robo-advisors
Portfolio line of credit for accounts over $25,000
Tax-loss harvesting available for all taxable accounts
Cash management accounts available
No online chat for prospective customers or existing clients
Larger accounts may contain mutual funds with much higher expense ratios
Portfolios under $100,000 are not customizable beyond risk settings
Wealthfront carries no insurance beyond standard SIPC coverage
- Account Minimum: $100 ($500 minimum for retirement accounts)
- Fee: 0%
M1 Finance is not exactly a robo-advisor since it is registered as a broker/dealer. But it offers a unique combination of automated investing with a high level of customization, allowing clients to create a portfolio tailored to their exact specifications. You can create portfolios containing low-cost ETFs, or use individual stocks – or both. Their target customer has a long-term focus, and may have used a traditional online brokerage to invest in stocks and ETFs, but wants a lower cost alternative that allows fractional share transactions to personalize a portfolio.
Portfolios are displayed as “pies,” which are circular charts with slices that represent each asset. Those investing for retirement can invest in a target-date portfolio made up of ETFs. There are socially responsible pies, created in partnership with Nuveen, that offer passive investment opportunities. You can borrow against your portfolio at a relatively low-interest rate using the M1 Borrow feature. It’s a remarkably flexible platform and includes stock and ETF screeners, which are rare in the robo-advisor world. There’s a premium offering, which runs $125 per year that includes additional trading opportunities, lower interest rates on loans through M1 Borrow, and higher interest rates on cash held in an M1 Spend account. It launches later this year.
Trade fractional shares so you are fully invested with no excess cash
Build your own portfolio or follow one of 80 "expert" portfolios
The standard investing platform is free
Ability to see portfolio contents which you can rebalance at any time
Accounts with less than $20 and no activity in 90 days are charged a management fee
No online chat capability; most support is via email
No financial planning professionals on staff
Very little help for establishing financial goals
There is no account consolidation tool available
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: 0.25% (annual) for digital plan, 0.40% (annual) for the premium plan
There are several ways to use Betterment: you can sync all of your financial accounts to get an overall picture of your assets without investing, or you can use Betterment to invest in either one of their pre-built portfolios, or you can build your own portfolio. Taxable accounts are designed to maximize after-tax returns using tax-loss harvesting, and portfolios are rebalanced when necessary. There are a lot of planning tools and advice offered along the way. The recommended portfolios are displayed before funding and you can choose a socially responsible option if you'd like. Betterment launched a cash management product in late July that pays a relatively high rate of interest.
The goal monitoring tool is visually pleasing and makes your progress easy to track. Online chat is built into the website and mobile apps. The annual management fee for a standard account is 0.25% of your Betterment balance. For a 0.40% annual management fee, you can upgrade to the Premium plan, which offers access to financial planners.
Quick and easy account setup
Portfolios are fully transparent prior to funding
You can sync external accounts to individual goals
Add a new goal at any time and track your progress with ease
Easily change portfolio risk or switch to a different type of portfolio
Users of the planning function are constantly nudged to fund a Betterment account
The standard plan incurs a charge of $199–$299 to talk to a financial planner
Socially Responsible portfolios are invested in exchange traded funds (ETFs)
There is no margin lending, secured loans, or borrowing options against your portfolio
- Account Minimum: $100,000
- Fees: 0.89% to 0.49% for accounts over $1 million
Personal Capital's account minimum is $100,000, which puts them out of range for a new investor, but anyone can use their free financial planning tool. There are three levels of asset management once you've topped that $100,000 minimum that offer higher levels of human help as you go. There's no generic customer support number to call since every client has a financial advisor assigned from the start. Personal Capital has excellent tax minimization strategies, intended to lower your tax payments due to investment activity. Recommended portfolios are strategically designed to help each client attain their individual goals, but you can't see the specific contents until an account is funded.
Account holders have a financial planner on call
Excellent tax optimization strategies
Very wealthy clients can use Private Client services
Robust financial planning tools
Extremely high account minimum requirement
High fees compared to digital-only competitors
Mobile app is missing several key features
The sign-up process requires a phone call with a financial planner
- Account Minimum: $1,000 for portfolios managed by Interactive Advisors. $10,000-$120,000 for portfolios managed by boutique money managers.
- Fees: 0.08-1.5% per year, depending on advisor and portfolio chosen
Interactive Advisors, a service offered by Interactive Brokers, offers a wide range of portfolios from which to choose. At the lower end of the cost scale, you will find rules-based automated portfolios from their Smart Beta (0.08% management fee), Diversified (0.20%) and Asset Allocation models (0.12%), while actively managed portfolios run by money managers are at the higher end of the range (0.50-1.5%). Existing brokerage customers can partition a portion of their existing portfolios and invest in one (or more) of those offered. Margin lending is available, as is taking a loan against the value of your portfolio.
The service is currently weak when it comes to helping customers plan for their goals, but there are plans to improve their goal planning features in 2020. Clients can use the IB Investors’ Marketplace to search for financial planners and professionals.
Wide range of portfolios offered
Most portfolios contain individual stocks
Margin lending and portfolio-backed loans available
PortfolioAnalyst tool lets you consolidate and track your financial accounts
Opening and funding an account is difficult
Little help available for goal planning
Trading commissions make it difficult to ascertain costs
Some actively managed accounts have very high minimums
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of robo-advisors. Our 2019 reviews are the result of six months of evaluating all aspects of 32 robo-advisor platforms.
Our overall winners needed to score well across the range of categories we evaluate against. That means that they have low fees, easy account setup, excellent goal setting tools, a good range of both what types of equities you can hold in your portfolio and also your flexibility in managing them, a pleasant user experience, comprehensive education, and robust customer service and security features.
Our team of industry experts, led by Theresa W. Carey, conducted our reviews and developed this best-in-industry methodology for ranking robo-advisor platforms for investors at all levels. Click here to read our full methodology.