By T.J. Porter, WCI Contributor
Investing is one of the best ways to build wealth over the long term. The problem is that investing can be difficult and time-consuming. Even if you have a more passive strategy, you still need to handle the buying and selling of investments and you still need to keep an eye on your portfolio so you can rebalance your holdings accordingly. If you’re looking for a way to automate your investing and take advantage of high-tech investment tools, a robo advisor might be the right tool for you.
Here are some of the best options for 2023.
What Is a Robo Advisor?
Robo advisors are algorithms that handle the day-to-day of investing on your behalf. Typically, when you sign up for a robo advisory service, you’ll fill out a survey about your investing goals and risk tolerances.
Based on your answers, the program will design a portfolio for you. Once it’s done, all you have to do is deposit money when you want to add to your portfolio and request withdrawals when you need cash. The program handles buying and selling investments, rebalancing your portfolio, and all of the other daily management processes.
Many robo advisors also offer other investment services, like tax-loss harvesting, which can boost after-tax returns.
Pros and Cons of Robo Advisors
Robo advisors can be a great way to invest, but it’s important to understand the cons as well.
- Low fees compared to traditional financial advisors
- Cutting-edge technology allows for advanced strategies that can improve earnings
- Low investment minimums—as little as $0
- Some services let you combine human and software assistance to get the best of both worlds
- Robo advisors mostly use a set list of securities, meaning they can lack flexibility
- Many programs have limited ability to personalize your portfolio
- Works best as an all-in-one. If you have investments outside the robo advisor, it won’t be able to invest optimally
- They can't be used with your 401(k), so if you have a workplace retirement plan, robo advisors can't handle that
- They don't offer financial planning
The Top Robo Advisors of 2023
There are dozens of robo advisory programs out there. If you’re thinking about using a robo advisor for your investment portfolio, these are some of the best options.
[Editor's Note: The White Coat Investor has affiliate partnerships with some of the companies listed below, meaning that if you invest with them through our links, we receive a payment (note: it's still the same cost to you either way).]
- Minimum balance: None
- Fees: 0.25%
- Features: Tax-loss harvesting, retirement portfolios, crypto, checking account
Betterment was one of the first robo advisors to hit the market in 2008, giving it a long history of managing people’s portfolios. It has no minimum balance and a low fee of 0.25% of your balance, making it a great option for people who are just starting to invest. However, it also offers tools that appeal to those with larger portfolios. Its tax-loss harvesting service can help you boost your portfolio’s returns. It also gives you the option to automate crypto investing.
Betterment also offers cash accounts, including a checking account. That account reimburses all ATM fees and offers cash-back rewards that can further grow your portfolio.
- Minimum balance: $500
- Fees: 0.25%
- Features: Tax-loss harvesting, socially-responsible portfolio option, savings account, lending services, retirement investing
Wealthfront offers a more flexible robo advisor, allowing its customers to build a portfolio using a selection of hundreds of mutual funds and cryptocurrencies. Once you’ve constructed the portfolio, Wealthfront handles all the day-to-day management for you. It charges a relatively low 0.25% of your assets, and its $500 minimum balance makes it a good place for investors to get started.
People with large portfolios may appreciate its portfolio line of credit, which lets you borrow up to 30% of your portfolio’s value at relatively low interest rates. That gives you some additional liquidity without making you sell investments. Wealthfront also offers a socially-responsible portfolio for investors who want to put their money toward firms committed to sustainability, diversity, and equity (though there is a rather large question about whether that kind of investing actually works).
- Minimum balance: $3,000
- Fees: 0.20% maximum
- Features: Retirement investing, credit toward annual fees based on holdings
Vanguard is well-known in the finance industry for its low-cost mutual funds. It now offers a low-cost robo advisor called Vanguard Digital Advisor, which charges just 0.20% of your invested assets. With Digital Advisor, you can build a portfolio based on a few different goals, such as retirement savings, growth, asset preservation, or social responsibility.
The service doesn’t come with many of the bells and whistles of other robo advisors, but if you want a cheap, simple portfolio, Vanguard is a great choice.
- Minimum balance: $5,000
- Fees: None
- Features: Tax-loss harvesting, retirement investing, custodial accounts
Schwab offers its robo advisor service, Intelligent Portfolios, free of charge to any customer who has $5,000 to invest in the account. The drawback is that it has relatively limited portfolio options, all of which involve maintaining a cash position (which could impact your returns). If you want a human touch, you can also sign up for Intelligent Portfolios Premium, which comes with one-on-one meetings with a CFP who can provide you with personalized guidance. Premium requires a $25,000 minimum balance and costs $30 a month, plus a $300 one-time fee.
If you don’t mind keeping some of your portfolio in cash and one of Schwab’s portfolios seems like a good fit, Intelligent Portfolios could be a great choice for investors with large balances. If you have $1 million to invest, saving the 0.20% fee for robo advisory services that you'd have to pay for Vanguard equals an extra $2,000 each year.
- Minimum balance: $10
- Fees: None for balances under $25,000, 0.35% for balances of $25,000 or more
- Features: One-on-one coaching calls, human portfolio oversight, retirement investing
The Fidelity robo advisor service, Fidelity Go, uses the company’s zero-fee Fidelity Flex funds, which can help keep costs low and offset the services that have a slightly higher-than-the-typical 0.35% fee.
If you like the idea of having a human touch added to automated investing services, Fidelity is one of the better options. With a balance of $25,000 or more, you’ll get unlimited calls with a human who can coach you through things like budgeting, investing, and other major financial decisions. Humans also provide oversight on your portfolio to make sure the robo advisor is doing its job.
Robo advisors can be a great tool for hands-off investors who don’t want to worry about their portfolios. While they can charge additional fees, most claim that their investment services, such as tax-loss harvesting, offset those additional costs. If you’re thinking about using a robo advisor for your portfolio, take the time to shop around and compare your options. Consider the price and features each offers and select the one that best fits your needs.
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