New and Notable Updates

On February 8, 2022, Betterment announced that it is acquiring crypto manager Makara. As a result of the acquisition, Betterment now gives retail investors and advisors the ability to invest in diversified crypto portfolios alongside their existing investments.

Stash and Betterment are both investment platforms, although they are more dissimilar than alike. Winner of our best for beginners robo-advisor, Betterment is one of the earliest and most well-respected digital investment managers, not a self-directed investing app. Betterment excels at goal-based investing and provides income and smart-beta portfolios in addition to the Core offering. Cryptocurrency investing will also be available soon. Stash is a self-directed investment app first, with the opportunity to trade stocks and ETFs. The Stash Smart Portfolio is a basic robo-advisor that claims crypto investing in addition to stock and bond ETFs. Continue reading to learn about the similarities and differences between these two popular investment platforms.

  • Account Minimum: $0, $5 for Smart Portfolio
  • 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 
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  • Comprehensive library of educational articles and videos are ideal for the beginning investor.
  • The combination of Round-ups, Stock-Back™ debit card, and investing is a good entry into the financial markets.
  • The addition of the Smart Portfolio robo-advisor sets Stash apart from other self-directed investing apps.  
  • Self-directed investors can choose from thousands of stocks and ETFs, with a diversification tool to assist with proper portfolio construction.
  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: 0.25% (annual) for digital plan, 0.40% (annual) for the premium plan 
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  • Betterment provides users with superb goal setting options to track and align your  saving and investing with future plans.
  • Clients have access to well-constructed core, smart beta, sustainable ESG, income, and crypto portfolios (coming soon from Makara).
  • Those seeking comprehensive banking services will appreciate the two award-winning cash management options that provide higher than average yields and a host of banking services. 
  • All users have access to financial advisors in addition to the digital financial management.

Account Setup

Stash, built for beginners, enables simple account set up and onboarding with $1 ($5 for the digital investment management). To set up an account, you enter the typical personal information and then answer a few initial questions including goals to customize your experience on the app. Next, you pick from one of three plans, ranging in monthly fees from the $1 Beginner, $3 Stash Growth, and $9 Stash+ premium account. 

Users of Stash Growth and Stash+ who open a taxable investment account are eligible for a Smart Portfolio, which is a managed robo-advisor that includes stock and bond ETFs, as well as cryptocurrency. The fees are competitive with other investment apps. Account types include individual brokerage, traditional and Roth individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and custodial. Account access depends upon the user's plan. 

Once you’ve selected a plan, you can transfer money to Stash manually or automatically. Similar to other apps, you can access your paycheck two days early after adding direct deposit. The diversification tool and educational features help newbies with portfolio construction. A benefit with Stash is that you can check out the website, investments, strategy, fees and more before creating an account or transferring funds.

Betterment, our choice for best robo-advisor for beginners, is equally seamless to onboard. Users can view the list of funds but not individual portfolio recommendations before creating an account. To create an account, add a login, password, and personal details including Social Security number and address. Complete the initial questionnaire which incorporates your responses to goals, time frame, and risk tolerance questions to provide a diversified investment portfolio. This well-crafted portfolio includes U.S. and international stock and bond ETFs.

Before funding the account you’ll have access to the available goals and portfolios. You can modify the recommended portfolio and adjust asset allocations, replace it with fixed income, smart beta, or an ESG sustainable portfolio. Soon, Makara crypto portfolios will be available to further customize your account.

Funding is straightforward and includes direct deposit and automated deposits. Betterment doesn’t have a minimum investment requirement, offers a wide array of account types, and a low management fee of 0.25% assets under management (AUM) for the digital offer. Wealthier inventors with the $100,000 minimum can access the Premium version with unlimited Certified Financial Planner access.

Stash and Betterment are targeted towards different investors. Stash is suitable for those who want to pick and choose stocks and ETFs, while Betterment is best for those seeking a top-notch digital investment advisor.

Goal Planning

The Stash goals feature allows users to organize cash in their online bank account into categories. Users can customize goals for rent, bills, dining out, entertainment, emergency fund, and more. When you set a target date and dollar amount for each goal, Stash will send reminders to keep you on target. Stash Coach directs users to comprehensive education and how-to articles in the Learn section.

The Stash Smart Portfolio robo-advisor uses the initial questionnaire to set up goal-based investment portfolios based upon your future aspirations and risk tolerance. Your stated goals, risk tolerance, and time frame will influence the asset mix of stock versus bond ETFs, with far away goals like retirement leading to more aggressively invested portfolios with a greater allocation to stock ETFs.

Betterment is known for its integrated goal-planning analysis and tools. 

Goal setting begins with five choices: 

  • Retirement
  • General Investing
  • Major Purchase
  • Safety Net
  • Education

You personalize your goals with a name, when the funds are needed, and the target amount desired. Betterment determines the likelihood of reaching the goals under various market scenarios and enables you to change inputs to increase the probability of reaching your goal. At Betterment, you can link external accounts, which will be included in the goal planning scenario, although synced accounts aren’t used in your investment portfolio construction. The dashboard shows progress towards goals and recommends strategies to reach the target.

Betterment offers more exhaustive goal planning analysis and reporting features than Stash.

Account Types

Betterment offers a long line up of account types, suitable for any type of investor. In contrast, as a beginner investment app, Stash’s account types are limited and integrated with the specific service plans.

Stash Account Types by service plan:

  • Stash Beginner
  • Individual brokerage account called Personal Portfolio
  • Banking account with Stock-Back™ debit card 
  • Stash Growth (includes all Beginner features and accounts)
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Smart portfolio 
  • Stash+ (includes all Beginner and Growth features and accounts)
  • Custodial accounts - UGMA and UTMA
  • Banking account with 2x Stock-Back™ debit card 

The Stash Smart Portfolio robo-advisor is available for individual brokerage account holders, not retirement accounts.

Betterment account types:

  • Individual taxable 
  • Joint taxable 
  • Traditional IRA 
  • Roth IRA 
  • SEP IRA (for the self-employed and small businesses)
  • Rollover IRA
  • Trust
  • Cash Reserve - high-interest savings
  • Cash - checking

Betterment serves a wider range of consumers seeking a breadth of account types. Stash is a fit only for the newest investors when it comes to the robo-advisor offering. This is because Stash’s digital investment advisor is only usable in individual brokerage accounts while all of Betterment’s account types are managed by the digital investment advisor. 

Account Services


Both Stash and Betterment offer the typical paycheck direct deposit, transfers, and auto deposits. Betterment’s cash services are broader and include interest on the Cash Reserve account. While Stash offers the Round-up feature, popular on beginner investment apps.

Cash Management

Betterment won our Best for Cash Management category with two cash accounts and extensive features. Yet, both Betterment and Stash offer fee-free banking and free ATM access.

The Stash cash features include bill pay, mobile deposits, check writing, and budgeting tools. Direct paycheck deposit enables access to funds two days in advance. The Stock-Back™ debit card rewards users with fractional shares of stock when you purchase. Users can turn on Round-ups to enable purchases to be rounded up to the nearest dollar and have the spare change transferred to your investment account once it reaches $5. For example, if your coffee costs $3.25, round up will send $0.75 to your investment account. 

Betterment’s cash management includes a no-fee checking and a cash reserve savings account. The checking account includes a Visa cash-back fee-free debit card and typical checking account features. The cash reserve account is a high-yield savings account. These accounts can be integrated with your goals and if your cash balance exceeds your target, you can transfer money into your investment account. 

In general, Betterment’s cash accounts are broader and better integrated with goal setting, making it best for cash management. If you’re specifically seeking Round-ups, however, then Stash is the only option of the two. 

Portfolio Construction

Stash provides both the option to select your own investments or to use their digitally managed robo-advisor service, Smart Portfolio. This section will predominantly focus on the comparison between the Stash Smart robo-advisor portfolio and Betterment. Stash users who construct their own portfolio have use of a diversification tool and educational resources to aid with portfolio construction. Both platforms include access to crypto in addition to typical stock and bond ETFs (Betterment’s Makara crypto coming spoon).

The Stash Smart Portfolio follows the passive index fund investment approach with assets allocated according to your goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance. The portfolio is populated with diverse U. S. and international stock and bond ETFs and a crypto allocation. You can adjust the recommended portfolio with a slider to best fit your personal preferences. 

The Betterment core portfolio is created based upon your goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance level, as determined from the initial questionnaire. Users can adjust their portfolio mix at will. The Betterment Core portfolios include US and internationally diversified stocks and bonds, along with value, small- and mid-cap equity ETFs. These factors have outperformed the total market over long time periods. No REIT funds are available in Betterment’s Core offer.

  Stash Betterment 
Individual Stocks  Yes No
Mutual Funds  No  No 
Fixed Income  Yes - Bond ETFs  Yes - Bond ETFs 
REITs  Yes - self-directed investing  No 
Socially Responsible or ESG Options  Yes - self-directed investing  Yes 
ETFs  Yes  Yes 
Non-Proprietary ETFs  Yes  Yes 
Mutual Funds  No  No 
Forex  No  No 
Crypto  Yes  Yes (coming soon) 

There’s no contest when comparing Betterment’s core offer with Stash. The Betterment risk-adjusted portfolios have superior diversification and customization.

Portfolio Customization 

The basic Stash app is completely customizable. Users can begin with any amount of money and buy fractional shares from a selection of 3831 individual stocks and 93 ETFs. To aid in asset selection, Stash categorizes its offerings by:

  • Stock sector: i.e. Finance, Health Care, or Consumer Staples
  • ETF category: i.e. Bonds, Broad Market, Diversified Mixes, Global Exposure, or Commodities
  • All Stocks: Alphabetical list
  • All ETFs: List which replaces fund names with cute descriptors like Public Works, Bonds Worldwide, and Fallback Funds

After selecting the stocks and/or funds, clients can use the diversification tool to create an ideal asset mix.

Betterment offers several investment portfolios for customization beyond the basic risk-based Core digitally-managed portfolios. Unlike Stash, Betterment lacks self-directed stock and fund investing.

Alternate Betterment portfolios:

  • Goldman Sachs Smart Beta: includes funds that weight assets according to factors, such as volatility or momentum, in lieu of market cap weighting. Many funds in this portfolio are from Goldman Sachs with higher fees and distinct diversification. Smart beta portfolios have the potential to outperform standard market cap weighted portfolios. 
  • Socially Responsible: portfolios offer three choices: Broad Impact, Climate Impact with lower carbon emissions, and a Social Impact portfolio that favors minority empowerment and gender diversity. 
  • Retirement Income: for investors seeking an income stream, these portfolios combine growth with cash flow.
  • Makara crypto currency portfolios are coming to Betterment soon.

For self-directed investors, Stash is the only choice. For a customized robo-advisor managed account, Betterment provides more choices than the Stash app.  

Portfolio Management

Stash offers digital portfolio management for the Smart Portfolio service only. While Betterment is a digitally managed investment offer with access to human financial planners. 

Stash’s Smart Portfolio service rebalances your assets quarterly, when values veer more than 5% from the target percent. Additionally, cash transfers in and out of the Smart Portfolio will be allocated in accordance with your target asset mix. Individual investors in Stash ETFs and stocks don’t receive portfolio management services.

Betterment rebalances your assets when values deviate 3% from target. Users who link their external accounts receive digital financial advice and recommendations. Betterment offers two levels of human financial advisory management. Those with $100,000+ can sign up for Betterment Premium which includes unlimited access to Certified Financial Planners for 0.40% AUM fee. Betterment Digital customers, who pay 0.25% AUM fee, can purchase low fee financial advice packages to discuss specific money issues like college planning, investment check up, or retirement planning. 

Both platforms offer a degree of portfolio management, although given that Betterment is a completely managed account, their portfolio management is more comprehensive than the Stash Smart Portfolio. Betterment also provides financial planner access.

Tax-Advantaged Investing 

Stash doesn’t offer any tax-loss harvesting or tax-minimization strategies.

Betterment’s  tax-loss harvesting feature sells underperforming assets to offset taxable gains, all while keeping the asset mix percentages in line with your preferences.

Key Portfolio Management Features
  Stash Betterment 
Automatic Rebalancing Quarterly-when percentages deviate 5% from target. When percentages deviate 3% from target. 
Reporting Features  Tax Reporting, Statements, Performance  Tax and  monthly statements. Dashboard provides financial overview with net worth, goal progress, and investment performance. 
Tax-Loss Harvesting  No No 
External Account Syncing/Consolidation  No Yes-Clients can link retirement, banking and brokerage accounts. Only Betterment assets are rebalanced.

Security

Both Stash and Betterment offer state of the industry security features. Here is a list of the major security features: 

  • 256 bit encryption
  • Two-factor authentication
  • Biometric sign-in
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) coverage

Both Stash and Betterment have secure platforms, although Betterment offers excess FDIC and SIPC insurance. No insurance protects your investments from market fluctuations. 

User Experience

Both platforms provide a clean interface and positive user experience.

Desktop


The Stash desktop, added after the mobile interface, is clean and easy to use. All necessary information is on the home page, including the most important FAQ. The menu items include Plans, Invest, Bank, Learn, and Help, and offer a link to any information a prospective user or current client might need. 

The Betterment desktop user experience is also excellent. The home page reflects the broader functionality of the platform with answers to any question a new user might have including a calculator which shows the growth of your investment dollars and a new investor quiz. The menu items are concise and include investing, cash, planning, and about tabs. 

Mobile App 

Stash’s mobile app is equal or possibly superior to the desktop version and is available for both iOS and Android users. The app is built to be self-sufficient and users can use the app for making investment transactions and managing all financial transactions and education. The cash management features are integrated within the app as well. 

Betterment users appreciate the app functionality, which mirrors that of the desktop. Betterment also supports iOS and Android users. The app also serves welcome financial prompts that encourage improved saving and investing.

The user experience with both Stash and Betterment is excellent and too close to call. 

Customer Service

Stash app offers live weekday customer service, an important feature for beginner investors. Additional support options include email and FAQ with search feature. No financial advisors are available.

Betterment also offers live phone customer service and email access. No chat is available at Betterment. Premium members can schedule meetings with certified financial planners to discuss a range of investing and planning issues. While digital members can pay for goal-based financial advice packages to cover topics like retirement planning, investment check-up, college planning, and more. 

Neither Stash nor Betterment offer weekend phone customer service, although with the exception of the major investment firms, this is the norm. Those who want access to financial planners would opt for Betterment. If not, then both services offer good customer service. 

  Stash Betterment 
Phone contact available  Yes - M - F 8:30 am - 6:30 pm ET Yes - M - F 9:00 am - 6:00 pm ET 
Pre-funding phone consultation with certified advisor  No  No 
Online chat available  No  No 
Website FAQ section  Yes - Comprehensive and well organized  Yes - Comprehensive and well organized 

Fees

Stash and Betterment have completely distinct fee structures, although neither charges trading commissions. 

Stash charges $1, $3, or $9 per month in a three-tier program that scales from basic to premium services. Larger accounts won’t exceed Betterment’s 0.25% annual management fee. Keep in mind that with Stash,when your account holdings are small, the fee is higher than average. For example, $12 annually on a $1,000 account costs 1.2% of AUM—very high for a robo-advisor.

Betterment clients pay a flat 0.25% management fee per year, increasing to 0.40% for the Premium plan with access to financial planners. ETFs used to populate the portfolios incur low annual management fees.. 

Small accounts benefit from lower fees at Betterment, while larger accounts will profit from lower fees at Stash. You’ll need a $15,000 account to receive an average 0.24% AUM fee with Stash Growth, that costs $3 per month.

Category Stash Fee  Betterment Fee 
Management fees for $5,000 account Monthly subscription - $1, $3, $9  
Annually - $12, $36, $108
Digital - $12.50 AUM
Management fees for $25,000 account  Monthly subscription - $1, $3, $9  
Annually - $12, $36, $108 
Digital - $62.50 AUM 
Management fees for $100,000 account  Monthly subscription - $1, $3, $9  
Annually - $12, $36, $108 
Digital - $250 AUM
Premium - $400 AUM 
Termination fees  $75.00  $0.00 
Expense ratios  Smart Portfolio - Average 0.06%
Self directed - Varies per ETF 
Average 0.09% 
Mutual funds  N/A  N/A 

Our Take

If you’re in the market for a digitally managed portfolio with access to financial advisors, then Betterment is the best choice. With Core, three SRI, and Income portfolios along with over a decade of experience, Betterment is one of the most well-respected robo-advisors. The two cash management options which give users a checking account, cash-back debit card, and high-yield cash reserve account round out Betterment accolades. Beginners will appreciate the zero required minimum for quality investment management.

Stash is geared towards another type of investor. The self-directed investment app is predominantly designed for new investors dipping their toes into the investment markets. The educational guides and simple-to-use app, make Stash a good choice for do-it-yourself investors. It is among the best beginner investing apps. While the Stash Smart Portfolio robo-advisor features are satisfactory, investors seeking a digitally managed account would do better at Betterment.

Methodology

Our mission at Investopedia is to provide investors with reviews and ratings of robo-advisors that are comprehensive and unbiased. Our team of researchers and expert writers, led by Michael Sacchitello, spent months evaluating all aspects of a robo-advisor’s platform, including the account setup process, goal planning tools, account service options, portfolio construction offerings, portfolio management, mobile and desktop user experience, educational content, fees, and security. As part of this evaluation, we extract critical data points that are weighted by our quantitative model that produces a powerful star-scoring system.

With the individual investor in mind, we’ve designed a comprehensive ranking methodology to find the best overall robo-advisors and the best robo-advisors across nine key categories. Each advisor is then scored across multiple variables to rate performance in every applicable category. The score for the overall award is a weighted average of the categories.

FAQ

Which is better, Betterment of Stash?

Betterment is best if you’re seeking a digitally managed robo-advisor. If you want to invest in stocks and ETFs and are seeking a Round-up feature, then choose Stash. 

Are Betterment and Stash safe?

Yes. Both platforms use top level security protocols, two-factor and biometric authentication, and protect your data. Each also offers SIPC and FDIC insurance.

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