Ellevest review 2021

Bankrate senior reporter James F. Royal, Ph.D., covers investing and wealth management. His work has been cited by CNBC, the Washington Post, The New York Times and more.

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Ellevest Logo

Best For

  • Women investors
  • Beginning investors
  • Social-impact investing

Ellevest offers a capable robo-advisor that gets you in the investing game at a hard-to-believe price. Founded by Wall Street veteran Sallie Krawcheck, Ellevest makes its pitch to women with planning that addresses their specific financial needs. But don’t overlook Ellevest just because you may not identify as a woman. 

Besides goal-based investing management, you’ll have a cash management account and online workshops as well as one-on-one access to advisors for an additional fee. Ellevest’s total package should be compelling to anyone looking to learn and grow their wealth. 

Women (or anyone) looking for more personalized service may also want to consider Schwab Intelligent Portfolios or Betterment, both of which offer unlimited access to fiduciary advisors.  

Ellevest at a glance

Star Rating

4.5
  • Cost: 4.5 of 5
  • Investments and Portfolios: 5 of 5
  • Account Types: 3.5 of 5
  • Features and Tools: 4 of 5
  • Customer Experience: 4 of 5
  • Account Minimum:
    $0
  • Management Fee:
    $1 a month for Essential plan, $5 a month for Plus plan, $9 a month for Executive plan
  • Account fees:
    $100 for full transfer out (charged by custodian); Partial transfers: $5 per security, with a $25 minimum and $75 maximum
  • Portfolio Mix:
    20 funds in the core portfolio, 27 funds in the impact portfolio, across 21 asset classes
  • Fund Expense Ratio:
    Average core portfolio ranges from 0.05 to 0.10 percent. Average impact portfolios range from 0.13 to 0.19 percent.
  • Account Types:
    Individual taxable, Roth IRA, traditional IRA, SEP IRA and rollover IRAs
  • Cash Management Account:
    Yes, rewards debit card, ATM fee reimbursements in the U.S. (with direct deposit), no monthly fee or overdraft fee, round-up savings
  • Customer service:
    Email and phone, Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. ET.
  • Tax Strategy:
    Optimizing asset location, minimizing taxes on sale
  • Rebalancing:
    Yes
  • Tools:
    Multi-goal planner (Executive plan), on-demand learning, workshops, email courses, one-on-one coaching for a fee
  • Promotion:
    1-3 months free management

Pros: Where Ellevest stands out

Three service tiers at low cost

Ellevest separates its robo-advisor service into three different tiers with varying features and costs, allowing you to pick what you need and not spend extra on what you don’t. And speaking of cost, it’s hard to find a service with a lower management fee:

  • Ellevest Essential: This tier provides an individual taxable investment portfolio, a cash management account, and access to online workshops and other learning opportunities from Ellevest’s financial advisors. You’ll receive à la carte access to financial planners at 20 percent off. Price: $1 per month. 
  • Ellevest Plus: This tier includes the elements in the Essential tier as well as an IRA plan for retirement. Access to financial planners is discounted 30 percent. Price: $5 per month, or $36 per year.
  • Ellevest Executive: This tier includes the elements of the two prior tiers, while giving you access to financial planners at a 50 percent discount. You’ll also be able to set up a multi-goal investing plan and see how changes in the goals affect one another. Price: $9 per month, or $72 per year.

It’s worth highlighting the fact that prices for the Plus and Executive plans are discounted significantly if you stick around for a year. Regardless of your plan, there’s no account minimum.  

At $1 per month, the price for the entry-level plan is incredibly favorable, and if you’re able to bring more than about $5,000 to the table, you’ll pay less here for a year of management fees than you could just about anywhere except a completely free robo-advisor such as SoFi Automated Investing

Regardless of which plan you select, it’s worth noting the pricing structure at Ellevest. It’s a key departure from the rest of the industry, which generally charges a percent of your assets (often 0.25 percent). So as your assets grow, so do your fees. That’s in sharp contrast to pricing at Ellevest, where the monthly fee will stay the same if you bring $10,000 or $1 million. 

So even if you’re paying a little more percentage-wise now, it may make sense to keep your assets here longer term. And if you’re a high-net-worth individual (with more than $1 million), Ellevest also offers private wealth management. 

Low-cost ETFs and portfolio construction

Ellevest uses a variety of low-cost ETFs from 21 asset classes to construct its portfolios. It even offers an “impact” portfolio that uses funds that invest in companies promoting ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals, including those making a positive impact for women. 

Ellevest’s core portfolio uses ETFs with expense ratios that range from 0.04 to 0.20 percent. When these funds are combined into a portfolio, the blended average is typically between 0.05 and 0.10 percent, or a cost of between $5 and $10 annually for every $10,000 invested. That’s a competitive rate, and ranks among the top robo-advisors. 

To create its impact portfolios, Ellevest uses slightly more expensive mutual funds and may invest up to 53 percent of a client’s portfolio in such ESG and impact funds. The net result for costs: a portfolio that averages between 0.13 and 0.19 percent. That’s a total of $13 and $19 annually for every $10,000 invested – still a reasonable price for a portfolio.

This impact portfolio helps distinguish Ellevest from the competition, too. 

Smooth sign-up process

The sign-up process is a breeze and you can get a new account registered in no time. You’ll be asked about your financial situation, marital status, career goals and more. Ellevest uses these factors to build your portfolio, but you’re not asked much about your risk tolerance. You’ll enter bank details as you create the account as a means to pay the monthly or annual fee. 

Once you’ve signed up, you’ll land on a dashboard page that shows you clearly how to set up your portfolio. You can graphically see how monthly deposits lead to a larger portfolio, and you can adjust your portfolio’s aggressiveness up or down by 5 or 10 percent, shifting more into stocks or bonds, respectively. You can turn the impact portfolio on or off. 

The dashboard clearly shows when you’ve set up your plan, and gives you the option to open a cash management account. You also can delve into Ellevest’s learning resources, including email courses, workshops and sign up for one-on-one coaching sessions for an extra fee. Throughout the setup process, Ellevest helps you understand how and why to invest. 

Following your sign-up, you’ll receive regular emails with helpful articles, ways to motivate yourself to stay on track and details on building your financial plan. This unique feature keeps you engaged with the service and they’re a reminder that Ellevest is trying to help you succeed. 

Planning that factors in women’s earnings

It’s well-known that in general, women earn less for the same work than men do, affecting their lifetime earnings. Less commonly known is that their “earnings curve” over a working lifetime is shaped differently, too. For women with bachelor’s degrees, earnings peak at age 40, says Ellevest, citing a study from Payscale, while they don’t top out until age 55 for men. Such differences create real concerns for women who are looking to save for retirement in the back-half of their careers. 

Ellevest factors these differences into its financial planning to give a more realistic picture of what women can save and invest. That’s critical if you’re investing for a specific goal, because you want to have a realistic path to get there and a reasonable chance of success in doing so. 

And if you’re not a woman? You still benefit from a robo-advisor that shows it responds to actual needs, rather than working from a “one-size-fits-all” script when it comes to financial planning. 

Access to human advisors

Ellevest offers à la carte access to financial advisors, allowing you to pay for what you need rather than paying for a feature that you may never use. After all, you’re paying the base fee to receive a financial plan and investing expertise, why pay for something more? 

Ellevest offers unlimited, one-on-one access to sessions with a certified financial planner for one year at a headline rate of $995 for non-members. As a member of Ellevest, however, you’ll receive a discount on this rate, depending on your service level. With the Executive member discount, you’ll pay $497.50. That, combined with its annual fee of $72, means you’ll pay $570 annually for unlimited access. 

That’s more than the annualized fee of $360 at Schwab Intelligent Portfolios for similar access, but it’s not so much more if you really like the Ellevest ethos and the idea of impact investing, while already bringing a fair slug of cash to the relationship. Betterment offers a similar program, which would run $400 annually on its minimum investment amount of $100,000. 

You can also access individual sessions on career coaching, resumes, budgeting and more. Prices start at a headline rate of $175 and run up to $400. So if you plan to use these extras, it could quickly make sense to move up to the Executive plan first. 

Cash management account

Ellevest’s cash management account – technically two accounts – adds a solid banking component to the total package, making the robo-advisor’s offering more compelling. It offers some typical features, such as a debit card with rewards, and it comes without a monthly fee, overdraft fee or account minimum. So you can get started there with even a modest amount. 

You’ll also get round-up savings when you use your debit card. It’s a feature that rounds your bill up to the next dollar and deposits that extra amount into your savings account. 

The cash management account reimburses you for ATM fees, but only for transactions in the U.S. And there’s a small caveat besides: To qualify for the reimbursement you must have made a payroll direct deposit into the account in the prior 30 days. That requirement may be a no-go for many clients.

Another potential dealbreaker: The savings account doesn’t pay any interest (more below). 

Quick comparison of Robo-Advisor options:
Robo-Advisor Overall Rating Cost Rating Investments and Portfolios
Ellevest logo
4.5 5 of 5
Betterment review 2021 logo Read Our Review
5 5 of 5
Wealthfront review 2021 logo Read Our Review
5 5 of 5
SoFi Automated Investing review 2021 logo Read Our Review
5 4 of 5

Cons: Where Ellevest could improve

Yield on cash management account

Ellevest’s cash management account has many solid features, but if there’s one key thing it doesn’t have, it’s the ability to earn interest on your savings. Yes, these days interest rates are very low, and you wouldn’t earn much anyway, but something is better than nothing. Meanwhile, key rivals such as Betterment and Wealthfront offer a competitive yield on their savings account.

Fewer account types

Ellevest offers a somewhat more limited selection of account types than some rivals. It offers an individual taxable account but not a joint account. It has the standard retirement accounts, the traditional IRA, the Roth IRA and the SEP IRA, and you can roll over an employer-sponsored account, such as 401(k) or 403(b) to an Ellevest IRA. Those options will suffice for many, but those needing two other typical options (trusts and 529 accounts) are forced to turn elsewhere.

IRAs only for higher tiers

If you want access to a retirement account at Ellevest, you’ll have to sign up for one of its two higher service tiers, either Plus or Executive levels. That will cost you at least $2 more per month above the entry-level tier, which itself is admittedly cheap. 

That said, we’re talking about paying a grand total of $36 per year (at the Plus tier) to have your money managed – hardly breaking the bank any way you figure it.

No tax-loss harvesting

In a crowded field of robo-advisors, most of which tout tax-loss harvesting services, Ellevest stands as an exception. Tax-loss harvesting involves selling off a losing investment for a tax write-off and reinvesting the money elsewhere or in a similar asset, effectively deferring taxes. 

Ellevest doesn’t offer the feature due to many specifics in each individual’s situation, making the benefits of an automated approach uncertain. The company says: “It’s hard to definitively state that deferring taxes will increase your portfolio’s return, as some advisors guarantee.”

But Ellevest does recognize that tax minimization is an important part of an investor’s returns, so it does minimize taxes where it’s appropriate. This involves avoiding short-term capital gains when possible and realizing tax losses when it makes sense. It also includes putting securities in the appropriate account (higher-taxed assets in tax-protected accounts, for example.)

Bottom line

While Ellevest pitches itself to women investors, it’s likely to do a fine job for anyone. But it will help newer investors particularly with a solid portfolio, goal-based planning and an emphasis on helping you understand how to invest.

Its entry-level plan, at $1 per month, may as well be free, though you’ll have to step up to the next tier for a retirement plan. Its fixed-cost pricing may encourage investors with more money to stick around, especially as rivals charge more as your assets increase. Those looking to take stakes in companies that score highly on ESG measures may find a welcome offering in Ellevest’s impact portfolio, too. 

If low cost is your only objective, then you could turn to SoFi Automated Investing, though both Betterment and Wealthfront are also priced very reasonably. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios also gets you in the door for free (with a $5,000 minimum) and you can get unlimited access to advisors for $30 a month if you can bring at least $25,000 to the relationship.  

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