If you’re just getting started with investing, and haven’t amassed much cash yet, this group of robo-advisors has the services to get you started on your journey. They feature easy-to-use websites and apps, low minimums, and good education.
To be considered in our list of best robo-advisors for beginning investors, we looked for the platforms that offered the most guidance throughout their platform from opening an account to checking in on your money. We also heavily weighted lower minimum deposits to create an easy starting point for new investors.
Best Robo-Advisors for Beginners in August 2020:
- Fidelity Go
- Merrill Guided Investing
- E*TRADE Core Portfolios
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: 0.25% (annual) for digital plan, 0.40% (annual) for the premium plan
Betterment boasts one of the easiest accounts to set up. Users enter their age, annual income, and a goal. There are none of the standard risk-related questions. Instead, Betterment presents you with an asset allocation suggestion and its associated risk, which you can change by adjusting the percentage of equity versus fixed income held in the portfolio. You’re also prompted to connect external accounts—such as bank and brokerage holdings—to your Betterment account, both to provide a complete picture of your assets and to make cash transfers into a Betterment investment portfolio easier.
Betterment has very easy-to-follow steps for setting a goal, and each one can be monitored separately. The asset allocation is displayed in a ring with equities in shades of green and fixed income in shades of blue. If you’re falling behind on meeting a goal you’ve set, Betterment will encourage you to put more aside. This can be a helpful prompt, particularly for young investors who may not yet feel the urgency to save for some of their longer-term goals.
Betterment’s mobile apps and website are designed to guide you through the process of setting goals and tracking them. The process is logical and easy to follow to completion. When you access a question in their FAQs, the site maintains a list of the articles you’ve already read. Betterment’s Resource Center includes dozens of informative and well-written articles about retirement planning and how to minimize your tax burden. There are also a few videos to help you figure out how to use the platform. Betterment has also dedicated a number of articles to help investors understand the portfolio compositions and how the company approaches negative market events like Brexit.
Quick and easy account setup
Easily change portfolio risk or switch to a different type of portfolio
Add a new goal at any time and track your progress with ease
Sync external accounts to get a complete financial picture
Portfolio contents are fully transparent prior to funding
If you just want to use the free planning tools you are constantly reminded to fund an investment account
Speaking with a financial planner incurs a fee of $199-$299 in the standard account
Socially responsible portfolios are invested in ETFs, not individual stocks
- Account Minimum: $0 to open an account, $10 to be invested
- Fee: 0.35%
Fidelity Go is designed with the young investor in mind and has a very simple user interface. The all-digital service lets you manage a single goal and is the introductory level for Fidelity’s various managed products. As the product has evolved since its launch in 2016, the focus has been on helping young and emerging investors overcome hesitations around putting their money to work in the markets. With that in mind, a new client can open an account without making a deposit, but you’ll need at least $10 to make any investments.
Fidelity Go has an easy and straightforward account setup process. After answering five simple questions, such as the year you were born and your annual taxable income, you are presented with an overview of your proposed portfolio. You can tweak the assumptions at this point or choose a different risk level. You are shown what costs are associated with a Fidelity Go account, which is a useful feature.
Fidelity Go clients can access all the planning tools that Fidelity offers, which focus on major milestones that include having or adopting a baby, getting married, managing estate planning, getting divorced, starting a business, and other goals. These planning tools are available on the Fidelity Planning and Guidance Center rather than being built into Fidelity Go but they are still an incredible resource.
Opening an account is simple and straightforward
You can start investing with just $10
The overall fee structure is low, and is described in detail up front
Access to the Fidelity Planning and Guidance Center
You can only manage a single goal at a time per account
No socially responsible portfolios offered
Portfolios are made up of only proprietary Fidelity mutual funds
- 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’s goal-setting and planning technology is excellent and should serve as a model for other robo-advisors to emulate. Setting up a Wealthfront account gives you access to Path, the free financial planning tool that integrates your account data and uses third party data to better project your financial situation. Automatic deposits are easy to set up with Wealthfront since your bank account is linked during the onboarding process.
The mobile apps, native iOS, and Android are designed to be extremely simple to use with minimal typing. Data inputs such as dates and monthly deposits are displayed on sliders or drop-down menus to avoid making typos. The workflow for a new account is logical and easy to follow. The website design is clean and all the primary information is easy to find, especially when you are searching in the help center.
Wealthfront does a terrific job helping its clients figure out a financial plan. There are many resources available in the form of guides, articles, a blog, and FAQs. In terms of the nitty-gritty details on using the platform, there is a lot of help on the website and most of it is accessible through the mobile apps as well.
Terrific financial planning that helps you see the big picture
Goal-setting assistance goes in-depth for large goals
If you have multiple goals, Path shows you the trade-offs you’ll face
Automatic deposits are easy to set up
No online chat for customers or prospective customers
Portfolios under $100,000 are not customizable beyond risk settings
Limited human assistance available for smaller accounts
Merrill Guided Investing
- Account Minimum: $5,000
- Fee: 0.45% annually, of assets under management, assessed monthly
Getting started with Merrill Guided Investing amounts to answering a few questions and naming a goal. The process of defining your portfolio involves entering your date of birth, the goal dollar amount you’d like, and the number of years you’ll be investing for the goal. You’re also asked whether you have any accounts outside Merrill that you’re also using to attain this goal—entering the account type, a nickname, and an approximate balance. Then you’re presented with several questions to assess your attitude towards risk. Your risk tolerance—low, medium, or high—is then reflected back to you. If you're already a Bank of America or Merrill Edge brokerage customer, this process is extremely simple.
There is help and additional information displayed on each screen, should you want to know more about a particular question. One last question asks whether you want a portion of the portfolio invested in impact-focused funds. After that you're informed of your target asset allocation and whether you have the plan in place to attain your goal. The main goal Merrill prepares its clients for is retirement.
Everything on the website is built into the native iOS and Android mobile apps, including education and planning capabilities. Overall, it’s easy to use and has a pleasant design. The desktop version is more complex, though, and there are a lot of screens to click through.
Guided investing accounts help clients qualify for premium rewards from Merrill and Bank of America
Great planning tools available on the Merrill Edge website
Simple and well-designed mobile app
Whole shares are held in portfolios, so asset allocation for smaller accounts will be off-target
You cannot edit or alter the portfolio proposed
Account minimum of $5,000 may be a reach for investors just getting started
E*TRADE Core Portfolios
- Account Minimum: $500
- Fee: 0.30%
Core Portfolios is the introductory level for E*TRADE’s managed accounts, with a minimum deposit of $500 and funds invested in non-proprietary ETFs at an annual fee of 0.30% of assets under management. As your assets increase, you may choose to move into an account with a higher level of personal service, but there's plenty to work with for the new investor in this service. The language used during the setup process is very simple, and every question asked during the initial questionnaire is accompanied by a help button so the new customer understands why that information is needed.
Clients have access to all of E*TRADE’s research and education offerings, which include retirement calculators and other planning tools, but these functions are not built into the Core Portfolios experience. Overall, the desktop design is clean, but there are a couple of spots where a new client – especially one who is unfamiliar with investing concepts – could use more help, especially during the account opening process. The workflow on the mobile app is easier than on the website.
There is online chat available 24/7 on the website and on mobile. Although the telephone representatives we spoke to were knowledgeable and helpful, it took an average of almost seven minutes on hold before a representative was available. You can talk to a financial advisor on the phone or walk into a brick-and-mortar location for help.
The digital dashboard offers a clear view of portfolio performance and allocation
The mobile app is easy to navigate
Portfolios can contain socially responsible ETFs
Goal setting is not as central to the platform as it is with competitors
Tax-loss harvesting is not enabled
Long wait times on hold for telephone support
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.
Winners in this category offered the most guidance and education to users throughout the process of opening an account to funding and managing it. We favored those platforms with lower minimum deposits to create an easy starting point for new investors with fewer assets.
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.