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How Betterment, Wealthfront, Acorns and Stash Compare

Feb. 28, 2017
Advisors, Brokers, Investing, Investing Strategy
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t 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 is best? That 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.

At a glance

Broker

Highlights

Commissions

Account Minimum

Current Offers

Start Investing

Betterment

Betterment

Show Details

Offers access to human advisors for additional fee.

Commissions

0.25%

management fee

Current Offers

Up to 1 year

of free management with a qualifying deposit

on Betterment's secure website

Show Details

Wealthfront

Wealthfront

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Free management of first $5,000 (for NerdWallet readers); advanced tax optimization strategies.

Commissions

0.25%

management fee

Current Offers

$5,000

amount of assets managed for free

on Wealthfront's secure website

Show Details

Acorns

Acorns

Show Details

Automatic round ups, no account minimum

Commissions

$1 - $3/month

/month

Current Offers

Up to 4 years

free management for college students

on Acorns's secure website

Show Details

Stash Invest

Stash Invest

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Breaks down common investing jargon

Commissions

$1 - $9 / month

/month

Current Offers

1

month free management

on Stash Invest's secure website

Show Details

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

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.

NerdWallet rating

Fees

0.25%

management fee

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

Up to 1 year

of free management with a qualifying deposit

The bottom line

Betterment has maintained its status as the largest independent robo-advisor for a reason: The company offers a powerful combination of goal-based tools, affordable management fees and no account minimum.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • No account minimum.

  • Fractional shares limit uninvested cash.

  • Robust goal-based tools.

Cons

  • No direct indexing.

Read full review

Wealthfront

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

NerdWallet rating

Fees

0.25%

management fee

Account minimum

$500

Promotion

$5,000

amount of assets managed for free

The bottom line

Wealthfront has built client trust by offering free management on the first $5,000 — with NerdWallet’s promotion — but the company’s stock-level tax-loss harvesting service really shines, adding as much as 2% to annual investment performance for eligible accounts.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • First $5,000 managed free (NerdWallet promotion).

  • Low ETF expense ratios.

  • Daily tax-loss harvesting.

  • Automatic rebalancing.

Cons

  • No fractional shares.

  • No large-balance discounts.

Read full review

Acorns

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

NerdWallet rating

Fees

$1 - $3/month

/month

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

Up to 4 years

free management for college students

The bottom line

The automatic roundups at Acorns make saving and investing easy, and most investors will be surprised by how quickly those pennies accumulate. Roundups can be supplemented by lump-sum deposits and Acorns’ FoundMoney program, a network of retail partners who offer account holders cash back.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Free management for college students

  • Automatically invests spare change

  • Cash back at select retailers

  • Educational content available

Cons

  • Small investment portfolio

  • High fee on small account balances

Read full review

Stash

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

NerdWallet rating

Fees

$1 - $9 / month

/month

Account minimum

$5

Promotion

1

month free management

The bottom line

Stash offers educational assistance that can save you money in the long run, by teaching you how to manage your portfolio. But once you’ve learned the basics, you may find you’re unlikely to get much more in exchange for Stash’s ongoing monthly fee.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Educational content and support.

  • Low account minimum.

  • Fractional shares.

  • Values-based investment offerings.

Cons

  • No investment management.

  • High ETF expense ratios.

Read full review

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.

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

Anna-Louise Jackson is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aljax7.