Ellevest Review 2021: Pros, Cons and How It Compares

Ellevest aims its service toward women, but with a la carte access to financial professionals and low fees, the company will appeal to all investors.
Alana BensonJun 24, 2021

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Our Take

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: Ellevest offers three tiers of service, starting at $1 a month. Members get discounted access to professional help, free educational resources and the only investing algorithm that factors in women’s pay gaps, career breaks and longer lifespans.

Best Robo-Advisor for IRA Investing

Ellevest

on Ellevest's website

on Ellevest's website

Fees

$1 - $9

per month

Account Minimum

$0

Promotion

2 months free

with promo code "nerdwallet"

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • No account minimum.

  • Goal-focused investing approach.

  • Portfolio mix that factors women’s needs.

  • A la carte sessions with coaches and CFPs.

Cons

  • IRA access for Plus and Executive members only.

  • No tax-loss harvesting.

Compare to Other Advisors

Ellevest
SoFi Automated Investing
Vanguard Digital Advisor
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Fees

$1 - $9

per month

Fees

0%

management fee

Fees

0.15%

per year (approximately)

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$0

Promotion

2 months free

with promo code "nerdwallet"

Promotion

Free

career counseling plus loan discounts with qualifying deposit

Promotion

No advisory fees

your first 90 days of Vanguard Digital Advisor investment management (Enrollment requires a Vanguard account with a minimum of $3,000)

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Full Review

Ellevest is a robo-advisor that specifically focuses on the needs of women: Gender-based investing at Ellevest means factoring women's generally lower incomes, different lifetime earnings curve and longer lifespans into portfolio construction. (Yes, men can be clients, too: They get recommendations that account for their salary curves and longevity data.)

In June 2020, Ellevest restructured its offerings: The company no longer charges a percentage of assets under management for new clients. Instead, Ellevest charges flat monthly fees through a tiered structure that has no minimum investment and costs as little as $1 a month. Existing Ellevest customers will be able to move to the new plans, called Money Memberships, or stay with their existing pricing plan for now.

Ellevest Money Memberships offer three tiers of service: Ellevest Essential ($1 a month), Ellevest Plus ($5 a month) and Ellevest Executive ($9 a month). Every membership tier includes one or more personalized investment portfolios managed by Ellevest’s algorithm, as well as the option to invest in Impact Portfolios, which are designed for positive social impact and advancing women on boards and senior leadership teams. Coaching and certified financial planner access are available at a discounted price that depends on the membership level you choose.

Worth noting: Anyone can purchase CFP or coaching sessions through Ellevest’s website; you don't need to be a member or have money invested with the company.

Ellevest is best for:

  • Goal-based investing.

  • Hands-off investors.

  • Beginning investors.

  • Values-based investing.

  • Career coaching.

  • Financial planning sessions.

Ellevest at a glance

Account minimum

$0

Account management fee

Essential: $1/month

Plus: $5/month

Executive: $9/month

Investment expense ratios

Core portfolio: 0.05% - 0.10%. Impact Portfolios: 0.13% - 0.19%.

Account fees

$100 for full account transfer out; $5 per security for partial transfer out ($25 minimum/$75 maximum).

Portfolio mix

21 asset classes covered. Core Portfolios draw from 20 ETFs; Impact Portfolios draw from 27 ETFs and mutual funds. Some customization allowed.

Impact Portfolio option is available for no extra charge and puts up to 53% of the portfolio into ESG and impact funds.

Socially responsible portfolio options

Clients can choose to invest in impact portfolio options for no additional fee and put up to 53% of their portfolio in ESG and impact funds.

Accounts supported

  • Essential: Individual taxable account only (not joint).

  • Plus and Executive: Individual taxable account, traditional, Roth and SEP IRAs. Ellevest also provides asset allocation advice on 401(k) accounts for Plus and Executive members, but does not directly manage them.

Tax strategy

Tax-optimized asset location, rebalancing and withdrawal sequencing.

Automatic rebalancing

Free on an as-needed basis.

Human advisor option

No human advisor access included in membership, but members can purchase a la carte access to coaches and CFPs for a discounted rate. Nonmembers can access a CFP through Ellevest for retail price.

Bank account/cash management account option

Spend & Save account has a 0% interest rate, but gives users the ability to round up spare change and transfer it to their investing account.

Customer support options (includes website transparency)

Phone, email, Instagram direct message and Facebook Messenger support Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern. Email support for urgent matters on weekends.

» Want to check out other providers? Here are our top picks for the best robo-advisors.

Where Ellevest shines

Addressing women's needs: As the list of automated investment advisors continues to grow, Ellevest's full-on female-focused approach is certainly an eye-catching differentiator. But is it just a marketing hook?

While a lot of it has to do with approach and tone (which aren't necessarily gender-specific), one practice is worth highlighting. The advisor says that while the gender pay gap is well-known, less appreciated is the fact that women’s incomes top out and decline sooner than men’s. Combine the earnings gap with a longer lifespan, and women have to surmount a tougher set of obstacles than men to reach their financial goals.

Ellevest addresses this in two ways:

  • While other robo-advisors might treat men and women equally when considering their future earnings, Ellevest might recommend a higher savings rate for a female client than it would for a similar male client because of that lower future earnings potential.

  • Ellevest’s latest update is bringing their female users broader access to help with everything from retirement planning to how to negotiate for a raise and career coaching — issues that can affect women differently than men.

Tiered flat fee structure: Ellevest’s tiered structure lets users pick the level of service they need.

All members have access to a customized investment plan that, according to simulations, gives them a 70% likelihood of reaching a goal's target. Another feature that increases the likelihood that you'll achieve your goals is auto-deposit, the ability to have a portion of your paycheck deposited directly into your Ellevest account. After all, it's harder to spend money that doesn't even make a pit stop in your checking account.

Your access to specific goals depends on your membership level.

  • Ellevest Essential includes the Build Wealth goal, which offers only an individual taxable investment account.

  • Ellevest Plus adds the Retirement goal, which allows you to open an IRA and lets you see how your progress toward retirement impacts your ability to build wealth as your primary goal.

  • Ellevest Executive adds access to the rest of the goals, such as buying a house or starting a business. The Executive level, like Plus,  also provides a dose of reality in terms of trade-offs that may be necessary to achieve multiple goals — for example, how buying a house this year might delay starting a business.

The downside of this structure is that Essential members aren't able to open retirement accounts (like IRAs) unless they upgrade to Plus or Executive status.

Access to educational resources: All members have access to free, digital workshops with Ellevest’s team of coaches. Members also have access to in-app learning, including useful videos, articles, guides and email courses, and receive personalized progress reports with tips to keep their money goals on track.

Portfolio customization: Like its peer robos, each Ellevest portfolio has specific target allocations: more aggressive funds for long-term goals and more conservative ones for the short term. Customers are, however, given some measure of control over how aggressively their money is invested and can toggle their exposure to stocks up or down within reason (between 5% or 10%, depending on the goal). Whenever the portfolio veers too much from the target allocation, Ellevest rebalances the investments.

Ellevest portfolios are composed of a mix of exchange-traded funds that cover more than 20 asset classes, which is more than what most of the leading players offer. For its standard portfolios, Ellevest chooses from 20 ETFs; Impact Portfolios draw from 27 ETFs and mutual funds. Impact Portfolios invest up to 53% of a portfolio into funds that promote social good, including funds made up of companies that promote the advancement of women.

Many of the funds Ellevest uses are from Vanguard, a leader in low-cost ETFs. That's important because in addition to the Ellevest membership fee, investors pay for the management fees (aka expense ratios) on the ETFs in their portfolio.

Access to coaches and CFPs: Ellevest is giving all members access to a range of professional financial help — for an extra fee. Users can purchase a variety of sessions (everything from a one-time session on budgeting to unlimited access to a CFP) at a 20%, 30% or 50% discount based on their membership plan. Even if you’re not an Ellevest member, you can purchase sessions at their retail price (for example, unlimited access to a CFP costs $895 a year for nonmembers). Below, examples of the cost to work with a CFP through Ellevest:

Retirement checkup with a CFP (two 30-minute sessions)

Unlimited CFP access (for one year)

Non-member

$350

$895

Ellevest Essential

$280

$716

Ellevest Plus

$245

$626.50

Ellevest Executive

$175

$447.50

The CFP sessions Ellevest offers are similar to Betterment's a la carte financial planning packages, which also are available with no minimum account balance.

However, for ongoing, unlimited access to a financial planner, the services diverge: Betterment Premium, which offers unlimited access to a team of CFPs, requires a $100,000 balance and charges an annual management fee of 0.40%. Ellevest allows members at any level to purchase unlimited access to a dedicated CFP (though other planners may assist you with urgent questions if your advisor isn’t available) for a flat annual fee of $447.50 to $716, depending on your membership level (and not including the monthly membership fee).

On the $100,000 account balance required for Betterment Premium, the service's 0.40% annual fee is $400 a year. That dollar amount goes up as your account balance grows. With Ellevest, if you don’t need professional help, you don’t have to pay for it.

Ellevest also has a Private Wealth Management option for clients with over $1 million in assets. This gives clients a fully custom-made portfolio (rather than the robo-advisor service). Ellevest’s impact investing for private wealth clients offers niche investment opportunities, such as the ability to invest in small women-owned businesses or sustainable housing with units for women and families impacted by substance abuse.

Spend & Save bank accounts: Ellevest offers so-called Spend & Save accounts to all members. These come with a debit card and the ability to round up spare change into either a Save account or transfer it to an investing account. Spend & Save accounts have no overdraft or minimum balance fees, and those with a Spend account get unlimited ATM fee refunds when they set up direct deposit.*

Ellevest also offers cash back to members using the Ellevest debit card. Members can earn an average 5% back on eligible transactions. Rewards are earned automatically, and then deposited into the member's Save account every month.

Where Ellevest falls short

Low interest rate on short-term savings: While it’s nice to have a savings account option alongside your investment account, Ellevest’s Save accounts currently earn 0% interest. Other robo-advisors offer savings accounts or cash management accounts paying 0.30% or more. Online high-yield savings accounts can sometimes pay 1% or more.

Accounts supported: Currently, Ellevest offers only individual taxable accounts and IRAs (Roth, traditional and SEP), though IRA access requires a Plus or Executive membership. Ellevest doesn’t offer joint taxable accounts. 401(k) and 403(b) rollovers are only available for Plus and Executive members, as is allocation guidance for external 401(k) plans.

No tax-loss harvesting: In contrast to its larger rivals, Ellevest doesn't offer automated tax-loss harvesting. That could be a turnoff for the wealthiest investors with high balances in taxable accounts. But the company says that there are too many “ifs” in each investor’s situation to automate the process across its client base. And doing so could do its customers more harm than good, a risk the company isn't willing to take in its role as a fiduciary.

That said, you can't completely ignore the role of taxes in retirement planning, and Ellevest doesn't. Like most robos, Ellevest takes pains to put any securities that might generate taxes into tax-deferred retirement accounts and puts investments that tend to have low tax burdens into taxable accounts. And the company’s Tax Impact Alerts warn about potential taxes triggered by portfolio changes.

Is Ellevest right for you?

Ellevest is a good choice for beginning investors looking for help reaching their financial goals.

It offers free educational materials on topics including retirement, interview coaching and budgeting, and it also provides access to professional coaches for an added fee. Ellevest is also good for values-based investors and people who want to invest their dollars in companies that have policies and practices that advance women.

The service is best for hands-off investors who want to outsource portfolio management; if you would rather take a DIY approach to picking and choosing your investments, a robo-advisor may not be the right fit. (Consider an online broker instead.)

Key terms in this review

Robo-advisor

Ellevest is a robo-advisor, also known as an automated investing service or online advisor. Robo-advisors use computer algorithms and advanced software to build and manage your investment portfolio, and are much cheaper than an-person human financial advisor. What sets Ellevest apart from other robos is that it isn't gender-neutral: Its investing algorithm takes into account the salary curve and lifespan of whatever gender profile the client chooses. It also offers investment options that allow its mostly female clientele to invest their dollars in companies that have policies and practices that advance women.

CFP

A CFP is a certified financial planner, a type of financial advisor who possesses one of the most rigorous certifications for financial planning knowledge and adheres to a strict ethical standard. With Ellevest’s CFP and coaching sessions, new or unsure investors can access these professionals for an added fee. Members receive that access at a discount.

Tax-loss harvesting

Tax-loss harvesting is an investment strategy that can significantly reduce capital gains taxes. In taxable accounts, the practice involves selling losing investments to offset the gains from winners. It’s widely available among other robo-advisors, often for free, but is not offered by Ellevest.

Expense ratio

An expense ratio is an annual fee charged by mutual funds, index funds and exchange-traded funds, as a percentage of your investment in the fund. If you invest in a mutual fund with a 1% expense ratio for example, you’ll pay the fund $10 per year for every $1,000 invested. If high, these fees can significantly drag down your portfolio returns, but Ellevest’s core portfolios have some of the lowest expense ratios among robo-advisors. Expense ratios are paid in addition to your Ellevest membership fee.

IRA

An individual retirement account lets you save money for retirement and get tax breaks for doing so. If you’re interested in opening an IRA with Ellevest, you’ll have to upgrade to Plus or Executive status.

Automatic rebalancing

Automatic rebalancing is regular rebalancing of your portfolio in response to market fluctuations or other factors that shift your portfolio out of its intended investment allocation. The market moves and over time, your allocation will move, too. So if your target was having 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds and stocks are doing well, you could end up having 70% in stocks, which may be more risk than you are comfortable with. With automatic rebalancing, the computer monitors your allocation and will automatically adjust your investment if they get out of line. Ellevest offers this service for no additional fee.


* Banking products and services are provided by Coastal Community Bank, Member FDIC, pursuant to license by Mastercard International. If you opt in to the Roundup Program for debit card purchases, each settled (i.e. fully completed) purchase transaction made with your Ellevest Debit Card will be rounded up to the nearest whole U.S. dollar. The Roundup amount will be transferred from your Spend account to your Save account. Foreign purchases are rounded up to the nearest whole dollar after the purchase is converted to U.S. dollars. ATM withdrawals and transactions in whole US dollars, e.g. $20.00 are excluded from the Roundup program. If, at the time of settlement of a purchase, your Ellevest Spend Account has insufficient available funds to cover the full amount of the Roundup transfer, the Roundup Transfer will not be made. If a purchase is canceled or reversed for any reason (including disputes), the corresponding Roundup Transfer will not be reversed. You can opt out of the Roundup Program at any time. Domestic ATM transaction fees will be reimbursed if a payroll direct deposit has been received within the prior 30 days of the ATM transaction settlement. International ATM withdrawal fee of $5 will apply.

on Ellevest's website

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