Since most people aren't wealthy enough to work with a financial advisor, new start-ups are aiming to democratize professional financial planning. But are they worth the investment?

By Amelia Harnish
April 09, 2021
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Do you need a financial planner? A sad truth: Most people are not wealthy enough to even be able to speak to a financial advisor, much less get access to professional money management tools. Most money managers today will only work with you if you've already amassed a very large amount of money (say, nearing $1 million) for them to manage—because they earn based on percentages. (It also often doesn't make sense for people who have less than that to pay for financial planning because of the expense.) But ultimately, that means as you're saving and earning, most people are pretty much doing so in the dark.

Enter new start-ups like Facet Wealth, STASH wealth, and Personal Capital, which are aiming to democratize professional financial planning. Facet Wealth and STASH Wealth are both wealth management firms that charge a flat fee for working with a Certified Financial Planner to create a holistic plan for your money.

Many CFPs can charge upwards of $5,000 for a single comprehensive financial plan. In comparison, STASH charges around $1,800. Facet Wealth charges a monthly subscription fee based on individual complexity for an ongoing relationship and unlimited meetings with your dedicated financial planner. Meanwhile, Personal Capital makes planning software free to use, and offers investment advice for people with as little as $100,000 to invest.

Sound too good to be true? For the right person, it might not be. But the trick is figuring out whether you're one of those people. "I love that these companies are making financial planning more accessible," says Elizabeth Windisch, CFP, of Aspen Wealth Management in Colorado. "But you want to compare costs—they can be great, but they might be more than you need."

If you're someone who is just starting out in your career, for example, you might not be ready for the kind of service these companies offer. "Early in your career, just trying to fund your 401(k), you may not need to speak to someone as often. There are a lot of financial advisors that will do flat-fee financial planning," Windisch says. "I've helped a lot of people who just need an hour or two of my time."

On the other hand, let's say you're getting a little bit more senior in your career. You've got some discretionary income (finally!), but you're trying to figure out how best to use it toward multiple goals: paying debt (ugh student loans!), funding your retirement, and saving for your kids' college or simply just paying for daycare. On top of that, maybe you've got stock options at work or a small business (if you're a gig worker/side hustler, you have a small business). In that case, you might really benefit from having a financial planner in your corner—and perhaps one of these new companies might be a fit for you.

If you ask Windisch, the main benefit is that they make finding an expert easier. "It can be overwhelming to find a financial advisor. But they make it easy," she says.

Each work a little bit differently. Ahead, we'll break down the basics of each.

financial-planning: pie chart cake
Credit: Getty Images

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How Facet Wealth Works

Facet Wealth's main differentiator is that it connects you with a Certified Financial Planner, who is assigned to you. You get to meet with your planner on a regular schedule—in fact, you can meet with them whenever you'd like. All you have to do is block a time on their calendar. (You can also email them at any time.) Your CFP can manage your investments for you, if you'd like, for no additional cost. But the main benefit is they help you build a comprehensive financial plan around your goals. That means they'll help you figure out answers to questions like making sure you're insured and how much insurance to buy, how to start saving for your kids' college while juggling your other goals, and how to best manage your cash flow. (Can you really afford a new car?) Because Facet pros are CFPs, they're fiduciaries, which means they're legally bound to offer advice in your best interest. Unlike some other types of financial advisors, they don't make commissions by selling you products.

Cost: $100/month baseline. Instead of an "assets under management" fee—which is when financial advisors charge say, 1 percent of the amount of money they're managing for you—Facet charges a monthly subscription fee based on the complexity of your financial situation. You can cancel at any time, but the idea is your planner is with you for the long haul. As your life changes, your planner is there to help you navigate new challenges. The fee you pay is worked out in initial conversations with Facet Wealth. You can schedule a free 30-minute intro call via its website.

How STASH Wealth Works

STASH Wealth sells itself as offering modern financial advice tailored to millennials' unique situations—you know, hella student loan debt and a desire for daily avocado toast. Rather than a long-haul financial companion, STASH provides a comprehensive financial plan tailored to you by working with you over the course of a couple weeks. You are paired with a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), which is also a fiduciary designation so you can be sure the advice you're getting is in your interest. If you'd like, you can then sign up for "STASH Management," for ongoing updates to your plan and access to your advisor for one-off questions.

Cost: STASH offers three main tiers of services: For individuals, costs start at $1,497. They also offer plans for couples and entrepreneurs. If you end up signing up for STASH Managment, it then charges an assets under management fee of 1.2 percent per year. You can take a quick quiz on its website to see if you're a fit for its services, or schedule an introductory call.

How Personal Capital Works

Personal Capital operates slightly differently from STASH or Facet in that its main gig is the software tools and dashboard, which are free. After signing up for its app, you can link your many accounts and get a full picture of your financial life and investments. The dashboard offers tools for managing your cash flow, understanding your net worth, and seeing whether you're on track for retirement. From there, you can then also sign up for its Investment Service (if you have $100,000 to invest) or Wealth Management (if you have $200,000 to invest). The differentiator for Personal Capital is that it's basically one step up from being a robo-advisor. While it does lean on technology, you also get 24/7 (yes, really, you can email or call 'round the clock) support from two human advisors as well.

Cost: The dashboard is free. Personal Capital charges 0.89 percent per year on accounts with $100,000. The fee goes down after $200,000.

Which One Is Right For Me?

Only you can answer this question. Your situation is unique to you, and a lot of the benefits of financial planning can come from the personal relationship you have with your money and with your planner.

It's also important to point out that these three companies are not the only options on the market. In addition to new financial planning start-ups cropping up all the time, many independent financial planners offer comparable services. While they may be harder to find, depending on your financial situation, Windisch recommends asking around to friends or loved ones who have similar financial situations to yours. The best advice is to do your homework.

"You want to interview them. Interview independent advisors. And compare costs. Try to make everything apples to apples—so look at how much time you get with the advisor and do the math on what the fees will be," Windisch says. "Don't pay more for more than you need because that will eat into your wealth."