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Updated on Thursday, January 30, 2020
If you are shopping for a robo-advisor to handle your investing needs, you’ve likely read about Betterment and Wealthfront. These two services are among the most prominent and popular robo-advisors, and both offer a very similar range of features and fees. We have made a side-by-side comparison to help you differentiate between the two apps.
Betterment’s service features a narrower range of investments, but has more control and lower fees for bigger balances. By contrast, Wealthfront offers a broader range of highly-automated investment options, as well as college education savings accounts. Read on to get a firmer grasp on the other differences between these two leading robo-advisors.
Betterment vs. Wealthfront: Feature comparison
Investment portfolios at both Wealthfront and Betterment are built from different combinations of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), including both bond and stock funds to better meet differing levels of risk tolerance. Betterment builds customized portfolios of ETFs across 12 different asset classes. Wealthfront features 20 different automated portfolios, and each offers a different mix of ETFs across 11 asset classes. In both cases, the mix of ETFs in each portfolio is altered to satisfy different goals. Both periodically rebalance your portfolios as asset values change and markets fluctuate.
Wealthfront offers a highly-automated process. You answer a short questionnaire to assess your goals and risk tolerance, and the app places your money in one of its 20 portfolios. Betterment offers investors with over $100,000 in their account more control over their investment choices, giving you access to live advisors and letting you adjust the percentage invested in any particular ETFs.
|Average ETF expense ratio||0.11%||0.09%|
|Human advisors||Yes, for clients with at least $100,000 invested||No|
|Tax loss harvesting|
|College savings options||No||Yes|
|Investment account types||
|Savings account option||Earn 0.40% APY with no fees and FDIC insurance covering up to $1 million||Earn 0.35% APY with no fees and FDIC insurance covering up to $1 million|
|Ease of use|
Betterment vs. Wealthfront: Management fees
In terms of management fees, Betterment and Wealthfront are very similar. Betterment charges an annual fee of 0.25% for investment balances up to $100,000. Wealthfront’s fee is 0.25% regardless of your investment balance. For balances greater than $100,000, Betterment’s premium option provides access to a team of live financial advisors, with a management fee of 0.40%.
If you have a very large balance to invest, Betterment may be a better choice than Wealthfront. When your Betterment account balance exceeds $2 million, your management fee falls to 0.15% for the basic portfolio and 0.30% for premium service.
With both companies, don’t forget ETF expense ratios. The expense ratio is a fee you pay to invest in ETFs to cover the cost of running the fund, including operational and administrative costs. The expense ratio is deducted directly from the fund, and can impact your investment performance. The expense ratio is dependent on your portfolio, but for the sake of comparison, the average expense ratio on a medium-risk portfolio is 0.11% at Betterment. At Wealthfront, it’s 0.09%.
Betterment vs. Wealthfront: Special features
Betterment and Wealthfront both offer the ability to add your outside investment accounts — such as an employer-offered 401(k) — to your account. You can’t manage the outside account from the robo-advisor dashboard, but they let you to view all of your accounts on one site, giving you a complete snapshot of your finances.
Where they differ is in their investment options. Betterment’s investment portfolio is more limited than Wealthfront’s. Wealthfront allows you to invest in some trendier options, including real estate investment trusts and commodities.
Wealthfront’s Path digital financial planning tool stands out from Betterment. It’s designed to adjust along with your finances, helping you plan for long-term goals, like retirement or buying a home.
On the other hand, Betterment’s tax-coordinated portfolios are an asset for investors with large balances. Betterment will spread your investments across multiple accounts. Highly-taxed investments will be invested in IRAs to minimize taxes, and the rest will be invested in taxable accounts. According to the company, this strategy can increase your portfolio value by an estimated 15% over 30 years.
If you’re new to investing or want more personalized attention, Betterment offers some distinct advantages over Wealthfront.
- There’s no account minimum: Unlike Wealthfront, which has a $500 minimum to start investing, there is no account minimum with Betterment. That means beginners can start investing with whatever they can afford. That perk can be especially helpful for people who might otherwise put off saving for retirement.
- You can purchase fractional shares: Betterment allows you to buy fractional shares, or portions of a whole share, so the full value of your investment is utilized. Plus, fractional shares allow you to buy shares that would otherwise be too expensive for a new investor to afford.
- You can earn decent interest on your savings: You can maximize the money that you aren’t investing with Betterment’s Everyday Cash Reserve. It offers a competitive APY of 0.40%, a significant increase over the 0.10% rate you get with most traditional savings accounts.
- You could have access to a human advisor: If you have at least $100,000 invested with Betterment, you can get access to a human advisor to help you with issues like tax management and estate planning. If you have a smaller account, you can still get one-time access to a human advisor by buying planning sessions, which range from $150 to $500.
- You can donate to charity: Betterment recently launched Charitable Giving, a service that automates the process of donating appreciated shares to charities. You can determine how much you want to donate and what charity you would like to give money to, and Betterment will calculate your tax impact and will select the investments to donate.
For more seasoned investors, Wealthfront offers some more advanced options to grow your money.
- You can take advantage of a high-yield savings account: Wealthfront offers a high-yield savings account that earns an APY of 0.35%. Funds in account are held with partner banks, which provide FDIC insurance of up to $1 million.
- Wealthfront Stock-level Tax-Loss Harvesting: Formerly known as Direct Indexing, Wealthfront’s Stock-level Tax-Loss Harvesting allows you to lower your tax bill even more. Available for investors with taxable accounts balances between $100,000 to $500,000, Wealthfront will buy individual stocks from the S&P 500 index, giving you more opportunities for tax-loss harvesting.
- You can save for college: If you want to save for your child’s education, you can open up a 529 plan with Wealthfront. Withdrawals from a 529 plan for qualified education expenses — such as tuition, room and board, and textbooks — aren’t subject to federal income tax, making saving in a 529 plan more advantageous than just investing in an Individual taxable account. With fees of no more than 0.46%, a Wealthfront 529 Plan costs less than many other plans.
- You can get access to a Portfolio Line of Credit: If you need cash to pay for a trip or a major purchase, you may qualify for a Portfolio Line of Credit with Wealthfront. With this option, you have access to a line of credit that is secured by your investments. Depending on your account size, you could get an interest rate of 4.70% to 5.95%, which is significantly cheaper than you’d get with a credit card or most personal loans. If you have a Wealthfront individual, trust, or joint investment account with a balance of at least $25,000, you automatically have a line of credit available.
- You can easily diversify your investments: With Wealthfront, you can invest in low-cost ETFs, instantly diversifying your portfolio. Investing in ETFs minimizes your investment risk and, over time, can help you grow your money. Wealthfront looks for ETFs with the lowest annual expense ratios that also offer liquidity, so you can access your money to pay for major expenses, like buying a home or paying for college.
Betterment vs. Wealthfront: Which is best for you?
Wealthfront fully embraces the robo in robo-advisor, offering no human interaction and a highly-automated investing service, with no options for picking your own stocks or ETFs. If you’re looking to invest and forget it, then Wealthfront is probably your best bet, especially if you’d like to have a 529 college savings account as well.
Betterment offers a limited range of investable assets, however with enough money you can access human advisors, and also get more meticulous control over which stocks and ETFs you’re investing in. Fractional share investing and the zero account minimum make it a slightly better choice for beginning investors.