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Best Financial Advisors: How to Find the Right One for You

There are several types of financial advisors, including robo-advisors, online planning services and traditional human advisors. We'll help you find a financial advisor that fits your needs.
Sept. 25, 2019
Advisors, Investing
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The best financial advisor is one that helps you set and achieve financial goals in a way that fits your needs and budget.

You have options that range from automated investment management services called robo-advisors, to online financial-planning services, to a variety of traditional, in-person specialists. We’ll give you a quick look at the types of help you can choose from, and how to figure out which is best for you. Or, jump ahead to see our list of the best financial advisors.

How to find the best financial advisor

1. Understand the types of financial advisors

Here’s an overview of the three main types of financial advisors. We’ve included information about fees, minimum investment requirements and which type of advisor might be best for certain financial situations, so you can make an informed choice about which is right for you.


These online services pick and manage an investment portfolio for you using computers, which lowers their overhead. Some offer access to human advisors for when you have questions, but their primary service is investment management, not financial planning.

  • Low cost, easy entry: Fees start as low as 0.25% of your balance and most charge 0.50% or less. Many have no or low account minimums, so you can start investing with a small amount of money.
  • Good when: You need help investing for financial goals like retirement, but don’t want or can’t afford a more holistic financial plan.

Online financial planning services

Online financial planning services are relatively new to the market, and they’re the next level up from robo-advisors. These companies offer investment management alongside virtual financial planning — clients typically meet with financial advisors by video or phone, and they receive financial plans and guidance.

The range of services provided by online financial planning companies is relatively wide — some services assign each client a dedicated advisor and build each investment portfolio from scratch; others offer access to a team of advisors and use robo-advisor algorithms to build investment portfolios.

  • Medium cost, varied minimums: Online financial planning services typically charge either a percentage of your account balance or a flat monthly or annual fee. In either case, the cost will typically be less than a human financial advisor, but more than a robo-advisor. Some services have relatively high investment requirements of $25,000 or more; others require no minimum investment.
  • Good when: You want virtual access to a financial advisor and a holistic financial plan, but at a lower cost than a human advisor.

Traditional financial advisors

Many different types of specialists focus on helping you reach financial goals, including investment advisors and financial planners. In most cases, you’ll work with an advisor in your local area.

  • Higher cost, higher minimums: The median financial advisor fee is about 1% of the assets managed for you, although some charge by the hour or have a set rate per service. Some require a minimum balance, such as $250,000 in assets to manage.
  • Good when: You want specialized services, your situation is complex or you want to meet your financial advisor in person.

2. Look into financial advisor credentials

In our view, the best financial advisors are certified financial planners, a designation that requires a high bar for educational requirements, experience and testing. Be sure to ask any advisor what type of credentials they hold. Some robo-advisors and online planning services also offer access to CFPs.

Also ask if the advisor follows a fiduciary standard, which requires acting in the best interest of the client. You can check out an advisor or firm’s qualifications and background by reading through their Form ADV.

3. Find out how the advisor is paid

Traditional advisors are compensated in various ways — some are paid directly by you, while others earn a commission by selling investments to you. It’s important to understand how much a financial advisor costs. We recommend choosing a fee-only advisor, not one who earns commissions for selling you products. Many robo-advisors and online planning services are fee-only; more and more traditional human advisors are moving this direction, too, especially CFPs.

4. Choose the best fit for your budget and situation

A financial advisor should improve your financial life, not blow your budget. For many people, it makes sense to start with basic investment management from a robo-advisor, and then reevaluate your needs down the road. When you have more money or a more complex financial situation, an online planning service or traditional advisor will add value.

The best financial advisors

Once you’ve decided which type of financial advisor is best for your situation and budget, you can get down to the work of finding an advisor to work with.

We’ve reviewed the landscape of robo-advisors and online financial planning services so we can make specific recommendations. Below are our some of our picks for the best robo-advisors and online planning services.

Why we like Betterment:

Betterment is the largest independent robo-advisor, with low management fees. Clients can upgrade to Betterment Premium for access to financial advisors.

» Read our full review
Management fee: 0.25% to 0.40%

Account minimum: $0 ($100,000 for Betterment Premium)

Promotion: Up to 1 year free management with qualifying deposit.
SoFi Automated Investing

Why we like SoFi:

SoFi charges no management fee and offers unlimited access to a team of CFPs.

» Read our full review
Management fee: 0%

Account minimum: $0

Promotion: Free career coaching, plus loan discounts with qualifying deposits.

Why we like Wealthfront:

Wealthfront is strictly digital, with powerful financial planning tools and a low management fee.

» Read our full review
Management fee: 0.25%

Account minimum: $500

Promotion: $5,000 managed free for NerdWallet readers.
Online financial planning services
Facet Wealth

Why we like Facet Wealth:

Facet Wealth offers dedicated CFPs and charges a flat fee based on how much financial advice you require. Investment management is included.

» Read our full review
Management fee: $480 to $5,000 per year.

Account minimum: $0

Personal Capital

Why we like Personal Capital:

Personal Capital offers dedicated CFPs and charges a percentage of assets under management.

» Read our full review
Management fee: 0.89%

Account minimum: $100,000

Promotion: 2 free months of financial advisory services for NerdWallet readers.
Compare more advisors

If you’d rather work with a human financial advisor in your area, NerdWallet suggests these organizations as sources of fee-only, fiduciary planners. All of them have a “find an advisor” tool on their sites:

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