Aspiration Review – A Robo Advisor With a Pay-What-You-Will Model

Advertising Disclosure This article/post contains references to products or services from one or more of our advertisers or partners. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products or services
AspirationAspiration takes a refreshing and sustainable approach to investing and passes on that philosophy to customers through its innovative investing and banking products. This financial company offers two mutual funds, both available through either a taxable investment account or an IRA. You can also buy these two funds through outside brokerage accounts at most major brokerages.

Commissions & Fees - 8.5
Customer Service - 7
Ease of Use - 9
Tools & Resources - 4
Investment Options - 4
Asset Allocation - 8

7

If you want to invest with a robo advisor but don’t want the typical Wall Street experience, consider Aspiration. Instead of charging the typical annual advising fee, it gives you the choice to pay what you think is fair. Even if that's 0%. It offers sustainability-focused investment products, as well as checking and savings accounts. Aspiration has committed to never putting funds into any business or project related to fossil fuels and gives 10% of earnings to charity.

For banking, Aspiration offers its Spend & Save accounts. Spend is a checking account with no fees, unlimited ATM reimbursements anywhere (including international ATMs), cash-back rewards on the Aspiration debit card and a very competitive 2% APY (rate as of July 31, 2019) in the Save account.

You'll see words like “trust,” “sustainability” and “fairness” throughout the site. That shouldn't be unique, but it makes Aspiration stand out as a more customer- and planet-centric organization than most other consumer finance companies.

Aspiration Features

Minimum Investment$10
FeesPay what you think is fair
Accounts
  • Taxable
  • Joint
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Rollover IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA
  • 401(k)
  • Solo 401(k)
  • Trusts
  • Limited Partnerships
  • Partnerships
  • Coverdell
  • 529
  • Custodial
  • Non-Profit
  • 401(k) Guidance
401(k) Assistance
Tax Loss Harvesting
Portfolio Rebalancing
Automatic Deposits
N/A
AdviceAutomated
Smart Beta
Socially Responsible
Fractional Shares
Customer ServicePhone and Live Chat: M–F 8A–5P, S–S 11A–1P ET; Email: 24/7
  • Pay what you think is fair — The investment account at Aspiration charges no fees by default. You choose your own fees, which really can be as low as zero. You can update this at any time.
  • Sustainable mutual fund — Aspiration offers two investment funds. The first is a sustainable mutual fund called the Redwood Fund. This mutual fund invests in companies with strong ESG (environment, social, governance) policies. Its Flagship Fund is a fund of funds aimed at low-volatility growth.
  • Fee-free banking — The Save and Spend bank accounts are fee-free for nearly all common banking activity. There are no overdraft charges, recurring fees or ATM fees.
  • No ATM fees ever — The no-fee ATM commitment goes beyond what Aspiration itself charges. It will reimburse you for any fees charged by ATMs anywhere in the world.
  • High-yield savings — The Save account comes with a 2% APY as of this writing for customers who deposit at least $1,000 per month. That is well above the national average and just shy of the best interest rates in the country. For those who don't qualify for the 2% APY, Aspiration will let you earn 1.50% if you maintain a balance over $10,000.
  • Automated giving — Optionally turn on an automated charitable giving feature that donates a portion of your investments to one of seven pre-vetted causes.
  • 10% of earnings to charity — A portion of the amount you pay Aspiration goes to a good cause. 10% of all earnings are committed to charity.

What Is Aspiration?

Aspiration is a unique investment company that offers two sustainably invested mutual funds, a checking and savings product and ultra-low pricing. The unique combination of features and feel-good finance make it an exciting place to put your money.

The fees at Aspiration are arguably the biggest reason to sign up for a new account. Its investment accounts don't charge any fees by default. Instead, you choose what to pay based on what you think is fair. This uncommon model is rare but not unheard of. You can enjoy everything the Aspiration investment accounts have to offer completely free if you enter 0% at signup.

Do note that, while the investment account has no fees of its own, the underlying mutual funds still charge a 0.5% annual fee. That is a bit high for my taste, but when you factor in the fee-free account, it still winds up being a pretty good deal.

Is Aspiration Really “Pay What You Want”?

“Pay what you want” looks great on the surface, but the account isn't 100% free when you dig into the details. The two mutual funds — The Redwood Fund and Flagship Fund — each charge a 0.5% expense ratio per year. The website says that these fees all go to third parties for fees Aspiration has to pay to maintain your account.

That makes the “pay what you want — even free” a little deceiving. But seeing as virtually all robo advisors charge their own fees on top of fund fees, Aspiration is still very competitive when it comes to cost.

Aspiration Banking Services

It seems that every investment company is opening a new cash management side of the business. Think Betterment Everyday, Personal Capital Cash and Wealthfront‘s Cash Accounts. These accounts typically come with low fees and higher savings interest rates, and Aspiration is no different.

HighlightsPersonal CapitalBettermentWealthfront
Rating9.5/109/109/10
Minimum Investment$100,000$0$500
401(k) Assistance
Two-Factor Auth.
AdviceAutomatedHuman AssistedAutomated
Socially Responsible

Its unlimited ATM fee reimbursements worldwide are a standout feature from the rest of the pack. This is something rarely offered by other banks. The high-yield savings account is also a great deal with favorable rates that are tough to beat.

One very cool feature for people with a balance of over $250,000 is a sweep to other banks for additional FDIC insurance. Aspiration works with enough banks to offer an aggregate $2 million in FDIC insurance coverage per depositor.

If you're not happy with your bank or want to upgrade to something better, Aspiration is worth a look and might be a great fit for your needs.

Aspiration Pros & Cons

Pros



Pay-What-You-Want Investing
—Choose your account fee and pay 0% if you want.

Fee-Free Banking
—No recurring fees, no overdraft fees, no ATM fees and unlimited ATM fee reimbursements including international ATMs.

High-Yield Savings Rates
—The savings account offers rates near the top of the industry with extensive FDIC insurance.

Sustainable Mutual Fund
—One of two funds at Aspiration invests only in businesses with strong sustainability and corporate governance programs. According to Aspiration, this strategy should outperform the S&P 500.

Automatic Charitable Contributions
—If you want, turn on automatic charitable gifts to one of seven different causes.







Cons



Mutual Fund Fees
—Both funds charge 0.5%. This is more than you would pay with the current ultra-low-fee index fund trend, but roughly in line with the average fee for actively managed funds.

No Roth IRA
—You can open a taxable account or traditional IRA, but no Roth IRA.

Limited Investment Choices
—The two funds at Aspiration are great for long-term and lower-risk investing, but you can choose between only those two funds.









Summary

Aspiration is an interesting financial company that could arguably meet all of your financial needs under one roof, but in reality, its investment products should be a supplement to your portfolio, not the entire thing.

The bank accounts are great. The fees are as close to zero as you could reasonably expect from an online bank. There are no recurring fees, and Aspiration even reimburses you for other banks' ATM fees. If this were a standalone bank, it would definitely get my endorsement along with other favorites like Ally, Capital One and Schwab Bank. Even if you don't use the investment products, you should consider the Spend and Save accounts.

Overall, Aspiration does a good job at what it does. Its boutique offerings are not incredibly extensive, and it offers competitive rates and pricing from a financial company you can feel good about. If you're looking for a new hub for your money or a sustainability-focused mutual fund, make sure to put Aspiration on your shortlist.

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
Close