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Best Financial Advisors: Find the Right One for You

February 13, 2018
Advisors, Investing
find-a-financial-advisor

The best financial advisors help you understand your money situation, diagnose potential problems and plan for the future. Options range from streamlined, low-cost digital services called robo-advisors to specialized human advisors.

Read more about how to find the right type for you or jump ahead to our picks for best financial advisors.  

Pick the best financial advisor for you

Robo-advisors are an attractive choice for many people. These digital services use computers to reduce overhead, so they can charge low fees and you can start with small amounts of money. They help you choose an investment mix based on your goals and risk tolerance, then maintain the portfolio for you. The best robo-advisors even work to lower your tax bill when possible.

Many robo-advisors also offer a hybrid level of service, which gives you access to human advisors when you have questions. The fee or account minimum may be higher than basic robo services, but they’re still typically cheaper than a human advisor.

If your situation is complex or you want highly personalized planning, such as estate planning, you may want a human specialist. Here’s a cheat sheet on which type is the best financial advisor for you:

Digital Advisors
Human Advisors
Fees: 0.25% to 0.89% Fees: Median 1%
  • Provide investment guidance and portfolio management with low fees and low or no minimum
  • Many have hybrid services, giving access to human experts when you have questions
  • Good when starting out or when your situation is not complex
  • Provide investment guidance and portolio management
  • Can offer holistic financial advice on topics like estate planning
  • Good for more complex situations and/or more assets (some advisors require $250,000+)

Choose a robo-advisor if …
  • You want help with choosing and managing your investments — including advanced services such as tax-loss harvesting — but don’t want to pay a lot.
  • You’re looking to get started investing for long-term goals, like retirement, buying a house or saving for college.
Choose a hybrid advisor if …
  • You’re ready to let a robo-advisor digitally manage your portfolio, but like the assurance of having a person available if questions arise.
Choose a human financial advisor if …
  • Your situation is more complex or you’re about to make a big life change, like retiring or getting married.

Best digital advisors

We reviewed the top robo-advisors to find the ones that offer the most robust tools and management for the lowest cost and lowest account minimums. Here are our top picks:

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.

Reader favorite

Cons

  • No direct indexing.

Read full review
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 direct indexing 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.

  • Direct indexing on accounts over $100,000.

  • Automatic rebalancing.

Reader favorite

Cons

  • No fractional shares.

  • No large-balance discounts.

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

0.50%

management fee

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

$50

cash bonus with deposit of at least $1,000 in first 30 days

The bottom line

Wealthsimple’s $0 minimum balance requirement, hands on human help and its no-fuss, streamlined design make it an attractive place for beginners to start their investing journey. But the company’s real standout feature among the robo-advisor competition is its lineup of socially responsible investment (SRI) portfolios, a refreshing addition for values-based investors. Another unusual offering that customers with taxable investment accounts will appreciate is free free tax-loss harvesting, no minimum account balance required.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Free access to human advisers

  • Free portfolio analysis

  • Free tax-loss harvesting

  • Socially-responsible investment options

  • No account minimum

Reader favorite

Cons

  • Higher account management fees

  • Limited free-management promotion

  • Limited personal finance tools

Read full review
NerdWallet rating

Fees

0.25%

management fee

Account minimum

$0

Promotion

Up to $750

cash bonus with qualifying deposit

The bottom line

This advisor markets itself to women and takes a goal-focused approach that factors in women’s lower incomes, lifetime earnings and longer lifespans. With its $0 account minimum, competitive advisory fees (ranging from 0.25% - 0.5% of assets) and unlimited access to financial advisors (Premium clients can talk to CFPs), Ellevest is an appealing choice for investors of any gender.

Show pros & cons

Pros

  • Low account minimum and fees

  • Goal-focused investing approach

  • Portfolio mix that factors women’s needs

Reader favorite

Cons

  • Few accounts supported

  • No tax-loss harvesting

Read full review

» More: See our full list of best robo-advisors

Best human financial advisors

If you decide on a human financial advisor, your best bet is one who charges a set fee — per hour, year or plan, or a percentage of assets. You want a fee-only advisor rather than someone who earns commissions from selling you products.

Also, ask if your advisor follows the fiduciary standard, which requires acting in the client’s best interest.

To search for an advisor, check out organizations like National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, Financial Planning Association, XY Planning Network, Alliance of Comprehensive Planners and Garrett Planning Network.

» Still not sure which kind is the best financial advisor for you? Our guide explains how to choose a financial advisor.

About the authors