Stash and Betterment share a key strength as robo-advisors - they both make it incredibly easy for you to start investing your money. These cutting-edge brokers ease you into long-term investments without putting you through hours of research and they both generate a diverse assortment of portfolio options. Beyond the shared emphasis on making onboarding painless, Stash and Betterment differ in many important respects. We’ll look at some of these key differences to help you decide which one is the better fit for you.
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: $1 per month for a Beginner taxable account, $3 for a Growth account that includes IRAs, $9 per month for a Stash+ account with UTMA options
- The service is best suited for young investors with little experience who need guidance with long- and short-term financial planning.
- The Stock-Back feature offers investors looking for new ways to save money and an innovative path to equity ownership.
- The low $1.00 account minimum provides an easy path to wealth building for investors with limited assets.
- Account Minimum: $0
- Fees: 0.25% (annual) for digital plan, 0.40% (annual) for the premium plan
- The service is best suited for investors who need a full-featured goal-based financial planning platform.
- Investors with assets at multiple venues will benefit from Betterment’s external account consolidation.
- Extensive coaching and financial planning tools offer great value for younger investors.
Stash and Betterment both scored high for goal setting in our reviews, but Betterment was among the best of the best.
Betterment provides easy-to-follow steps for setting goals and the platform allows each type to be monitored separately. You can add new goals at any time and track your progress with relative ease. You can also sync up your external accounts to Betterment for a more complete goal planning experience. If you fall behind on meeting goals, the platform encourages you to increase automated deposits. This can be a helpful prompt, especially for young investors who may not feel the urgency to save for longer-term goals.
Stash takes a slightly different approach to goal planning. The innovative Stash Coach function directs you to a wide assortment of educational and “how-to” articles through the Stash Learn section. The digital coach is organized as a game in which you earn points and levels after completing investment and learning challenges. The game reacts to your risk profile and tailors the learning plan and investment tasks accordingly. Older investors may not like the interface, especially when looking for answers to more complex financial questions.
The Betterment Resource Center includes dozens of well-written articles about retirement planning. The section also features informative tutorials to help investors understand portfolio compositions and negative market catalysts. Each goal can be invested in a different strategy so retirement funds can be allocated to one of the higher risk portfolios while shorter-term goals, like funding a down payment, can be allocated to lower risk portfolios.
Stash offers no retirement or date-targeted portfolios, retirement tools, or calculators to gauge future financial needs. That said, the Stash Learn section is impressive, with dozens of entries divided into logical investment and planning topics that feature many retirement articles. This section also includes numerous podcasts.
Betterment offers a wider array of accounts, but Stash has Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) and Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts that Betterment doesn’t offer. When it comes to account types, however, it really only matters that a robo-advisor offers the one(s) you intend to use. From that perspective, Betterment and Stash both offer the most commonly used IRA account types and individual taxable accounts. Only Betterment offers a joint taxable account.
Betterment account types:
- Individual taxable accounts
- Joint taxable accounts
- Traditional IRAs
- Roth IRAs
- Inherited IRAs
- Trust accounts
- High-interest cash accounts
Stash account types:
- Individual taxable accounts
- Traditional IRA accounts
- Roth-IRA accounts
- UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts
Features and Accessibility
Features are another area that hinges mainly on what you will actually use rather than on what the robo-advisor offers. Betterment’s free analysis of your external accounts and current investments is an excellent feature that most investors will get a lot of value out of. The consolidated view and analysis of your assets is well worth it even if you aren’t ready to commit to Betterment - as long as you can handle being prompted regularly to sign up. Stash, for its part, has the Stock-Back system where your debit purchases add fractional shares to your portfolio. This is a great way to sneak some investing into your everyday shopping.
- Free financial planning tools: The prospective client can get a free and comprehensive analysis of all their current investments prior to funding an account.
- Portfolio and goal flexibility: A mature platform provides coaching and other goal planning resources while the account interface supports impressive portfolio flexibility.
- Premium plan: The client can speak with a financial advisor at any time for free on the premium plan, which charges a 0.40% management fee rather than the standard 0.25% fee.
- Debit accounts: Clients must open debit accounts through a partnership with Green Dot Bank, providing cash access at thousands of no-fee ATMs.
- Stock-Back: Debit purchases at participating retailers build points that add fractional shares of the retailer’s stock, or the Vanguard Total World Stock ETF, if not publicly traded.
- Educational resources: The Stash Learn section features dozens of articles divided into logical investment and planning topics that include retirement, vacation, parenting, career, and income.
Stash charges $1.00, $3.00, or $9.00 per month in a three-tier program that scales from basic to premium services, but fees won’t exceed a 0.25% annual management fee when accounts are funded at higher levels. There are no trading fees but higher-than-average ETF expense ratios may undermine client returns, adding hidden costs. The important thing to keep in mind with Stash is that the fee is higher than average when your account holdings are small. For example, $12 annually on $1,000 is 1.2% - very high for a robo-advisor.
In contrast, Betterment’s clients pay a flat 0.25% management fee per year, increasing to 0.40% for the Premium plan with access to financial planners. Betterment offers a discounted fee on assets over $2 million, dropping to 0.15% per year (Digital) and 0.30% per year (Premium) on the portion that exceeds $2 million. ETFs used to populate portfolios incur low annual fees that average between 0.07% and 0.15%.
When it comes to minimum deposits, Stash and Betterment are matched for all practical purposes. Stash has a minimum deposit of $1 and Betterment will open your account with zero, but both need to see some inflows before your portfolio is actually funded. Despite that fact, both robo-advisors clearly do not want a lack of ready capital to stand in your way.
- Stash: $1.00
- Betterment: $0.00
Betterment has a clear advantage over Stash when it comes to populating and managing your portfolio. Betterment offers five portfolio types based upon classic Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) principles and/or specific investment themes:
- Standard portfolio of globally diversified stock and bond ETFs
- Socially responsible portfolio comprised of holdings that score well on environmental and social impact (note: investments may not meet standard requirements for this theme)
- Goldman Sachs Smart Beta portfolio that seeks to outperform the market
- Income focused all-bond portfolio made up of BlackRock ETFs
- “Flexible Portfolio” constructed from the standard portfolio’s asset classes but weighted according to user preferences
Betterment accounts are rebalanced dynamically when they deviate from their intended goal allocations. In addition, your portfolio gets more conservative as the target date approaches, with the goal of locking in gains and avoiding major losses. Clients will appreciate this automated reallocation because most investors don’t have the time or dedication to implement these techniques on their own.
Stash uses a proprietary process to generate portfolio recommendations that combine elements of MPT and socially conscious investing in a curated list of stocks, ETFs, and investing themes customized by your risk profile. Even so, many ETFs on their list carry higher than average management expenses. Stash doesn’t rebalance portfolios or manage client accounts on a discretionary basis, leaving subsequent buying and selling decisions to a mostly inexperienced customer base.
Stash portfolios are built with stocks on a laundry list of well-known blue chips that include Amazon.Com, Apple, and McDonalds. They also take ETF equity and fixed income exposure through iShares, Vanguard, SPDR, and other popular providers. Betterment portfolios contain ETFs from iShares, Vanguard, and other well-known fund companies, but no individual stocks.
While both robo-advisors do take taxes into consideration, Stash only offers tax-efficient investing as a premium option for taxable accounts. Betterment taxable accounts at all funding levels benefit from tax-loss harvesting, in which the impact of capital losses and wash sale rules is considered before the sale of securities.
Both Stash and Betterment have sufficient security. Both utilize heavy-duty 256-bit SSL encryption and Apex Clearing Corp handles client funds at both brokerages, providing access to Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance and private excess insurance. Cash sweeps at Stash are insured through the FDIC. Fingerprint, face recognition, and two-factor authentication are available for both platforms on mobile devices.
Betterment has a wide lead on Stash when it comes to customer service.
Live chat is built into Betterment’s mobile apps and web site for clients to access at any time. Customer service is available by e-mail and phone from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and via e-mail from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Phone calls to customer service during market hours averaged a relatively slow 2:21 minutes to talk with a knowledgeable representative.
Stash’s customer service page directs clients to a low-tech entry form, but e-mail and a phone number are listed at the bottom of most web pages and in the FAQ. Several phone calls to customer support during market hours achieved contact with knowledgeable representatives within two minutes. Unfortunately, there is no live chat, the FAQ omits key information, and customer service hours are not listed.
In terms of numbers, there are very few categories where Stash outperforms Betterment. This is to be expected as Betterment is one of the top robo-advisors we reviewed. Betterment has excellent goal planning, portfolio management, and customer service combined with a very competitive fee that Stash only approaches at higher asset levels. The choice between Stash and Betterment should be a relatively quick one in favor of Betterment for almost all investors, but it is perhaps unfair to dismiss Stash entirely. The Stock-Back fractional share purchase through debit is an undeniably innovative way to get younger investors engaged in stock ownership. However, one innovation does not make a complete robo-advisor. As a robo-advisor, Stash currently can’t compete with Betterment.
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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, including the user experience, goal setting capabilities, portfolio contents, costs and fees, security, mobile experience, and customer service. We collected over 300 data points that weighed into our scoring system.
Every robo-advisor we reviewed was asked to fill out a 50-point survey about their platform that we used in our evaluation. Many of the robo-advisors also provided us with in-person demonstrations of their platforms.
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