Ellevest at a glance
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 $54 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 $97 per year.
It’s worth highlighting the fact that prices for the Plus and Executive plans are discounted if you pay for an annual plan instead of monthly. Regardless of the 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 0.40 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. Only a handful of robo-advisors — including Wealthfront and Betterment — offer this allocation in their portfolios.
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 and workshops, or 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 than men for the same work, negatively 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, as many soon-to-retire workers do.
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 $1,990 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 $999.50. That, combined with its annual fee of $97, means you’ll pay about $1,097 annually for unlimited access to advisors.
That’s more than the annualized fee of $360 at Schwab Intelligent Portfolios for similar access. Betterment offers a similar program, which would run $400 annually on its minimum investment amount of $100,000, though the effective price would continue to rise as your assets increased in value.
You can also access individual sessions on career coaching, resumes, budgeting, home buying and more. Prices start at a headline rate of $149 and run to more than $3,000 for a package with multiple sessions and unlimited access to advisors. 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. You’ll also have access to early direct deposit, meaning you could receive your paycheck up to two days earlier.
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).
Ellevest specifically appeals to women with its more nuanced planning, but the robo-advisor is going to do a fine job for anyone:
- Newer investors will appreciate the solid portfolios, goal-based planning and the educational components offered by the service.
- You can get started at a tremendously low price – $1 a month – and get the basics, but the higher tiers offer good value if you’re able to bring more money to the table. And importantly, those prices stay the same no matter how large your account is.
- Ellevest can also construct your portfolio to make a substantial investment in social impact or ESG investing, potentially helping promote gender equality and a more humane world.
Ellevest offers many benefits for its modest fee, but if cost is your only objective, you should have a look at SoFi Automated Investing or Schwab Intelligent Portfolios. Meanwhile, M1 Finance is a good pick for investors who want to build their own portfolios at no cost. Those looking for even more features (and ESG investing) should see Betterment and Wealthfront.
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