Wealthfront Versus Betterment

Wealthfront Versus Betterment

For the longest time, I have managed my own investment accounts. Early on, I attempted to buy individual stocks with disastrous results. After learning from this mistake, I began to invest in mutual funds without paying any attention to fees.

Over the course of many years, I transitioned from mutual funds to index funds that track the S&P 500. About 3 years ago, I tried using an actively managed broker. I was hesitant because of the fees which were 1.5% at the time. I also made the mistake of thinking I would need access to the funds within a short time-frame, so I was conservative in my investments. Needless to say, although I made some money, I missed out on a lot of gains between 2011-2014.

I have recently heard about 2 actively managed funds, but they’re actively managed by a robot. There isn’t an actual robot that I can visit, but all investment decisions are done via a software based investment advisor. The two most popular robo-advisors are Betterment and Wealthfront.

There are others, but these 2 seem to be the most popular. Betterment has been around since 2008 and Wealthfront has been around for 2.5 years. Wealthfront has seen tremendous success lately with now over $1 billion dollars in assets under management. Betterment isn’t too far behind and offers a very similar service.

Each company has their pros and cons which I’ll get into later. I was a bit hesitant to invest in these companies because they’re not well established from a time perspective, however, they seem to have planted a stake in the ground and seem to be here to stay. So, since I couldn’t decide on which company to use, I decided to put an equal amount in each of them and track them accordingly.

Before you use either service, they ask you a series of questions that are intended to assess your level of risk. They each invest in low-cost index funds, appropriately allocate your investment based on risk, rebalance automatically, and harvest losses for tax purposes. Their fees differ, but they’re very low and worth the cost for not having to actively manage the investment.

Below are my thoughts on each service.

Wealthfront

  • Investment: $100,000 initial deposit with a $1000/month $250/week  investment thereafter
  • Fees: 0.25%
  • Risk Assessment and allocation

They ask a series of questions that assess your risk. I thought I answered them honestly and what I thought would put me into a high risk category, however, Wealthfront put me in a risk class of 5 out of 10. The 2 questions that would have put me at the highest risk class (10/10) were if I owned stock options in a private company AND if I’ve ever made an angel investment. Regarless, they give you the ability to adjust your risk, so I bumped mine up a tad to 6/10. This correlates to an approximately 75/25 stock/bond porfolio.

Pros

    • Free to use up to $10,000
    • For account balances over $500,000, Wealthfront offers an enhanced form of tax-loss harvesting called the tax-optimized US Index portfolio
    • Interesting and informative white papers on a variety of topics

Cons

    • No graduated fee schedule. Whether you have $20,000 or $100,000, the fee is the same.
    • $5,000 account minimum
    • Need a minimum of $100,000 to take advantage of tax-loss harvesting
    • Referral program is good (extra $5k managed for free if referred), but the referral link includes my real name (I blog anonymously)

Betterment

  • Investment: $100,000 initial deposit with a $1000/month $250/week investment thereafter
  • Fees: 0.15%
  • Risk Assessment and allocation

Betterment was a bit more aggressive in assessing my risk compared to Wealthfront. Additonally, they only asked for my age and my goal to assess risk which is a bit lacking. Initially, they put me in a 90/10 stock/bond allocation, but I changed it to 85/15.

Pros

    • Very nice use interface
    • Free to use for the first 30 days
    • Graduated fee schedule. Any investment balance above $100,000 is only assess 0.15%. There is a gradual increase for any balances below this amount.
    • Only need a balance of $50,000 to take advantage of tax-loss harvesting
    • Interesting and informative white papers on a variety of topics

Cons

    • Questionnaire to assess risk is lacking.  Seems like they only use age and goal (i.e. when you need to access cash) to assess risk.  Time will tell how this risk assessment will perform.

Summary

When assessing performance between Wealthfront and Betterment, it is important to note the difference in the asset allocation. Different asset allocations will provide different results. However, I do think its important that I use the risk assessment provided by each company since many new investors will use the same tool to assess risk.

Although the amount of money that we invested with each company is a lot to many, for us, it represents about 15% of our investable assets.

Stay tuned!

About The Author

Edwin is a marketer, social media influencer and head writer here at I Am 1 Percent. He manages a large network of high quality finance blogs and social media accounts. You can connect with him via email here.


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5 Comments

  1. Asset-Grinder

    Pretty kool idea I need more looking into. Quite high minimum investments will scare many off. Decent alternative to ETF,s with comparable management fees. Thanks for sharing

    Good Day and Grind On!

    Reply
    1. iam1percent

      Wealthfront’s minimum is $5,000 which can be high for many, but remember, they manage up to $10,000 for free!

      Reply
  2. J @ the expat investor

    I never heard of wealth front before, but I have heard of betterment but have never tried it before. I use mint.com for budgeting and they seem to advertise betterment a lot. I use mainly vanguard and invest mostly in index funds seem to work fine. I might consider looking into betterment later on.

    Reply
  3. John @ Wild AboutFinance

    Fairly cool concept I need more looking into. Quite great lowest investment strategies will frighten many off. Reasonable substitute to ETF,s with similar control charges.

    Reply
  4. RichUncle EL

    IT seems like two viable options to help investors. I use vanguard and I am happy with the results, how do they compare in your opinion to vanguard?

    Reply

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