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How Betterment, Wealthfront, Acorns and Stash Compare

Feb. 28, 2017
Advisors, Brokers, Investing, Investing Strategy
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

With the rise of robo-advisors and investment apps, you have more options for growing your money today than a few years ago.

Looking for a hands-off approach to investing? Betterment and Wealthfront, pioneers and leaders in the robo-advisor industry, may be a good fit. (If you’re unsure what these services offer, see our primer on robo-advisors.)

Prefer to have your investments accessible at your fingertips? Acorns and Stash, two popular apps, help you navigate the world of investing from your phone and offer unique approaches to investing that you won’t find at most stockbrokers. (Looking for an app? Check out our review of the best investment apps.)

Which robo-advisor is best?

It all depends on what you want in an advisor, how actively you’ll manage your investments and how much, or how little, you have to invest. Betterment, Wealthfront, Acorns and Stash each offer a unique spin on managing your investments, with some relative strengths and weaknesses, depending on your goals.

Betterment, Wealthfront, Acorns and Stash all have something important in common: They’ll help you grow and manage your investments. Another notable similarity? They’re all designed for investing in exchange-traded funds.

But the similarities end there. Even Betterment and Wealthfront, NerdWallet’s top overall picks among the best online advisors, have important differences. (Read more about how these companies stack up head to head: Wealthfront vs. Betterment).

Betterment at a glance

Betterment’s goal-oriented tools and helpful tax strategies should appeal to investors of all types. Access to human advisors is available with the Premium plan.

Account minimum

$0 for Betterment Digital, $100,000 for Betterment Premium.
Account management fee

0.25% for Betterment Digital, 0.40% for Betterment Premium.
Investment expense ratios

ETF expense ratios range from 0.07% to 0.17%.
Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)

None.
Portfolio mix

  • Standard portfolio uses ETFs from about 12 asset classes.
  • Socially responsible investing, smart beta and target income portfolios available.
  • Ability to adjust percentage of portfolio in each investment.
Accounts supported

  • Individual and joint nonretirement accounts.
  • Roth, traditional, SEP and rollover IRAs.
  • Trusts.
  • Ability to link external accounts for personalized advice (but not direct management).
  • Cash account (not charged management fee).
Tax strategy

  • Daily tax-loss harvesting on all taxable accounts.
  • Tax-Coordinated Portfolio tool allocates assets across retirement and taxable accounts according to tax impact.
  • Tax Impact Preview tool warns about the tax effect of making portfolio changes.
  • Charitable giving tool makes it easy to donate appreciated assets.
Automatic rebalancing

Free on all accounts.
Human advisor option

Betterment Digital doesn't offer access to financial advisors. However, for a fee, you can buy an advice package that includes a consultation with an advisor.

Betterment Premium customers get unlimited telephone calls with a team of certified financial planners.
Tools

Numerous tools and calculators to help set goals, choose the right accounts and make money decisions.
Savings account/cash management option

High-yield savings with FDIC insurance up to $1 million and unlimited transfers.
Customer support options (includes website transparency)

Phone and email support Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern time. Email only on Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern time.
PromotionNerdWallet users get up to 12 months of free management: deposits of $15,000 to $99,999 get one month free; $100,000 to $249,999 get six months free; $250,000+ get one year free.

If you refer a friend and that person funds an account, you both get $5,000 managed free for one year.

Wealthfront at a glance

With Wealthfront, you get low-cost access to a diverse investment lineup, excellent planning tools and a variety of tax-saving strategies.

Account minimum

$500
Account management fee

0.25% (first $5,000 managed free for NerdWallet readers).
Investment expense ratios

ETF expense ratios average 0.08%.

Portfolios that include the Wealthfront Risk Parity Fund may have an overall expense ratio of 0.11%.
Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)

None.
Portfolio mix

ETFs from 11 asset classes (portfolios generally consist of 6 to 8). Individual stocks held in larger accounts.
Accounts supported

  • Individual and joint non-retirement accounts.
  • Roth, traditional, SEP and rollover IRAs.
  • Trusts.
  • 529 college savings plans.
  • Cash account (not charged management fee).
Tax strategy

  • Daily tax-loss harvesting on all taxable accounts.
  • Stock level tax-loss harvesting on accounts over $100,000.
  • Smart beta on balances over $500,000.
  • TurboTax customers can easily import tax-loss harvesting data from Wealthfront.
Automatic rebalancing

Free on all accounts.
Human advisor option

None.
Tools

  • Robust and free financial-planning tools (available even if you don't have a Wealthfront account) to help plan for life events, including retirement, home purchase, college and extended travel.
  • Ability to link outside accounts.
  • Portfolio line of credit also available.
Savings account/cash management account

High-yield savings account with up to $1 million in FDIC insurance and no fees.
Customer support options (includes website transparency)

Phone support Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern; email support.
PromotionNerdWallet readers get free management on the first $5,000 invested. Refer a friend and you both get an extra $5,000 managed free.

Acorns at a glance

Acorns’ spare-change savings tool and its cash-back rewards program make investing easy. But the management fee on small accounts is steep.

Account minimum

$0 to open account; $5 required to start investing
Account management fee


  • Lite: $1 a month for taxable investment account.

  • Personal: $3 a month for an investment account plus an IRA and a checking account.

  • Family: $5 a month for all of the above plus investment accounts for kids.

Investment expense ratios

Exchange-traded fund expense ratios range from 0.03% to 0.18%
Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)

$50 per ETF to have your ETFs transferred to another broker when you close your Acorns account; no charge to sell your investments and have your money transferred
Portfolio mix

Five portfolio types that weight 7 ETFs based on risk tolerance
Accounts supported


  • Individual non-retirement accounts

  • Roth, traditional and SEP IRAs

  • Online checking account with debit card

  • UTMA/UGMA accounts for kids

Tax strategy

Not available
Automatic rebalancing

Free on all accounts
Human advisor option

Not available
Tools

The app's Potential tool lets you adjust the dollar amount invested to see how your total investments will grow over time
Bank account/cash management account

Personal and Family members get access to Acorns Spend, a checking account with a debit card, mobile check deposit and reimbursed ATM fees. No interest is paid on the account.
Customer support options (includes website transparency)

24-hour phone and chat support; response time is up to 48 hours, but a lot of information easily available on website
PromotionNone

Stash at glance

Stash simplifies the process of selecting investments with an app suited for beginners. However, fees are higher compared with competitors.

Account minimum

$0
Account subscription fee

$1/month ($3/month to add a retirement account; $9/month to add custodial accounts and other services). Stash is not a robo-advisor and doesn't have discretion to manage customer accounts.
Investment expense ratios

Expense ratios average 0.23% for ETFs (0.34% for ETFs that focus on socially responsible investments); no investment fee for stocks.
Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)

No annual or inactivity fee; $75 outgoing transfer fee.
Portfolio mix

More than 1,800 ETFs and individual stocks available.
Accounts supported


  • Individual brokerage accounts.

  • Traditional and Roth IRAs.

  • Online debit accounts.

  • Custodial accounts.

Tax strategy

Not available.
Automatic rebalancing

Not available.
Human advisor option

Not available.
Tools


  • Automatic reinvestment of dividends (DRIP).

  • Retirement calculator.

  • Portfolio Builder.

  • Stash Coach helps expand your investing prowess with guidance, challenges and trivia.

Bank account/cash management account

Stash offers an online bank account with debit card and rewards program, but the account doesn't pay interest.
Customer support options (includes website transparency)

Phone and email support Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern, and Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
PromotionUp to $560 cash credit to invest with qualifying deposit.

Final look

Deciding which of these advisors is best for you will depend on, well, you. What works best for you may not make sense for a friend or family member, and vice versa. It’s important to be mindful of your investing goals, any tax implications you may incur from each of these services and how your various accounts will work together.

» Want to check out other providers? See our top picks for robo-advisors.

» Need more guidance? Here’s how to choose a brokerage account