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Updated on Thursday, January 30, 2020
Robo-advisor Betterment uses exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and a high degree of automation to manage your portfolio. In addition, it’s possible to speak with financial professionals to receive more tailored advice on retirement and other financial goals.
Investors most likely to benefit from Betterment include beginning investors hoping for a low barrier to entry, as well as intermediate investors who are interested in keeping a portion of their portfolio in set-it-and-forget-it accounts. Investors interested in trading individual stocks or taking a more hands-on approach aren’t likely to benefit as much from Betterment.
Who should consider Betterment
Betterment is for investors who would like an automated approach to investing. Anyone can benefit from Betterment, but it’s especially helpful for beginner investors hoping to start growing their wealth.
Because of the low barrier to entry — there are no account minimums and you can get started with a minimum deposit of $10 — it’s possible for almost anyone to begin investing.
It’s also a great resource for intermediate investors looking to accomplish different goals with “buckets” of money. With Betterment, it’s possible to set varying levels of risk for different goals, with different asset allocations based on when you’re likely to need the money.
Finally, intermediate and advanced traders can use Betterment to build a long-term retirement portfolio, although there is no active trading. Betterment offers a place for assets to grow over longer periods at a pace that is likely to track the market as a whole.
Consider your goals and what you hope to accomplish with your investment portfolio. While Betterment can potentially be a good choice for anyone who keeps a portion of their portfolio in long-term assets, it’s not ideal for those who prefer to actively manage their portfolios or engage in active trading.
Betterment fees and features
|Amount minimum to open account|
|Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)|
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|Customer support||Phone, Email|
Betterment management fees
Betterment’s pricing starts with a 0.25% management fee for the basic Digital account. This pricing is in line with other robo-advisors like Wealthfront, which also charges 0.25%.
Balances above $100,000 earn Betterment’s Premium account status, featuring unlimited access to personalized advice for a management fee of 0.40%. This isn’t out of line with other robo-advisors: Wealthsimple charges 0.40% for account balances above $100,000. Wealthfront, however, maintains the 0.25% management fee, no matter the size of your account. Once your balance reaches $2 million, your fee drops to 0.15%.
In addition to regular management fees, it’s also important to note that you’ll pay expense ratios on the ETFs Betterment selects on your behalf. Betterment’s recommended portfolios feature expense ratios of 0.07% to 0.15%. According to Betterment, this is much lower than the industry average.
Finally, there are additional fees if you want access to specialized financial planning. If you have $100,000 or more invested with Betterment, you get access to these services as part of your annual management fee. However, if your balance is lower, you pay a flat fee for financial advice ranging between $199 and $299 per advisory session.
Betterment portfolio options and portfolio management
Betterment chooses an investment portfolio for you based on your goals and time horizon. The core portfolio includes stock and bond ETFs allocated in a way that helps you reach your goals. It’s also possible to tweak your asset allocation in your account.
In addition, Betterment offers different portfolio options based on specific goals and targets. Here are some of the additional choices available with Betterment:
- Socially Responsible Investing (SRI): This portfolio focuses on reducing exposure to companies that have a negative social impact. The expense ratio is a little higher with these portfolios, around 0.14% to 0.22%, depending on the allocation within the portfolio.
- BlackRock Target Income Portfolio: Aimed at retirees, this portfolio is designed to provide a regular income stream. The portfolio focuses on bond investments that offer dividends that can be used for income rather than focusing on principal and capital appreciation.
- Goldman Sachs Smart Beta Portfolio: Rather than using basic asset allocation principles, this portfolio focuses on assets that possess four characteristics considered to drive performance — strong momentum, good value, low volatility and high quality. It’s possible to adjust this portfolio in 101 different ways.
With all portfolios, Betterment handles automatic rebalancing when your assets experience a certain amount of drift. For example, if market performance is resulting in an asset allocation that is too far outside the target for your portfolio, Betterment will sell and buy different assets to bring your portfolio back to its target.
Another way Betterment automatically manages your portfolio is by using tax optimization strategies. Different assets are assigned to your accounts based on their overall tax efficiency. Additionally, when certain assets lose value, Betterment will sell them automatically in an effort to offset capital gains in other areas. With the help of the Tax Loss Harvesting+ feature, rebalancing can occur daily.
Betterment financial planning features
If you want a big-picture view of your finances, Betterment’s account sync feature can be helpful. With this feature, you connect some or all of your outside accounts to Betterment, which lets you view all of your financial information in one place. The app then offers personalized recommendations for managing your money.
You have the option to speak with Betterment financial professionals about planning for specific goals and life milestones. Account holders above the $100,000 balance requirement get unlimited access to personalized advice and help by phone and email as part of the management fee.
If you don’t meet this threshold, you can pay for advice packages tailored to the goals you’re working on. Here are some of the Betterment advice packages available for a flat fee:
- Getting Started: A 45-minute phone call with a certified financial planner (CFP) who can provide step-by-step help setting up a Betterment account that helps you maximize a variety of goals. Price: $199.
- Financial Checkup: Get a review of your investment portfolio and how it fits into your financial situation in a 60-minute call with a Certified Financial Planner. Price: $299.
- College Planning: Aimed at families who want help getting set up for college costs and using higher education plans. It consists of a 60-minute phone call that can help you review your choices and decide what’s best for you. Price: $299.
- Marriage Planning: Planning to tie the knot soon? Get help as you navigate goals, priorities and merging finances in a 60-minute phone call. Price: $299.
- Retirement Planning: Set up a 60-minute holistic review of your portfolio, current situation and more that can help you make better decisions for your retirement. Price: $299.
The Betterment Advisor Network can also help you get your own dedicated financial advisor who can help you with almost any financial need. Betterment will help match you with a professional who is likely to fit your goals and priorities.
Betterment Everyday cash management account
Betterment’s cash management suite, Betterment Everyday, offers both checking and a savings features. Betterment Everyday Checking is slowly being rolled out to select customers — it charges no monthly maintenance or overdraft fees, and reimburses ATM fees worldwide. Betterment Everyday Checking offers FDIC insurance up to $250,000, with deposits held at a partner bank.
The savings product, Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve, is universally available. This account features an APY of 0.40%, as well as FDIC insurance up to $1 million, as deposits are held at a network of partner banks. It also boasts a Two-Way Sweep feature. With this feature, Betterment automatically analyzes a connected account each day and will move excess cash from your connected account into your savings account. If you need the money back in your main account, Betterment will sweep it from your Everyday Cash Reserve account without the need to take further action on your part.
Strengths of Betterment
Betterment is always adding new goals and features. Here are some of the most helpful features it currently offers:
- Tax optimization: Betterment uses tax loss harvesting to help offset taxes on your gains. The company also uses its Tax-Coordinated Portfolio to give you the maximum tax benefit. Certain assets are assigned to your IRA, while others are kept in your taxable accounts.
- Betterment Everyday: Betterment now offers FDIC-insured checking and savings accounts. While the checking product is still in the roll-out stages, it’s possible to earn up to 0.40%APY with Everyday Cash Reserve.
- Set up different goals: One of Betterment’s most useful features is the ability to set up different goals. It’s possible to have a traditional IRA and a rollover IRA, as well as open a Roth IRA. It’s also possible to open taxable accounts for a variety of other goals. Set different asset mixes for each type of account and adjust what you add simply and easily.
- Chance to talk to a human: Betterment offers customer service by phone in addition to email. However, you can also speak with a financial professional with packages starting at $199, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s also possible to be matched with an advisor if you meet the requirements for access to the Betterment Advisor Network.
- Portfolio projection tools: Set goals with the help of Betterment’s projection tools and track your progress toward reaching your objectives. Betterment offers insight into whether you’re on track with your goals as well as graphs to help you visualize the potential of your portfolio.
Drawbacks of Betterment
While Betterment is a great choice for many investors, it’s not for everyone. There are some drawbacks, and no Betterment review would be complete without mentioning them.
- No active trading: If you’re interested in choosing your own investments and actively trading, you won’t be able to do that with Betterment. While you can do a little more self-directed investing with a Premium account, the reality is that you’re mostly limited to choosing your prefered asset mix rather than picking individual investments.
- Lack of 529 and education savings accounts (ESAs): There are no custodial accounts with Betterment, and you can’t set up a 529 or ESA to save for your child’s education. A similar robo-investing company that does offer a 529 is Wealthfront.
Is Betterment safe?
Anytime you invest, there is a chance you could lose money. Poor market conditions can always lead to a loss. However, Betterment’s use of modern portfolio theory in its asset allocation helps reduce your exposure to risk. Additionally, Betterment carries Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance, protecting each of your Betterment accounts up to $500,000 in the event of a failure by the company. (Note that market losses aren’t covered by SIPC insurance.)
In addition to making sure an investment company is SIPC-insured, you also can use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck to find out about disclosures and actions, and search the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database. The Better Business Bureau is also a good source of information.
Betterment is a great choice for beginner investors looking to get their feet wet and for long-term investors hoping to grow a retirement portfolio. For investors with more than $100,000, it can also be a decent place to keep your money if you’re looking for basic advice.
However, for active traders and those who want a little more control over their assets, Betterment might not be the best choice. Instead, it could make more sense to use platforms like E-Trade or Robinhood if you want to get involved with active trading. Stockpile is also a good choice for investors who want to buy individual stocks using fractional shares.
Overall, though, Betterment is a great choice for building wealth for the long term, including setting accounts for specific goals and using tools that help you see if you’re on track to meet your objectives.