Robo-advisors are automated, online investment platforms that provide complete portfolio construction and ongoing investment management for a very low fee.
Choose the right robo-advisor and all you’ll need to do is fund your account and watch it grow.
But with all the robo-advisors that have been springing up in the last decade or so, how can you know which will work best for you?
That’s why we’ve prepared this list of the 10 best robo-advisors for 2021. If you’ve spent any time researching robo-advisors there’s an outstanding chance you’ve heard of most of these platforms.
We’ve done a summary review of each of the 10 to help you select the one that will work best for you.
The good news with all the new robo-advisors popping up is that it’s created a kind of competition that’s forced companies to expand their product menus.
As a result, many robo-advisors are now designed to fill specific investing niches. If you know what niche you fit into, choosing the right robo-advisor will be even easier.
Below are our top picks for robo-advisors, based on features (explained below), minimums and pricing.
It’s no surprise that robo-advisors have become very popular, particularly among Millennials. They enable you to “invest on the go”, earn steady investment returns (or at least match the underlying markets), and sets you free from the time, effort and concern that hands-on investing requires.
Betterment offers two plan levels.
The Digital plan is the basic level available for all investors. It requires no minimum initial investment and charges an annual advisory fee of 0.25% of your account balance.
Your portfolio will be invested in a mix of US and international stocks and bonds and include tax-loss harvesting on all taxable accounts.
Betterment Premium is available for account balances of $100,000 or more and has an annual advisory fee of 0.40%.
It offers all the features of the Digital plan, but also provides external account syncing for better portfolio coordination, as well as unlimited access to Betterment’s team of financial experts.
Portfolio Mix: Exchange traded funds (ETFs) invested in US and international stocks and bonds. A large portion of the US stock allocation is in value stocks, which offer an opportunity to outperform the general market.
Human Advice: Unlimited access to financial planners on the Premium plan.
Alternative Portfolio Options: Socially responsible investing (SRI), Goldman Sachs Smart Beta, Tax-Coordinated Portfolio, BlackRock Target Income Portfolio, and Flexible Portfolios.
Banking Services Offered: No-fee Checking account, with no monthly maintenance fees, or any other fees, as well as reimbursement for ATM fees and foreign transaction fees. The account comes with a Visa debit card that can be used anywhere Visa is accepted. They also offer Betterment Cash Reserve, an online high yield savings account.
What Betterment Does Best: Betterment topped our list because they do many things well. But we especially like the use of value funds for much of the US stock position, as well as the Flexible Portfolio option. That gives you the ability to adjust asset allocation weights in your portfolio, giving you some control over an otherwise automated investment process.
SoFi is best known for providing student loans and student loan refinances.
But they’ve branched into multiple financial product offers, including robo-advisor investing through SoFi Invest. The platform enables you to participate in self-directed investing, allowing you to invest in stocks, ETFs, and even cryptocurrencies.
But they also give you a robo-advisor option in SoFi Automated Investing. That will include creating a portfolio for you, then providing complete management, including periodic rebalancing. They offer five different investment strategies, ranging from conservative to aggressive. And you can change your strategy at any time.
Portfolio Mix: ETFs, though the specific list or asset allocation is not provided.
Human Advice: Access to SoFi Financial Advisors. They can help you develop a personalized financial plan.
Alternative Portfolio Options: N/A.
Banking Services Offered: SoFi offers SoFi Money, which is a cash management account with no account fees. The company reports paying six times the national average interest rate – as well as the ability to earn cash back rewards – when you make monthly recurring deposits of $500. You’ll pay no ATM fees at more than 55,000 ATMs.
What SoFi Invest Does Best: In addition to evolving into a full-service financial platform, providing nearly any financial product you may need, we like that SoFi Automated Investing provides complete investment management for no fee.
M1 Finance is practically unique in the robo-advisor universe. In fact, it’s only part robo-advisor, and part self-directed investing platform. That’s because you can build your own portfolios – referred to as “pies” – then have them professionally managed by the service, free of charge.
Though there is no minimum amount required to open an account, you will need at least $100 to invest in a taxable account and at least $500 for an IRA.
Portfolio Mix: Pies can be constructed using either individual stocks, ETFs, or a mix of both – up to 100 securities in each. You can choose which securities will go into any pie, or you can rely on the recommendations from the templates provided by M1 Finance.
Human Advice: N/A.
Alternative Portfolio Options: Portfolio options are unlimited since you can create your own. You can even create multiple pies.
Banking Services Offered: Available through M1 Spend and M1 Borrow. They offer two account levels, Basic M1 Account and M1 Plus Account. With the Basic account, you’ll have a checking account, complete with a debit card to access your funds. But the Plus account enables you to both earn 1% interest on your balance, as well as 1% cash back on purchases. Both accounts are FDIC insured for up to $250,000, but the Plus account has an annual fee of $125.
Either account gives you access to M1 Borrow, which is an instant margin loan against your investment accounts. You can borrow up to 35% of your investment value in a matter of seconds. The interest rate will be 2% with the Plus account, and 3.5% with the Basic account.
What M1 Finance Does Best: M1 Finance gives you the ability to create your own portfolio, then have it professionally managed, robo-advisor style. It’s the perfect blend of self-directed investing and automated management. And you’ve got to love the no-fee factor as well.
Personal Capital is two services in one.
The first is the free Financial Dashboard.
It’s available to anyone at any time. Much like Mint, it works as an online financial aggregator, where you can link your various financial accounts for a birds-eye view of your entire financial life.
It also has limited budgeting and investment tools. Those include the Retirement Planner, Investment Checkup and the Fee Analyzer. They can evaluate where your investments are at, and make recommendations, including moving your investments into lower fee investment vehicles.
The second service is Wealth Management.
It requires a minimum initial investment of $100,000, and provides human assisted automated investment management to your portfolio. It works on a sliding fee schedule of 0.89% on balances up to $1 million, gradually dropping down to 0.49% for balances in excess of $10 million.
Portfolio Mix: ETFs and individual stocks and bonds invested in US and international stocks and bonds. They also include alternatives, like real estate investment trusts, gold, and commodities, as well as money market funds.
Human Advice: Unlimited on the Wealth Management plan only.
Alternative Portfolio Options: SRI, plus Private Client, which provides all the services of Wealth Management, but also adds comprehensive personal financial planning.
Banking Services Offered: Offered through Personal Capital Cash, which is an interest-bearing account providing FDIC insurance of up to $1.5 million per depositor. However, the interest currently paid on the account is not competitive with high-yield online banks.
What Personal Capital Does Best: Offers the free Financial Dashboard to anyone, which not only helps you to better manage your money but also to gain investment insight. The Wealth Management service offers investment management comparable to traditional human-guided investment advisories, but at a fraction of the annual cost.
This is another very specialized robo-advisor.
That’s because it’s just about the only robo-advisor available to manage employer-sponsored retirement plans. That includes 401(k), 403(b), 457 and TSP plans. But they also provide management of IRA accounts. However, blooom departs from the competition in that they do not manage taxable accounts.
Best of all, you don’t need the permission of your employer or your plan administrator to use the blooom robo-advisor. Your account will be kept exactly where it is, and blooom will manage it based on the investment options contained in the plan.
Not only will that include an optimized asset allocation, but it will also favor lower cost funds to improve your investment performance over the long-term.
Portfolio Mix: Works with the investments in your employer-sponsored plan.
Human Advice: Available by email and live chat but response may take 2 to 3 business days.
Alternative Portfolio Options: None, unless offered through your employer-sponsored plan.
Banking Services Offered: N/A.
What blooom Does Best: blooom is virtually the only robo-advisor available for employer-sponsored retirement plans. The flat fee structure makes it especially cost-effective for larger retirement plans, especially those over $100,000.
Acorns is a 2-for-1 financial application.
It not only invests your money as a robo-advisor, but it also helps you to accumulate the funds to do it.
It does this through a process it refers to as “Round Ups”. You connect your primary spending account to the app, and each time you make a purchase, the payment is rounded up to the nearest whole dollar, with the change going into your investment account. It also offers cash back at select retailers, which can also contribute to your investment account.
Acorns charges $1 per month for a taxable investment account, but for $3 per month you can also add an IRA and a checking account. For an additional $5 - $9 total – you can have multiple accounts for your family.
Portfolio Mix: ETFs invested in real estate, government bonds, large and small companies, emerging markets, and corporate bonds.
Human Advice: N/A.
Alternative Portfolio Options: N/A.
Banking Services Offered: Yes, through Acorns Spend. This is a checking account that comes with a debit card. It offers all-digital banking, including direct deposit, mobile check deposit, check payments and access to more than 55,000 fee-free ATMs. You can also earn bonus investments of up to 10% on shopping.
What Acorns Does Best: Helps turn a non-saver into a saver and investor – all automatically.
Wealthsimple is best known for its socially responsible investing and its Halal portfolios.
The Halal portfolio is designed for followers of the Islamic faith and invests according to Islamic law. That means a Halal portfolio will be comprised entirely of stocks, rather than bonds.
This is because charging interest is considered illegal under Islamic law. The Halal portfolio will also avoid businesses engaged in certain activities, including alcohol, tobacco, gambling, weapons, and pork production.
Portfolio Mix: The Halal portfolio is comprised of 50 individual stocks, while the SRI portfolio is divided into six ETFs. Other portfolios are invested in ETFs representing as many as 10 asset classes.
Human Advice: Each investor has access to a team of financial advisors, rather than a dedicated advisor.
Alternative Portfolio Options: Halal and SRI.
Banking Services Offered: Wealthsimple Save isn’t really a bank account, but funds invested in a low-risk investment portfolio of ETFs with a short-term focus. It offers unlimited transfers and withdrawals, and you can open an account as little as $1. It also enables you to save your spare change through round ups, similar to Acorns.
What Wealthsimple Does Best: Specializes in SRI investing and may be the only robo-advisor offering Halal investing.
Wealthfront is, along with Betterment, the largest independent robo-advisor in the industry, and Betterment’s primary competitor. But they have an advantage in that they charge a flat 0.25% on all account balances, rather than increasing the fee at $100,000.
But Wealthfront differs from Betterment in several important areas. For example, they offer greater portfolio diversification, by investing beyond stocks and bonds. on larger portfolios they also include individual stocks to your portfolio to better take advantage of tax-loss harvesting.
Portfolio Mix: Adds real estate and natural resources to the usual mix of stocks and bonds. Also includes individual stocks on larger portfolios.
Human Advice: N/A
Alternative Portfolio Options: Smart Beta, Wealth Risk Parity, Stock-level Tax-loss Harvesting.
Banking Services Offered: Offered through Wealthfront Cash and the Wealthfront Portfolio Line of Credit. Wealthfront Cash is an interest-bearing account you can open with as little as $1. It’s fully FDIC insured up to $1 million. You can use the account for direct deposits, to pay bills, and to access 19,000 fee-free ATMs with your debit card.
The Portfolio Line of Credit is secured by your taxable investment account and allows you to borrow up to 30% of the account for any purpose. You need a minimum account balance of $25,000 not including retirement accounts. Current interest rates range between 2.50% and 3.75% APR.
What Wealthfront Does Best: We like that Wealthfront charges a flat fee of 0.25% across-the-board, and also includes alternative investments in your portfolio mix.
Charles Schwab is the largest investment brokerage in the world and offers Intelligent Portfolios as its robo-advisor.
It’s not surprising then that Intelligent Portfolios is one of the largest robo-advisors in the industry. No doubt helping on that front is the fact that there is no annual advisory fee for using the service.
And since the account is held with Charles Schwab, you’ll also have the ability to take advantage of self-directed investing, with no trading commissions on stocks, options, or ETFs. You can open an account with Schwab, with part of your account in a self-directed trading account and a portion in the robo-advisor.
Portfolio Mix: 53 ETFs (from a field of 1,800) representing 20 asset classes. This will include a mix of stocks, fixed income, commodities and cash.
Human Advice: The Premium plan offers unlimited access to one-on-one guidance from a certified financial planner.
Alternative Portfolio Options: N/A.
Banking Services Offered: Through Charles Schwab Bank you will have access to a High Yield Investor Checking account, with no account minimums required, and no ATM fees worldwide. There are no service fees. Schwab also offers home lending through Quicken Loans, as well as an asset line of credit based on the value of your investment portfolio.
What Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Does Best: This robo stands out in three areas – 1) Intelligent Portfolios charges no advisory fee on its basic plan, 2) you can also engage in self-directed investing through Charles Schwab, and 3) the company provides top-of-the-line 24/7 customer service.
However, Stash doesn’t automatically invest your money, robo-advisor style. Instead, they make investment recommendations for you to implement in your Stash portfolio. You can begin investing with as little as $5, and since they permit fractional shares, you can divide a small amount of money across many different investments.
Once again, like Acorns, Stash is more of a starter investment app, so it doesn’t include as many bells and whistles as the other robos on this list.
Portfolio Mix: Includes recommendations of both individual stocks and ETFs. You can choose from more than 1,800 stocks and bonds.
Human Advice: N/A.
Alternative Portfolio Options: N/A.
Banking Services Offered: The account comes with a bank account, including a debit card that permits you to earn rewards. But instead of getting cash or points, you’ll be rewarded with pieces of stock in select companies. There is no minimum balance requirement, and no monthly maintenance fees. You’ll also have access to more than 19,000 ATM machines, fee-free.
What Stash Does Best: Helps non-savers become savers and investors. And since they don’t directly manage your account, you’ll also get experience with self-directed investing.
We used 11 criteria to select the 10 best robo-advisors for 2021:
Minimum Initial Investment: The lower the minimum requirement the better. That means more investors can participate in the platform.
Fees: Robo-advisors specialize in low fees. But since fees reduce net return on investment, we favored robo-advisors with the lowest fees, or none at all.
Available Accounts: Robos that offer the largest number of account types – taxable, IRAs, trusts, and others – will provide the most investment opportunities.
Tax-loss Harvesting: Like low fees, this has become a standard feature with most robo-advisors. It’s designed to minimize capital gains taxes on taxable accounts (which is not necessary on retirement accounts since they’re already tax-deferred). Like low fees, tax-loss harvesting will improve the long-term returns on your portfolio.
Fractional Shares: This is the ability to buy small slices of high-priced stocks. It will give you the ability to spread a small investment – maybe just a few hundred dollars – over dozens of different securities.
Customer Service: As a general rule, customer service on robo-advisors tends to be limited. That’s part of how they keep their fees low. But some firms are expanding their customer service accessibility, and they earn more points on our list as a result.
Portfolio Mix: This represents the diversity of asset classes and securities that can be held in a particular robo-advisor portfolio.
Human Advice: Once considered to be excluded from the robo-advisor picture entirely – again, to keep costs low – many robos are advancing at least limited advice and assistance. Some however offer more generous access on premium plans.
Alternative Portfolio Options: These go beyond the basic portfolios of stocks and bonds, and extend to socially responsible investing, portfolios designed to outperform the market (most standard robo-advisor portfolios only match it), or fill certain investment niches.
Banking Services Offered: Five years ago banking and robo-advisors were never mentioned in the same sentence. But as you can see from our list above, nine out of the 10 robos offer some variation of banking services. The lone exception is blooom, which specializes in managing employer-sponsored retirement plans. Banking where you invest can be a definite advantage.
What They Do Best: Every robo-advisor on our list has certain features or services they offer that are exceptional within the group. The more they offer, and the stronger those services are, the higher the rank we assigned the company.
Robo-advisors are designed for people who want to invest, but don’t want to turn it into a part-time job.
Robo-advisors are perfectly suited to fill this role, because all you need to do is fund your account and the advisor creates your portfolio and manages it for you going forward. You’re free to go about the rest of your life, knowing that your investment management is being handled for you.
What’s more, it’s being done in a professionally recognized manner. Robo-advisors are based on Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) which holds that proper asset allocation is more important than individual security selection. That is, if you have the right mix of mutually exclusive asset classes in your portfolio, you’ll get a better long-term performance no matter how the markets behave.
Best of all, you can take advantage of all those benefits for a very low fee. As you can see from our list, these typically range between 0.25% and 0.50% per year, with some charging no fees at all.
If you share any of those preferences, you should give serious consideration to investing through a robo-advisor. And even if you’d like to try your hand at self-directed investing, a smart strategy may involve holding some of your portfolio in a self-directed trading account, with the rest safely invested in a robo-advisor.
Any one of the robo-advisors above should be able to accomplish that mission for you.