Wealthfront vs. Vanguard: Which Robo-Advisor Is Right for You?

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Updated on Monday, January 4, 2021

If you are looking for a robo-advisor to handle your investments, you may have come across the automated investing platforms offered by Wealthfront and Vanguard. These two firms offer similar fee structures and services, so it can be difficult to choose between them.

For beginner investors who don’t have a lot of assets just yet, Wealthfront is a great way to get started. By contrast, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is designed for more established investors who want more personalized attention. Continue reading to learn about these two leading robo-advisors and the key differences between them.

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard: Feature comparison

Wealthfront Vanguard
Amount minimum to open account
  • $500
  • $50,000
Management fees
  • 0.25% annual advisory fee on investments
  • 0.30% for accounts with assets below $5 million
  • 0.20% for accounts with assets from $5 million to below $10 million
  • 0.10% for accounts with assets from $10 million to below $25 million
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 yearly inactivity fee
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Tax loss harvesting detail Wealthfront offers daily tax loss harvesting for taxable accounts for no additional charge. Investments will be allocated strategically among taxable and tax-advantaged accounts. Tax loss harvesting is available but requires work on the investor’s part.
Offers fractional shares No No
Ease of use
Mobile app iOS, Android iOS, Android, Fire OS
Customer support Phone , 24/7 live support, Email Phone, Email

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard: Fees and account minimums

Vanguard is one of the biggest investment companies in the industry, and has been around for decades. It’s well-known for its investment options, past performance and hybrid approach to investing, where it combines traditional robo-advisors with human advisor services.

Unlike Vanguard, Wealthfront is solely a robo-advisor. It’s geared toward young professionals who are just starting to invest their money and may not have the time or knowledge to manage their accounts themselves.

When you’re considering Wealthfront versus Vanguard, it’s important to understand each company’s account minimums as well as their fees, as they can affect your profits.

Wealthfront has a lower account minimum: You can start investing with Wealthfront with as little as $500. Vanguard, on the other hand, requires at least $50,000 in managed assets. Individual investment accounts, IRAs, trust accounts and Vanguard Variable Annuity accounts count toward the minimum; 401(k) accounts, 529 plans and custodial accounts like UGMA/UGTA do not.

Wealthfront has lower annual fees: Wealthfront charges a 0.25% annual advisory fee on investments. With Vanguard, you’ll pay a slightly higher annual advisory fee. Vanguard charges 0.30% for accounts with assets below $5 million; if your account balance is over that, you may qualify for a lower rate. However, some accounts do have additional service fees. For example, brokerage and mutual fund-only accounts will incur a $20 annual fee.

Vanguard has lower expense ratios for mutual funds and ETFs: Vanguard’s average expense ratio is 0.10%. Meanwhile, Wealthfront has expense ratios ranging from 0.07% to 0.16% on ETFs.

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard: Unique features

Wealthfront and Vanguard robo-advisor services both are able to take into account your outside investment accounts — such as a 401(k) or 529 plan — when coming up with your financial dashboard.

Wealthfront’s investments are based on PassivePlus, its suite of investment strategies put into place with its software. It automatically adjusts your investments based on your goals and risk tolerance.

Vanguard offers a hybrid approach, combining robo-advisors with human advisors. The Vanguard advisor will work with you — over the phone, email or chat — to create a personalized financial plan and will continually offer coaching and portfolio management services.

Both companies offer a range of investment options, including stocks, mutual funds and bonds. However, the companies differ in their investment account types. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services can’t manage 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, 529 accounts or UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts. By contrast, Wealthfront allows you to set aside money to pay for college in a 529 plan, or to save for retirement with 401(k) plans.

Wealthfront advantages

  • Low minimum investment: Wealthfront allows you to start investing with as little as $500, making it a better choice than Vanguard for beginning investors who don’t have a lot of money tucked away.
  • Access to a Portfolio Line of Credit: If you need money to finance a big purchase, like a home repair, you could qualify for a Portfolio Line of Credit from Wealthfront as long as you have $25,000 invested in a diversified, taxable Wealthfront portfolio. You’ll get access to a low-interest line of credit secured by your investments, making it a cheaper option than taking out most personal loans or using a credit card.
  • Low fees: Wealthfront has a lower annual advisory fee than Vanguard, helping you reap the rewards of investing. You’ll have access to low-cost ETFs, allowing you to diversify your portfolio without spending a lot of money to do so.
  • Savings options: If you plan on making a big purchase within the next five years — such as buying a home — it may be better to put your money into a savings account rather than invest it. With Wealthfront’s savings account, you can earn 0.35% APY.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services advantages

  • Access to human advisors: If having a personal touch is important to you, Vanguard may be a better option than Wealthfront. You can schedule a time to talk with a financial advisor via phone, email or chat. Wealthfront doesn’t offer the option to connect with a real person for investment advice.
  • Investment selection: You can invest in Vanguard funds, which have low expense ratios. And, you can choose between index funds and actively managed funds, so you can decide which is best for you.
  • Comprehensive financial planning: When coming up with your financial plan, Vanguard takes into account all of your investment accounts, even those that are held by outside companies. That ensures you’re not under-planning or overbalancing to meet your goals.
  • Reliability: Vanguard has been around for decades, and has an outstanding reputation for performance. According to the company, 85% of its funds have performed better than their peer-group averages over the past 10 years.

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard: Which is best for you?

Wealthfront and Vanguard both offer a wide range of investment options and account types. When looking at Wealthfront versus Vanguard, it’s important to consider your comfort with investing and your goals.

If you’re a hands-off investor or are new to investing, Wealthfront is likely the best choice for you. Wealthfront is a complete robo-advisor, meaning there is no human interaction and it’s almost entirely automated — you aren’t able to choose individual stocks or ETFs, but you can invest your money and be confident that it will be allocated across a diverse portfolio.

If you want more personalized attention, and have more assets to manage, then Vanguard is the better choice. With Vanguard, you can contact human advisors for guidance, and get more control over what investments you choose.

Fees mentioned in the article are accurate as of the date of publishing.

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