Betterment vs. Wealthfront: Which is Best for Investing?

Written By Jeff Hindenach
Last updated December 11, 2020

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July 21, 2019

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

Automated investing is become more popular since so many people are interested in saving for their future but generally have very little knowledge about investing. This is where online investing sites like Betterment and Wealthfront come in. Both Betterment and Wealthfront are considered top automated investing services right now, making it hard to figure out which one will work best for you. We’ve done some investigating into both services for you, and this is what we’ve found.

Betterment and Wealthfront are often compared within the auto-investing world because they are two of the top automated investing brands. However, the two companies don’t offer the same pricing, features or options for their clients, making them worlds apart when it comes to auto-investing. When reviewing Betterment vs. Wealthfront, you first need to break each service down before you can compare the two side by side.

Wealthfront offers automated investment management and financial planning. The automated system adjusts your investments for you based on the market, so your investments are as lucrative as possible. It is a worry-free way to invest your money. It offers one of the most tax-efficient services of any of the other robo-advisor investors we’ve seen, and its new financial planning experience gives Wealthfront an edge over many of the top automated investing sites out there. Wealthfront also offers a variety of taxable and non-taxable accounts. They’re also the only robo-advisor to offer 529 College Savings accounts. It also has an easy-to-use interface, like we’re seeing with other tech-savvy financial sectors. Wealthfront, however, does not offer cryptocurrency trading. If you are looking for cryptocurrency options, check out our best cryptocurrency apps reviews.

Wealthfront Review

Wealthfront website

Wealthfront Review image
  • Best For: Easy, cheap investing. Wealthfront’s automated investing service allows you to invest your money with them while they do all the heavy lifting of actually investing the money based on your goals and risk tolerance.
  • Price: Wealthfront has the most straightforward pricing of any investing service. It will manage your investments for free if they are under $10,000. If your investments are more than $10,000, they just charge a 0.25 percent annual fee. No other fees or costs are associated with your Wealthfront account.
  • Features: Wealthfront has a few more options than some of its automated investing counterparts. Path: a new financial planning experience that’s now integrated to Wealthfront; Selling Plan: fully fledged service that allows any shareholder with a concentrated position to sell their shares over time and diversify their holdings; Direct Indexing: an enhanced form of tax-loss harvesting for accounts over $100k to boost your tax savings. Wealthfront is the only automated investment service to offer; Direct Indexing; Tailored Transfers: instead of selling everything at once, use tailored transfer process to migrate your investments tax-efficiently over time; Tax-loss harvesting: a feature of our investment strategy that will automatically sell losses in your portfolio to offset your annual tax bill; The Wealthfront 529 College Savings Plan: the lowest cost 529 plan from an advisor that offers more diversification for higher returns.
  • Other highlights: The biggest highlight for Wealthfront is that it will handle your investment for free if you invest less than $10,000. It also has one of the most aggressive tax loss harvesting plans to help you pay less in taxes based on your investments.
  • Customer Service: Of any of the robo-advisor investing services, Wealthfront has some of the best customer service, with phone service during business hours during the week and 24/7 email support for any issues you may have.

When it comes to fees, Wealthfront is the best. First of all, the first $10,000 you invest is managed for free, and with a minimum deposit of $500, you can be fee-free for quite some time. Second, when you do cross the $10,000 threshold, there is a flat rate of 0.25 percent no matter how much money you have invested, which is a nice change from Betterment’s complicated tier system. There are no other fees associated with investing with Wealthfront. In addition, if you refer your friends to Wealthfront, you can get free investment management for an extra $5,000 of investment, so a total investment of $15,000 can be managed for free. You can also check out our Wealthsimple review to compare Wealthfront to one of it’s biggest competitor.

Wealthfront’s Path

Wealthfront’s Path links directly to all of your outside accounts so that you have a complete and accurate picture of your finances as they are today and what you’re on track to have in retirement. Wealthfront’s team of PhDs have handled the calculations on the back end for you so that you can get a visual idea of how increasing your savings, decreasing your spending or changing your retirement age can impact your financial future.

Wealthfront has only been around since 2011, which makes the fact that it now holds almost $6 billion in assets that it manages a really incredible feat. In just five years, it has risen faster than any other automated investment service out there. In addition, they have their own in-house made algorithm to help give them the best return on your investment, and offer adjustments to your investments based on market changes for no extra cost. In general, Wealthfront gets the highest ratings from independent online reviews and has a stellar record when it comes to customer service and doing what the customer needs without charging extra.

Betterment is an automated investing service that focuses your investments on ETFs (exchange-traded fund) to diversify your portfolio. In the most basic terms, you invest a certain amount of money with them, and they in turn invest it in a variety of ETFs with an advanced algorithm that picks the best investing options for your needs. It offers the ultimate in automated investing, which many people find to be its greatest asset. It also offers a goal-based investing strategy that can make it easier for everyday investors to understand how to invest.

Betterment Review

Betterment website

Betterment Review image
  • Best For: Automated Investing. Betterment is the lazy man’s best friend and is also great for anyone just starting out since it automates trading for you. All you do is fund your account and answer questions about the types of investments you want, and Betterment will do all the heavy lifting for you. You can sign up for Betterment here.
  • Price: The benefit of Betterment is there are no complicated fees, just a percentage charged depending on how much you’ve invested. It’s 0.25 percent annually, no minimum required. For the premium service you must invest at least $100,000, the fee for this is 0.40 percent annually.
  • Features: Since Betterment is an automated service, it doesn’t offer a lot of options when it comes to investing. Its main platform invests in both stock and bond ETFs to create your portfolio. You can also set up various forms of IRAs through Betterment, which will then tailor your investments based on your goals.
  • Other highlights: You can currently get a year of free management, all dependent on the amount you invest. If you invest between $15,000-$999,999 you’ll receive one month for free, If you invest, $100,000-$249,000 you’ll receive 6 months of free management, and if you invest anything over $250,000 you will get an entire year of free management. 
  • Customer Service: Since Betterment does all the heavy lifting for you, of course there are going to be questions, which Betterment is more than capable of answering. You can also get financial planning advice via Betterment.

Betterment has a pretty simple method for its fees, although not as simple as Wealthfront. The annual percentage they charge is based on what plan you pick for investing. Betterment’s standard plan is 0.25 percent of whatever you have invested, but does not require a minimum investment to start. Betterment’s Plus plan is 0.40 percent of your investment, while its Premium Plan is 0.50 percent of your investment. Both the Plus and Premium plan offer additional assistance from Betterment’s team of financial advisors, which could be good for anyone who wants to be more involved.

Betterment goals

One of the big benefits of Betterment is the way they go about talking to their clients about investments. When you first sign up for Betterment, it will ask you a lot of questions about your goals and risk tolerance. It will then give you goal options based on different criteria, like having a safety net for unexpected expenses, how much you should save for retirement and what you should be putting in general investment accounts. This goal-based strategy gives a more personal feeling to the investment process and makes things a little easier to understand for the everyday investor.

Since Betterment was founded in 2008, it has amassed more than $3 billion in assets that it manages for other people. That means their clients have invested $3 billion with the company, which is a pretty ringing endorsement of how well the company performs. While there are no specific numbers of how Betterment performs from portfolio to portfolio, its algorithm for investing has proven to be effective enough to provide steady growth over the eight years it has been in business.

What Is Tax-Efficient Investing?

Tax efficiency is a measure of how much of an investment’s return is left over after taxes are paid, so tax-efficienct investing is a strategy that maximizes the investment’s return based on current tax laws. Basically, you want to be investing in a way that minimizes the amount of taxes you have to pay on investments while maximizing the return you can get on those investments.

If you are looking for an automated investing service with the most tax-efficient investing, Wealthfront is your best bet. First, Wealthfront offers daily tax-loss harvesting on all taxable accounts, which basically means selling off a security that has experienced a loss so as to offset taxes on both gains and income. As an automated investor, Wealthfront will then replace that security with a similar security.

Second, Wealthfront offers tax-optimized direct investing on accounts that are more than $100,000. Tax-optimized direct investing relates to purchases indexes, which tax-loss harvesting is really hard to do on. So Wealthfront will purchase all the stocks within the index individually so it can easily do tax-loss harvesting on those stocks.

While both of these services offer a great experience all around, Wealthfront is probably your best bet when it comes to automated investing. First, it doesn’t charge you for managing investments under $10,000. It has a more streamlined fee structure and has a tax efficiency plan that can save you thousands in the long run. Not to mention its new financial planning helps put you in the driver’s seat of your own financial future.

If you are looking for an investment alternative to robo advisors, but want to stay away from traditional investing, you can also try something like crowdfunding investing. Sites like RealtyShares and PeerStreet allow you to invest a small portion into real estate investments without dealing directly with the project. To learn more, check out our RealtyShares review to get a better idea of how crowdfunding investing works.

About the Author

Jeff Hindenach

Jeff Hindenach is the co-founder of Simple. Thrifty. Living. He graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He has a long history of financial journalism, with a background writing for newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Examiner, as well as writing on personal finance for The Huffington Post, New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, Newsday and The Street. He believes in giving readers the tools they need to get out of debt.

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