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The 7 Best Robo-advisors of 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It may not have not been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners or the Investment company.

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If you’re new to the world of investing in stocks and bonds, knowing where to begin can be an intimidating prospect. Robo-advisors could be the best choice to start your investing journey. They make putting money in the market simple and intuitive utilizing smartphone apps and sophisticated computer algorithms.

Robo-advisors invest your money in diversified portfolios of stocks and bonds that are customized to your needs. Since computers do the work, they are able to charge much lower fees than traditional wealth advisors.

They begin the process with a questionnaire to assess your financial goals and your risk tolerance. Based on your answers, robo-advisors purchase low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for you and adjust the portfolio — or rebalance, as they say on Wall Street — on a regular basis, with no further intervention required from you.

To match your risk tolerance, robo-advisors offer more aggressive portfolios containing a greater percentage of stock ETFs, or more conservative ones containing a greater percentage of bond ETFs. The robo-advisor will also consider your age in developing your portfolio.

How we chose the best robo-advisors

We regularly review the latest robo-advisor offerings — we’ve evaluated 19 different ones in this round — and have selected our top choices. All of the robo-advisors on this list may well be worth considering, with those at the top scoring the best in our methodology.

To determine our list of the best robo-advisors, we focused on management fees and account minimums, and also considered ease of use and customer support.

The top 7 robo-advisors of 2020

Robo-advisorAnnual Management FeeAverage Expense Ratio (moderate risk portfolio)Account Minimum to Start
Wealthfront0.25%0.09%$500
Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios0.00%0.14%$5,000
Betterment0.25% (up to $100,000), 0.40% (over $100,000)0.11%$0
SoFi Automated Investing0.00%0.08%$1
SigFig0.00% (up to $10,000), 0.25% (over $10,000)0.15%$2,000
WiseBanyan0.00%0.12%$1
Acorns$12/yr0.03%-0.15%$5

 

Management Fees

0%

Account Minimum

$100 one-time deposit or $20 monthly deposit

Promotion
N/A
Management Fees

0.25%

Account Minimum

$0

Promotion

Three months free for new customers who are referred by an existing Betterment account holder

Management Fees

0.30%

Account Minimum

$100

Promotion

N/A

Wealthfront — Low fees, high APR for cash account

Wealthfront — Low fees high cash management APR
Wealthfront’s stand-out features are its low annual cost and free financial planning tools. The 0.25% management fee and 0.09% average ETF expense ratio adds up to one of the lowest annual costs on this list. In addition, Wealthfront includes a cash management account with an attractive 0.35% APY.

Wealthfront continues to steal share in wealth management as customers fed up with high fees leave traditional brokerages and wealth advisors. Human interaction is intentionally minimal at Wealthfront: This could be a benefit to those who want to be left alone, or a drawback for those who would prefer personal attention or who have complicated tax situations.

Wealthfront’s key attributes:

  • Fees: Management fee of 0.25%, plus 0.09% avg ETF expense ratio
  • Minimum starting deposit: $500
  • Investing strategy: Wealthfront invests your money in one of 20 different automated portfolios. Each portfolio is a different mix of 11 low-cost ETFs, which are rated with risk scores from 0.5 (least risk) to 10.0 (most risk).
  • Average annual return over the past five years: 5.40% per year, based on Wealthfront’s mid-level 5.0 risk score.
  • Other notable features: Tax-loss harvesting (see below for a full explanation of tax-loss harvesting) comes standard, also includes an FDIC-insured cash management account yielding 0.35% APY.

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Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios — Brand-name brokerage

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios — Brand-name brokerage
Intelligent Portfolios can be a smart choice, but do not be misled by the 0% management fees — investing with this robo-advisor still comes at a cost. Intelligent Portfolios requires users to hold 6% to 30% of deposited funds in cash at a 0.70% APY, which will eat into overall returns in years where the market returns above 0.7%. This is on top of an average 0.14% expense ratio for a moderate portfolio. The $5,000 minimum deposit to open an account may also be too high a bar for investors just starting out.

That said, Intelligent Portfolios has an exceptionally detailed description of their ETF selection methodology, and a major brokerage like Schwab can be a good launchpad for folks who anticipate getting deeper into investing. Intelligent Portfolios users get access to Charles Schwab’s 300 U.S. branch locations where you can talk to advisors and handle administrative tasks in person.

Key attributes of Intelligent Portfolios:

  • Fees: Zero management fee, but customers must hold 6% to 30% of their portfolio in cash at 0.7% APR, plus 0.14% avg ETF expense ratio.
  • Minimum starting deposit: $5,000
  • Investing strategy: Schwab invests your money in a custom portfolio with two main components: ETFs representing up to 20 different asset classes, including stocks and bonds; and cash, in the form of a FDIC-insured cash sweep program earning 0.7% APY. Cash must be between 6% and 30% of the portfolio.
  • Average annual return from 3/31/2015 to 12/31/2018: 3.1% per year for medium-risk portfolio
  • Other notable features: Tax loss harvesting available for accounts over $50K, includes access to in-person assistance at over 300 U.S. branch locations.

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Betterment — Low fees for balances under $100K

Betterment — Low fees for smaller balances under $100K
Betterment offers a full suite of robo-advisor features at low cost with no minimum deposit. The annual management fee for accounts under $100,000 is 0.25%, plus an average 0.11% expense ratio. Unfortunately, accounts over $100,000 will see the annual management fee jump to 0.40%. One advantage Betterment gives to accounts above the $100,000 threshold is that they can actively manage some assets. If active management is your goal, though, you can avoid Betterment’s 0.40% fee by opening a free brokerage account — so if you are managing more than $100,000, you may want to consider a different robo-advisor.

Betterment’s key attributes:

  • Fees: If total balance is less than $100,000, the annual management fee is 0.25% of assets; for balances over $100,000, management fee rises to 0.40% of assets. The average ETF expense ratio is 0.11% (for a 70% stock and 30% bond portfolio).
  • Minimum starting deposit: $0
  • Investing strategy: Betterment invests your money in an automated portfolio comprised of stock and bond ETFs in 12 different asset classes.
  • Average annual return over five years: 6.2% per year on a 50% equity portfolio (July 2013 to July 2018).
  • Other notable features: Tax-loss harvesting comes standard; active management features for clients with $100,000+ balance; several premium portfolios available.

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SoFi Automated Investing — Low costs, great perks

SoFi Automated Investing — Low costs, great perks
SoFi Automated Investing’s 0.00% management fee and ultra-low 0.08% average expense ratio makes it one of the most competitively-priced robo-advisors in the market. Valuable perks come with opening a SoFi account, including free access to SoFi financial advisors, free career counseling and discounts on loans.

Automated Investing’s main downside is that their portfolios are less customizable than its peers’, with only five different risk levels to choose from, as opposed to at least 10 available from others. SoFi does not offer tax loss harvesting yet, though this may change in the near future.

SoFi Automated Investing’s key attributes:

  • Fees: Zero management fee, plus 0.08% avg expense ratio.
  • Minimum starting deposit: $1
  • Investing strategy: All SoFi Automated Investing portfolios are actively managed. This means that real humans at SoFi decide the makeup of the five model portfolios, which they believe will add value beyond what passive investing offers. SoFi invests your money in one of five portfolios of low-cost ETFs, covering 16 different asset classes. Each of the five portfolios has two versions: one is for taxable accounts and the other for tax-deferred or tax-free accounts, like IRAs and Roth IRAs. SoFi only rebalances portfolios monthly, versus some peers which check for this opportunity daily.
  • Average annual return over five years: 6.78% per year on the moderate risk portfolio (60% stocks / 40% bonds).
  • Other notable features: Commission-free stock trades in separate Active Investing accounts. SoFi’s combined checking/savings product, SoFi Money, offers 0.25% APY on deposits. Customers must open this account separately.

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SigFig — Free access to advisors

SigFig — Free access to advisors
Free access to financial advisors by phone and 0.00% management fees on the first $10,000 deposited are SigFig’s biggest strong points. On deposits over $10,000, management fees rise to 0.25%. Expense ratios are on the high side compared to the competition, at an average of 0.15%.

One of SigFig’s peculiarities is that they do not hold your assets. If you open a new account, SigFig will open an account at TD Ameritrade for you and then manage it. Current TD Ameritrade, Fidelity and Charles Schwab customers can also use SigFig’s robo-advisor services.

The $2,000 minimum deposit may put SigFig out of reach for some, but SigFig is worth a look for investors looking to keep robo-advisor costs low.

SigFig’s key attributes:

  • Fees: Zero annual management fee for the first $10,000; management fee rises to 0.25% of assets on balances over $10,000. Average ETF expense ratio of 0.15%, depending on allocation.
  • Minimum starting deposit: $2,000
  • Investing strategy: SigFig invests your money in an automated portfolio based on how you indicate you want to invest. Each portfolio is made of ETFs from Vanguard, iShares and Schwab, comprising stocks and bonds in nine different asset classes. The specific ETFs SigFig invests in will vary based on whether your account is held at TD Ameritrade, Fidelity, or Schwab.
  • Average annual return over five years: 5.45% per year for moderate portfolio (as of 4/24/2019)
    Other notable features: SigFig has a free portfolio tracker that allows investors to track their entire portfolio’s performance across multiple brokers.

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WiseBanyan — No-frills choice for beginners

WiseBanyan — No-frills choice for beginners
A 0.00% management fee for core robo-advisor functionality makes WiseBanyan a good choice for beginning investors who can get by with a no-frills offering. Make sure to notice that they still charge a 0.12% average ETF expense ratio, so it is not completely free.

WiseBanyan charges premiums for features that come standard with other robo-advisors, including tax loss harvesting (0.24% of assets up to $20/month max), expanded investment options ($3/month) and auto-deposit ($2/month). If you care about these other features, do the math based on your own portfolio size to compare WiseBanyan to its peers.

WiseBanyan’s key attributes:

  • Fees: Zero management fee, plus average ETF expense ratio of 0.12%. Premium features carry additional fees and higher expense ratios.
  • Minimum starting deposit: $1
  • How WiseBanyan invests your money: For basic Core Portfolio users, portfolios comprise ETFs across nine asset classes, with an average expense ratio of 0.03% to 0.69%. If you upgrade to the Portfolio Plus Package, you gain access to 31 total asset classes with exposure to ETFs tracking oil and gas, precious metals and other industries, with an average expense ratio of 0.03% to 0.75%.
  • Average annual return over five years: Not provided
  • Other notable features: Premium offerings, including tax loss harvesting (0.24% /month up to $20/month max), Fast Money auto-deposit ($2/month) and Portfolio Plus ($3/month).

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Acorns — Unique savings functionality

Acorns — Unique savings functionality
By rounding up the spare change from your transactions and placing it into an investment account, Acorns provides a clever way to get started with investing. The main drawback is that, until you have more than $4,800 deposited in an Acorns Core account, the $1/month fee will actually be proportionally higher than the 0.25% management fees that most competitors charge.

Acorns does not offer tax loss harvesting, joint accounts, or access to financial advisors currently. Still, if you’re looking for an easy way to start investing, give Acorns a shot.

Key attributes of Acorns:

  • Fees: $1/month for Acorns Core, plus ETF expense ratios ranging from 0.03% to 0.15%
  • Minimum starting deposit: $5
  • How Acorns invests your money: Acorns invests your money in one of five automated portfolios— notably, this is a more limited number of portfolios than some other competitors. Each portfolio comprises ETFs across seven asset classes.
  • Average annual return over past five years: Not provided
  • Other notable features: Offers two add-on accounts for expanded functionality with Acorns Later retirement product ($2/month) and Acorns Spend checking account ($3/month).

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What is a robo-advisor?

A robo-advisor is a service that uses computer algorithms to invest customers’ money in portfolios customized to their needs. Since robo-advisors create these portfolios using automated algorithms, they can charge a fraction of what human advisors do and still offer advanced benefits like auto-rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting to boost overall returns. Most robo-advisors start with a questionnaire to assess your financial goals, risk tolerance and assets. Based on the answers, the robo-advisor allocates your investments accordingly.

How do I choose the right robo-advisor?

When considering which robo-advisor to choose, you should focus on management fees, minimum balances, ease of use and customer support. The lower the fees, the more money stays in your account. The top robo-advisors typically charge a flat management fee of 0.00% to 0.50% of your deposited balance. In addition, you pay an expense ratio to cover the fees charged by the companies offering the ETFs that comprise your investment portfolio. Note that some robo-advisors claim to offer zero management fees, but still charge an expense ratio.

Make sure you are comfortable leaving your deposits with a robo-advisor for the medium to long term — think five to eight years. There are a number of robo-advisors with $0 account minimums and most are under $5,000 today.

How do I open a robo-advisor account?

Most robo-advisors can have you up and running with an account in a few minutes. Typically you create a username, fill out a questionnaire to assess your financial goals and risk tolerance and connect your profile to a bank account. There may be some additional steps required for verification depending on the robo-advisor.

What other features should I consider?

Robo-advisors offer a host of additional features, including tax loss harvesting, cash management options, checking accounts and rewards programs. Cash management can provide a meaningful compliment for users who keep some of their portfolio in cash. Some robo-advisors offer an APY of more than 2.00% on cash management accounts. Tax loss harvesting can make a difference for users looking to lower tax exposure.

What is tax loss harvesting?

Tax loss harvesting is a tax strategy that some robo-advisors offer to help clients reduce their tax bill. Generally, this involves selling an asset that has lost value for a loss, using that loss to offset capital gains taxes or income taxes, then purchasing a similar but not “substantially identical” asset to maintain exposure to the asset class. The details behind each robo-advisor’s strategy can get complicated and should be looked at in detail to make sure you understand what you are getting into.

Capital losses from tax loss harvesting can be used to offset capital gains and can potentially offset up to $3,000 (or $1,500 if married and filing separately) of ordinary income.

What if my robo-advisor goes out of business?

While not a pleasant thought, it is possible that a robo-advisor could go out of business. Most robo-advisors insure clients’ assets through the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). This is different from the bank account coverage provided by the FDIC; generally, SIPC coverage includes up to $500,000 in protection per separate account type, with up to $250,000 of cash assets protected.

Keep in mind that the SIPC will take necessary steps to return securities and account holdings to impacted clients, but will not protect against any rise or fall in value of those holdings. This means that if you make a bad investment in a stock, the SIPC ensures you still own that bad stock, but do not replace losses from a poor investment. Some brokers also insure assets beyond the $500,000 in SIPC coverage through “excess of SIPC” insurance.

See the full list of SIPC members at their site, along with a detailed explanation of how SIPC coverage works.

The bottom line

Robo-advisors can be an excellent option for users who are starting their investing journeys, rolling over a 401(k) or who want to minimize the time needed to manage their investments. By creating a customized portfolio based on your financial goals and automatically rebalancing your account, a robo-advisor can help to maximize your return while taking on the right amount of risk.

Because robo-advisors run off of automated algorithms, you should be comfortable with little or no human touch for your investments. The upshot to low human interaction is that fees are generally much lower than with a registered investment advisor, which may be worth the tradeoff as part of an overall financial plan. However, if you want a more hands-on approach you may be interested in finding a financial advisor.

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Investing

Best IRA Account Providers 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It may not have not been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners or the Investment company.

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Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) are investment vehicles designed to help you save for retirement. If you have a company-sponsored retirement plan, like a 401(k), IRAs are an important supplement to further boost retirement savings. If you’re self-employed, IRAs are your main tool for saving up the nest egg you need to retire.

There are a variety of different IRAs available, and which one you choose depends on your unique employment and financial situation. The two main types are Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs, which differ in the tax treatment of the funds you place in each account. With a Traditional IRA, you pay income taxes on the funds when you make withdrawals, while with a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on your contributions upfront, allowing the money to grow tax-free.

If you’re self-employed or run a small business, you’ll want to look at opening a simplified employee pension (SEP) IRA. SEP IRAs are available to anyone working as a business sole proprietor, earning freelance income or running a business with one or more employees.

Read on as we round up the best IRA account providers for both active and passive investors. For people who want to take an active role in choosing the investments held in their IRAs, we offer a selection of brokerage firms with premium trading resources. For those who would rather fund their IRA and let somebody else handle the investing process, check out our list of best robo-advisor services.

financial advisor

How we chose the best IRA account providers

We regularly review the latest IRA account offerings — we’ve evaluated 39 different offerings in this round — and have selected our top choices. All of the providers on this list may well be worth considering, with those at the top scoring the best in our methodology.

To determine our list of the best brokerage IRA account providers we focused on trading fees, account minimum, the diversity of investment products offered (stocks, bonds, ETFs and mutual funds) and low account fees (yearly fees, transfer fees and inactivity fees)

To determine our list of the best automated IRA account providers, we focused on management fees and account minimums and considered ease of use and customer support. See our methodology article for more details on how we created our rankings.

Best IRA providers for hands-off investors

Many people lack the time and specialized knowledge required to make the best possible investing decisions. This makes choosing a robo-advisor to manage your IRA a good bet. Robo-advisors are automated investing services operated by established brokerages and stand-alone companies. Robo-advisors generally charge annual management fees, usually 0.25-0.50% of your account balance, in addition to other fees to own ETFs and mutual funds. In return, computer algorithms written by financial professionals maximize your earnings to build a nest egg that will carry you through retirement. These are our picks for the best robo-advisors to manage your IRA.

 Annual Management FeeAverage Expense Ratio (moderate risk portfolio)Account Minimum to Start

Wealthfront

0.25%0.09%$500

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios

0.00%0.14%$5,000

Betterment

0.25% (up to $100,000); 0.40% ($100,000.01 or more)0.11%$0

SoFi Automated Investing

0.00%0.08%$1

Wealthfront — Low fees, great tools

Wealthfront Advisers LLCWealthfront’s low annual costs and free financial planning tools are well-suited to IRA investors. Their annual cost is one of the lowest on this list, with a 0.25% management fee and 0.09% average ETF expense ratio. The $500 minimum to open an account is a bit higher than others on this list, but still attainable for many folks looking to build a nest egg. There is little human interaction at Wealthfront, which saves you time and helps the company keep costs low. This can be a drawback for those who would have complicated tax situations or who prefer a bit of personal attention.

Wealthfront Highlights:

  • An annual management fee of 0.25%; average ETF expense ratio of 0.09%
  • Investments are diversified and automatically rebalanced across four to five asset classes using a portfolio of low-cost ETFs tailored to your risk profile
  • IRAs available: Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs and SEP IRAs. Wealthfront does not offer inherited or beneficiary IRAs

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios — Automated investing from a leading brokerage

The Charles Schwab Corporation Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios can be a smart choice for automating your IRA investments, but do not let the 0% management fee mislead you: Instead of charging a fee, Charles Schwab requires that Intelligent Portfolios clients hold 6-30% of deposited funds in cash at a 0.70% APY, which will decrease overall returns in years where the market returns above 0.70%. In addition, Charles Schwab charges a higher expense ratio for owning their ETFs, which averages 0.14% for a moderate portfolio. The minimum deposit requirement of $5,000 to open an account may be a touch high for investors just starting out. Customer service is one of Schwab’s highlights. As a well-established broker, the company has over 350 branch locations where you can get in-person assistance with your IRA investing questions. Plus, 24/7 phone support is available.

Intelligent Portfolios Highlights:

  • No annual management fee, although customers must keep 6% to 30% of portfolios in cash; average expense ratio of 0.14%
  • Investments are diversified across up to 20 different asset classes and auto-rebalanced
  • Starting at Schwab can benefit investors who anticipate opening other account types down the road
  • IRAs available: Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, inherited IRAs and Custodial IRA

Betterment — Low fees for balances under $100K

Betterment Holdings Inc.Betterment is one of the most prominent names in automated investing. They offer a full suite of robo-advisor features for IRA investors at low cost, with no minimum deposit. Annual management fees for accounts under $100,000 are 0.25% plus an average 0.11% expense ratio. The annual management fee jumps to 0.40% for accounts $100,000 and up. Betterment gives another advantage to accounts with over $100,000 deposited, allowing those clients to actively manage some assets. If active management is your goal, though, you can avoid Betterment’s 0.40% fee by opening a free brokerage account. If you are managing more than $100,000, you may want to consider a different robo-advisor.A feature that sets Betterment apart versus peers is its Tax-Coordinated Portfolio, which attempts to decrease the amount you pay in taxes. It does this by placing assets that will be taxed highly into IRAs, which have big tax breaks, while placing lower-taxed assets in taxable accounts.

Betterment Highlights:

  • No minimum deposit and low fees for balances under $100k
  • Betterment invests your deposits in ETFs diversified across 12 different asset classes with a strategy personalized to your risk profile
  • The tax-coordinated portfolio feature works to lower your tax bill by placing high-tax items in a tax-advantage IRA account
  • IRAs available: Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, inherited IRAs and inherited Roth IRAs

SoFi Automated Investing — Low costs, great perks

SoFi Securities LLCSoFi Automated Investing is one of the most competitively-price automated IRA providers, featuring no annual management fee and an ultra-low 0.08% average expense ratio. Valuable perks come with opening a SoFi account, including free access to SoFi financial advisors who can help you create a retirement plan, plus free career counseling and discounts on loans. SoFi also offers an attractive 0.25% APY on deposits in their checking/savings product, though customers must open that account separately.Automated Investing’s main downside is that their portfolios are less customizable than peers’ offerings, with only five different risk levels to choose from, as opposed to at least 10 available from others.

SoFi Automated Investing Highlights:

  • No annual management fee, an average expense ratio of 0.08%, and a $1 minimum deposit
  • IRA and Roth IRA portfolios contain less municipal bonds and more corporate bonds to maximize returns for these tax-advantaged accounts
  • Investments are invested in low-cost ETFs diversified across 16 different asset classes and automatically rebalanced monthly
  • IRAs available: Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs and SEP IRA

Best IRA providers for active investors

If you are confident in your ability to make financial decisions and are willing to put in the time and effort needed to maintain an investment portfolio, a traditional brokerage IRA can be a good option. With the selected IRA providers below, you have complete control over how investments are allocated within the account. The best part: You pay no management fees.

 Fee per tradeCommission-free ETFsNo transaction fee mutual funds

Charles Schwab

$0.005143,457

Fidelity

$0.005033,636

TD Ameritrade

$0.005713,985

E-Trade

$0.002774,222

Charles Schwab — Free fixed-income consultation

The Charles Schwab CorporationBroker Charles Schwab’s multitude of low-fee investment options and customer service offerings make them a top pick for IRA investors. Schwab offers a number of ways to keep fees low with a low $0.00 per trade commission, $0 minimum to open an account and a large selection of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction fee mutual funds.Especially relevant for investors approaching retirement, Schwab offers free consultations with fixed-income specialists. Customer service is a highlight at Schwab with over 350 branch locations if you need in-person help and 24/7 phone support available. High fees for transfers out of your account or for foreign stock trading are gotchas to look out for.

Charles Schwab Highlights:

  • Free consultation with fixed-income specialist, an advantage for investors close to retiring
  • Low trading commissions at $0.00 per trade
  • There is no minimum deposit to open an IRA with Schwab, so it is easy to get started
  • IRA available: Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs, inherited IRAs and Custodial IRAs.

Fidelity — Strong mutual fund offerings

Fidelity Brokerage Services LLCFidelity is a top pick among investors saving for retirement, and for good reason. Their vast selection of no-fee mutual funds and ETFs help investors hold onto more of their retirement savings. Fidelity’s lineup of mutual funds with 0% expense ratios are especially noteworthy for fee-conscious investors. Low $0.00 per trade commissions will attract investors who likely actively manage trades in retirement accounts.Fidelity also offers several options for hands-off retirement investors, including its robo-advisor, Fidelity Go, a lineup of well-regarded target date mutual funds, and private client services. For folks looking for in-person help, Fidelity offers over 190 branch locations, and can help by phone 24/7 if you would rather stay home. Low fees and a wide offering of investments make Fidelity a compelling option for beginners.

Fidelity Highlights:

  • 500+ commission-free ETFs, 3,600+ no-transaction fee mutual funds and some proprietary Fidelity funds with 0% expense ratios
  • No fees on early IRA withdrawals or transfers in or out of accounts
  • Great educational resources and useful checklists for retirement
  • IRAs available: Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, inherited IRAs and custodial IRACustodial IRAs.

TD Ameritrade — Broad selection of no-fee funds

TD AmeritradeTD Ameritrade has a strong IRA offering with almost 4,000 no-fee mutual funds and over 500 commission-free ETFs, paired with strong customer support offerings. Investors comfortable managing their own funds will appreciate TD’s selection of analyst reports, charting tools and watch lists. The high $0.00 per trade commission is TD Ameritrade’s main drawback. If you plan on doing heavy stock or options trading inside your IRA, a broker with lower fees may be a better choice. If you’re willing to pay a premium on trades for full-service customer support and a strong assortment of ETFs and mutual funds, TD Ameritrade is a solid choice.

TD Ameritrade Highlights:

  • Large selection of no-transaction-fee mutual funds
  • Special offers available for qualifying TD Bank customers including free trades and account rebates
  • No fees for early withdrawal, over-contributing, or recharacterizing IRA contributions
  • IRAs available: Traditional IRAs,Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs and SEP IRAs.

E-Trade — Wide assortment of investments, be careful of fees

E-Trade Securities LLCE-Trade offers one of the broadest assortments of no-transaction-fee mutual funds in the industry with over 4,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds available, making them an excellent home for your IRA. Their robust research tools make it easy to select your investment portfolio and no minimum deposit to open an account makes it easy to get started. Trading fees are higher than some peers at $0.00 per trade, though they do drop to $0.00 per trade when you place more than 30 trades per quarter.Be aware, however, that E-Trade charges $25 for any early distribution, even those that can be taken penalty-free from IRAs and Roth IRAs, such as first-time home purchases, medical expenses or education expenses. They also charge a $25 fee if you accidentally overfund an IRA or if you need to recharacterize an IRA contribution to a Roth IRA contribution or vice versa.

E-Trade Highlights:

  • Deposits of more than $25,000 in a new E*Trade retirement account qualify for cash bonuses and 500 free trades
  • Expansive selection of no-transaction-fee mutual funds, over 4,200 in total
  • Offers proprietary robo-advisor Core Portfolios for hands-off investors
  • IRAs available: Traditional IRAs, Rollover IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, inherited IRAs and Custodial IRAs.

Individual retirement account FAQs

What is a Traditional IRA?

A Traditional IRA is the most basic variety of IRA. With a Traditional IRA, your contributions are tax-deductible in the year you make them and funds in the account grow tax-deferred. You pay regular income tax on distributions made from the account in retirement.

For 2020, you are allowed to contribute $6,000 per year to a Traditional IRA ($7,000 if you’re 50 or older). These contributions are in addition to one made to a 401(k) employment savings plan, however there are limits to how much you may deduct from your taxes depending on how much you make.

Anyone can open a Traditional IRA if they earn taxable income in the year in which they make a contribution. However, the funds you contribute to a Traditional IRA aren’t allowed to grow indefinitely. Holders are subject to or required minimum distributions, which means you’ll need to start taking distributions from the IRA once you reach the age of 72. In addition, you pay a 10% penalty if you withdraw funds before the age of 59 ½.

What is a Roth IRA?

A Roth IRA is the other main variety of IRA. Contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax-deductible in the year you make them, but your money grows tax-free in the account and you pay no taxes on the income when you withdraw the money in retirement.

The contribution maximums are the same as a Traditional IRA: for 2020, you may add $6,000 per year to a Roth IRA ($7,000 if you’re 50 or older). Like a Traditional IRA, these contributions are allowed on top of ones made to a 401(k) employment savings plan, however there are strict rules capping the annual totals you may put into a Roth IRA depending on how much you make.

One big advantage of a Roth IRA that’s different than a Traditional IRA is that you can withdraw money from a Roth IRA at any time without paying penalty. Note that there are rules dictating how much and when you may make early withdrawals from a Roth IRA. Also, Roth IRAs do not have required minimum distributions.

The rules prevent people earning above a certain amount from opening a Roth IRA. However, there is a tax strategy called a “backdoor IRA” that lets you open a Traditional IRA and then convert it to a Roth IRA.

What is a SEP IRA?

A simplified employee pension (SEP) IRA is designed to let the self-employed and small business owners save for retirement. With a SEP IRA, you get a tax deduction on contributions and funds kept in the account grow tax-deferred. SEP IRA withdrawals in retirement are taxed at regular income tax rates.

Maximum annual contribution limits for SEP IRAs are much higher than other IRAs, because the holders of this type of IRA do not have access to 401(k)s. The maximum contribution for 2020 is $57,000. Eligible SEP IRA owners cannot contribute more than 25% of their annual compensation.

For small business owners that have employees, owners must contribute to their employees SEP IRA accounts at the same rate that they contribute to their own SEP IRA account. Small business employees generally can’t contribute to a SEP IRA set up by their employer — although they can make Traditional IRA contributions in some cases.

What is an IRA rollover?

An IRA rollover is an IRA used to house funds that initially accrued in a different retirement account, such as a 401(k). If you change jobs or otherwise find yourself without access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, a rollover IRA can help keep your assets invested and growing — while keeping you from paying the taxes and penalties you would face if you cashed out the old account.

The easiest way to perform an IRA rollover is to have your existing account custodian transfer the funds directly to the new account or write a check made out to the new trustee in your benefit. You also can do an “indirect rollover,” where you cash out the account and reinvest the funds manually, but there are some important caveats to keep in mind before taking this approach.

As required by the IRS, your retirement account manager must withhold 20% when writing you a distribution check, even if you intend to reinvest it later. Although you have a 60-day window in which you can redeposit the funds without incurring a penalty, you must redeposit the entire amount, which means you’ll need to make up the difference out of your own pocket.

How do I open an IRA account?

You can open an IRA at your bank, at a wealth management firm, at a brokerage or through online robo-advisors. The specific steps required to open an IRA will depend on your chosen account custodian. You’ll be asked verifiable identification information, such as your Social Security number, and you may also be required to meet a certain minimum initial deposit.

Once your account is open and funded, you can begin to research and invest in specific stocks, bonds and other securities and investments. The investments you choose will dictate how the account will generate income from capital gains over time, so it’s important to select and properly allocate your assets as soon as you open your account.

What are the advantages/disadvantages to managing my IRA myself?

Some folks want to handle their investments by themselves. In order to manage your own IRA, you should feel confident in your ability to invest and make decisions with meaningful sums of money — it is your retirement savings after all. With a brokerage IRA, you will have full control over where and how your money is invested, and by doing it yourself you will not pay any management fees.

The downside is that you will have to spend time and energy researching investment decisions and rebalancing your portfolio. You also do not get the advantage of having a professional money manager in your corner. Luckily, a number of brokers will offer free consultations to get you going, and by investing in mutual funds and ETFs, you can leverage the expertise of some of the best money managers in the world.

What are the advantages/disadvantages to automating my IRA?

Many people would prefer to have a professional manage their investments, either because of lack of time or investing expertise. Choosing an IRA managed by a robo-advisor lets a computer algorithm written by investing professionals is a great strategy a hands-off investor.

This comes at a price. Most robo-advisors charge an annual management fee of around 0.25-0.50% of your account balance. Additionally, you lose some of the customization that comes with managing your own investments. Most robo-advisors will assign you one of their predetermined portfolios based on a questionnaire. As a result, you could end up with a portfolio that isn’t as optimal as a custom one or that contains companies that you would rather not own.

One last thing to consider is that many of these robo-advisors are relatively new. If you are young, chances are that the industry and robo-advisors’ offerings will likely change by the time you are retiring.

What investments should my IRA broker offer?

Ensure that the broker you choose has a strong selection of commission-free ETFs and mutual funds along with screening and portfolio-building tools to help you choose the right investments. Most brokers offer a “select list” of mutual funds, which often feature funds created and managed by the same broker. As with all investing decisions, be skeptical and make sure to compare funds from a number of different companies to try and get the best return while paying the lowest fees.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Best Online Brokers for Beginner Investors 2020

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It may not have not been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners or the Investment company.

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If you’re an investing novice, learning how to put money in the markets can seem overwhelming. There are countless online services at your disposal, which can make it challenging to pick the right one and get started.

Not sure where to begin? Let’s take a closer look at the best online brokers and the best robo-advisors. Both product categories offer low fees, lots of flexibility and functionality that simplifies the investing process. Either can make it simple to take your first steps in the world of investing. If you want a more specialized approach consider a financial advisor.

Deciding whether you need a robo-advisor or an online broker is straightforward. If you prefer to actively manage your investments, an online broker is what you’re looking for. A broker’s job is to help you buy and sell securities, and many brokers offer educational and research resources to help beginners learn. Below we’ve included our top online brokers for beginners.

If you prefer a more hands-off approach to your investments, go with a robo-advisor. These automated investing services put your money into diversified portfolios of stocks and bonds that are customized to your needs. Best of all, they charge low annual fees. Since computer algorithms do the hard work, you’re freed from actively managing your investments. See below for our top robo-advisors for beginning investors.

How we chose the best investment platforms for beginners

We regularly review the landscape of investment services. For this review, we began with a selection of brokers and robo-advisors that represent the best in the industry. For the brokers, we evaluated 20 different services in our latest round; for the robo-advisors, we evaluated 19 different services. We then distilled each list down to the top four choices. All of the brokers and robo-advisors listed below are worth considering, with those at the top of each category scoring best.

The things we weighed most heavily when ranking the best online brokers were trading fees, account minimums, the diversity of investment products offered (stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds or ETFs, and mutual funds), and low account fees (annual fees, transfer fees, and inactivity fees). To determine our list of the best robo-advisors, we focused on management fees and account minimums, and also considered ease of use and customer support.

See our methodology article for a more detailed explanation of how we create our rankings.

financial advisor

The best robo-advisors for beginners

Robo-advisor

Annual Management Fee

Average Expense Ratio (moderate risk portfolio)

Account Minimum to Start

Wealthfront

0.25%

0.09%

$500

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios

0.00%

0.14%

$5,000

Betterment

0.25% (up to $100,000); 0.40% ($100,000.01 or more)

0.11%

$0

SoFi Automated Investing

0.00%

0.08%

$1

Wealthfront: Low fees, high cash management APY

Wealthfront Advisers LLC Wealthfront is one of the most visible names in the robo-advisor space, and its low annual cost and free financial planning tools make it a great fit for beginners. The $500 minimum deposit to open an account is higher than peers, many of whom have no minimum. If you would like to fund your account but also want to keep some money on the sidelines, Wealthfront offers a cash management account with an attractive 0.35% APY. Wealthfront intentionally offers very little opportunity for human interaction on its platform. This keeps fees low, but could be a drawback for those who want personalized attention or who have complicated tax situations.

Wealthfront Highlights:

  • $500 minimum to start investing is beginner-friendly
  • Low fees: 0.25% management fee; 0.09% avg ETF expense ratio
  • 20 portfolios available to fit a variety of investing goals, from conservative to aggressive
Learn more Secured
on Wealthfront’s secure website

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios: Backed by a major brokerage

The Charles Schwab Corporation Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is a great choice if you’d like to start with automated investing but anticipate becoming more actively involved in managing your investments over time. Note that Intelligent Portfolios requires a relatively steep $5,000 minimum deposit to start investing. Also, do not be misled by the 0% management fee, as it’s not the only cost involved using this robo-advisor.

Intelligent Portfolios requires users to hold 6% to 30% of deposited funds in a cash management account that offers a 0.67% APY. This requirement will eat into overall returns in years where the market returns above 0.67%. And this is on top of an average 0.14% expense ratio for a moderate-risk portfolio.

That said, this robo-advisor has an exceptionally detailed description of their ETF selection methodology. Intelligent Portfolios users also get access to Charles Schwab’s 365 U.S. branch locations, where you can talk to advisors and handle administrative tasks in person.

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Highlights:

  • Schwab offers many additional account types and services for investors looking to expand beyond robo-advising down the road
  • 0% management fee, though you do need to hold a portion of your portfolio in cash and an avg 0.14% expense ratio still applies
  • Over 365 physical branch locations for in-person assistance
Learn more Secured
on Schwab Intelligent Portfolios ’s secure website

Betterment: Great choice for smaller balances

Betterment Holdings Inc. Betterment is another good choice for beginner investors, offering strong features at low cost, with no minimum deposit. Their step-by-step account creation process translates your financial goals into investment recommendations, helping to ensure that your portfolio fits your objectives. The annual management fee for accounts under $100,000 is 0.25%, plus an average 0.11% expense ratio, which is in line with peers. Unfortunately, accounts over $100,000 will see the annual management fee jump to 0.40% — so if you are managing more than $100,000, you may want to consider a different robo-advisor.

Betterment Highlights:

  • $0 minimum to open an account makes it easy
  • Low 0.25% management fee for account balances under $100,000 plus low 0.11% avg ETF expense ratio
  • Premium features available for account balances greater than $100,000, including unlimited access to Betterment’s financial advisors
Learn more Secured
on Betterment’s secure website

SoFi Automated Investing: Low costs, great perks

SoFi Securities LLC SoFi Automated Investing aims to minimize fees and eliminate investing friction points, and they succeed at both. The firm’s 0% management fee and ultra-low 0.08% average expense ratio makes it one of the most competitively-priced robo-advisors in the market. Beginners will find the free access to SoFi financial advisors as an especially valuable perk. Others include free career counseling and discounts on loans.

The main downside with Automated Investing is that SoFi’s portfolios are less customizable than those of competing services. It offers only five risk levels to choose from, as opposed to at least 10 available with other services. SoFi does not offer tax loss harvesting.

SoFi Automated Investing Highlights:

  • Rock-bottom fees: 0% management fee, plus 0.08% avg expense ratio
  • Free access to financial advisors
  • SoFi also offers brokerage accounts for investors looking to trade individual stocks or ETFs
Learn more Secured
on SoFi Automated Investing’s secure website

Best online brokers for beginners

Broker

Fee per trade

Commission-free ETFs

No-transaction-fee Mutual Funds

Charles Schwab

$0.00

514

3,457

Fidelity

$0.00

503

3,636

TD Ameritrade

$0.00

571

3,887

E-Trade

$0.00

277

4,222

Charles Schwab: Full-featured offering

The Charles Schwab Corporation Charles Schwab can support your investing journey from your first steps as a novice through to advanced trading strategies. Schwab has no account minimum, charges only $0.00 per trade in commissions, and allows you to trade many products commission free. Accounts come equipped with a suite of tools to help you construct your portfolio and pick the correct mutual funds, ETFs and stocks. Schwab also offers 24/7 phone support and has over 350 branches if you need in-person help.

Charles Schwab Highlights:

  • Affordable trading with $0.00 per trade commissions and no minimum deposit to open an account
  • More than 500 commission-free ETFs and over 3,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds
  • Robust research tools for beginners include analyst reports and screeners for stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs
Learn more Secured
on Charles Schwab’s secure website

Fidelity: Strong mutual funds options

Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC Fidelity is well known for its retirement offerings and has a lot to offer beginners. Their $0 minimum to open an account, low $0.00 per trade commission and excellent selection of commission-free ETFs and mutual funds make this service a great choice for new investors. Beginners looking to learn about investing will appreciate Fidelity’s stock screening tools, library of analyst reports and portfolio selection tools. Fidelity also offers clients exclusive access to several proprietary mutual funds that have no transaction fees and 0.00% expense ratios.

Fidelity offers strong customer support with representatives available by phone 24/7 and at over 190 branch locations if you need in-person help. Some reviews on their site suggest that response times can lag for support though. Low fees, no minimum to start and a large menu of investments to choose from make Fidelity a compelling option for beginners.

Fidelity Highlights:

  • $0 minimum to open an account and no fees on account transfers
  • Tons of low-fee options: Over 500 commission-free ETFs and more than 3,600 no-transaction fee mutual funds
  • Stock screening tools, analyst reports, and portfolio selection tools will be helpful for beginners
Learn more Secured
on Fidelity’s secure website

TD Ameritrade: Broad offering of investments

TD Ameritrade TD Ameritrade’s long-standing commitment to helping clients access financial markets make it a strong choice for beginners. TD Ameritrade offers a wide assortment of commission-free mutual funds and ETFs, helpful customer service and educational tools. Beginners starting with stocks and bonds will appreciate TD Ameritrade’s analyst reports, charting tools and watch lists. Another upshot is that there is no minimum deposit required to open an account.

TD Ameritrade’s high $0.00 per trade commission is a drawback, though beginners are unlikely to be placing enough trades for this to have a large impact. With 24/7 phone support and branches spread across the country for in-person help TD Ameritrade is solid broker choice for beginners.

TD Ameritrade Highlights:

  • Keep fees low with nearly 4,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds and over 550 commission-free ETFs
  • $0 minimum to open an account
  • Current TD Bank account holders may qualify for special promotions based on amount deposited including free trades and account rebates
Learn more Secured
on TD Ameritrade’s secure website

E-Trade: Good research options

E-Trade Securities LLC E-Trade is a well-known online broker and offers a wide assortment of available investments for beginners. The $No account minimums minimum to open an account and high $0.00 trading fees could deter folks with a small amount to invest, though. E-Trade’s breadth of no-commission ETFs and mutual funds offers a wealth of choices for first-time investors step into the market. E-Trade’s mobile tools stand out for dynamic charting and easy access to research materials. For investors seeking to automate a portion of their portfolio E-Trade also offers their Core Portfolios robo-advisor product for a 0.30% management fee.

E-Trade Highlights:

  • Respectable selection of low-fee options with over 250 commission-free ETFs and more than 4,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds
  • Mobile tools feature beginner-friendly charting, research, and trading
  • E-Trade’s robo-advisor, E-Trade Core Portfolios, is available for users who’d like to automate a portion of their portfolio
Learn more Secured
on E*TRADE’s secure website

FAQs about online brokers

A robo-advisor is an automated service that selects investments for you utilizing sophisticated computer algorithms. Robo-advisors help investors take advantage of the best parts of wealth advising — like diversification and asset allocation — without incurring the cost of hiring a human advisor to manage your accounts.

Most robo-advisors begin the investing process by asking you a series of questions about your assets, investing history and investing goals to help establish the right balance in your investment portfolio. Then the robo-advisor automatically manages your money and sets you on the path to achieve your financial objectives.

When considering which robo-advisor to choose, you should evaluate several different things:

  • Minimum Balance: The minimum amount you need to invest can help you narrow the field of robo-advisors. A number of newer robo-advisors have no minimum to start, while the ones offered by the traditional large brokerage houses will typically require an initial deposit of several thousand dollars.
  • Fees: Even small fees can add up to thousands of dollars of lost returns over time. The top-rated robo-advisors in our ranking typically charge a flat yearly management fee of 0.00% to 0.50% of your deposited balance. In addition to the management fee, robo-advisors also charge investors an expense ratio to cover fees that ETF companies charge for the funds that make up your portfolio. Average expense ratios typically range from 0.08% to 0.15%.
  • Ease of use: When you create your account, ask yourself: Do I understand what the robo-advisor is telling me? Can I easily figure out how to deposit and withdraw money? Do their planning tools help me understand how much I need to invest and when? If the answer is no to any of these, you might be better off going with another option.

Online brokers help you purchase and trade investments on your own, without the need for an advisor or investment manager. Online brokers put you in the driver’s seat. Instead of relying on a particular firm’s recommendations, you can select the stocks, mutual funds and bonds that work best for you. Online trading is also convenient; you can manage your assets from anywhere, without having to wait on anyone else. Even better, online brokerage accounts tend to be more cost-effective than traditional brokerage accounts because they often have fewer fees.

Keep in mind that the earlier you get started with investing in markets, the more your money can grow. Even if you have only a small amount to invest, investing with an online broker can help you lay a strong foundation to build wealth. Start with what you can afford and contribute regularly to begin boosting your returns. Before you start investing, be sure that you’ve paid down high-interest debt and saved enough money for an emergency fund. This will ensure that you can avoid potential losses from having to withdraw your investments early in case of big, sudden expenses.

While there’s always risk with investing, online brokerages are typically quite safe. Most brokerage sites will have a section on their website that details their security measures. Your accounts are also often protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which helps safeguard you against the loss of your investments if the brokerage closes.

When shopping for an online broker, there are a few factors to keep in mind before making a decision:

  • Fees: While you can’t control the returns on your investments, you can control what you pay in fees. Look for an online brokerage that offers low trading fees; some even offer free trades on select investments or if you meet certain account usage criteria.
  • Investment advisory services: While online brokerage companies give you flexibility, it can be helpful to check in with a professional once in a while. Some give you the option to connect with an investment advisor to help you stay on track.
  • Research tools: Access to research tools can help you choose the right investments. Look for an online broker that offers research tools to help you analyze and choose investments based on past performance and professional recommendations.
  • Investment mix: You want to be able to invest in a wide range of investments, including stocks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and bonds.
  • Customer service: Customer service can be key, especially if you have trouble with your account. You want an online broker with easy-to-use customer service tools so you can get the help you need quickly.

Many online brokers allow you to invest in a wide range of investments, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs. Online brokerage accounts offer you a great deal of flexibility, so you can invest in what makes sense for you.

To begin investing and trading online, you have to open an account with an online brokerage firm. To do so, click on the company’s website and select “open an account” or “apply now.” The site will prompt you to enter your personal information, such as your name, address, employment details, Social Security number and proof of identity. Next, you’ll be asked to enter your bank details so you can make an initial investment and set up recurring deposits if desired. Verifying your account can take a few days, but then your account will be in effect and you can begin investing your money.

About our ranking

Please see the full lists below of brokers and robo-advisors that we considered for this ranking.

All brokers considered:

Ally Invest
Charles Schwab
Fidelity
Firstrade
Interactive Brokers
J.P. Morgan You Invest
Just2Trade
Lightspeed
Merrill Edge
Robinhood
E-Trade
eOption
SogoTrade
Stash
T. Rowe Price
TD Ameritrade
TradeStation
USAA Investments
Vanguard
Zacks Trade

All robo-advisors considered:

Acorns
Ally Invest Managed Portfolios
Betterment
Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios
E*TRADE Core Portfolios
Ellevest
Fidelity Go
Folio Investing
FutureAdvisor
Merrill Guided Investing
Motif
Personal Capital
SigFig
SoFi Automated Investing
TD Ameritrade
Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
Wealthfront
Wealthsimple
WiseBanyan

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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