Betterment Review: Is it a Good Investment Option?


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Investing is an important part of saving for retirement and earning passive income with savings account interest rates at historic lows.

However, many people are hesitant to invest because researching investments and managing your portfolio can be stressful and time consuming.

Betterment offers managed investment portfolios and other financial products that can help new and experienced investors improve their finances with minimal effort.

image new betterment logo
4.2
Overall Rating

Summary

Betterment is one of the larger robo-investor sites which offers investors an alternative to more traditional human financial advisers. As one of the first financial groups to launch a robo-investor, they offer low fees and an easy to use app for your investing needs.

  • Ease of use

    4.5

  • Fees

    4

  • Investing options

    4

Pros

  • Low fees
  • Easy to use app
  • No minimums

Cons

  • No direct indexing
  • Limited investment options
  • Fees to access expert help

What is Betterment?

Betterment is one of the first robo-advisors that fully manages your investments. The service uses the Modern Portfolio Theory to build a diversified portfolio of stock and bond index funds.

You might prefer this platform if don’t have the time or desire to pick your own investments and rebalance your portfolio. This investing app makes these decisions once you share your investing goals and risk tolerance.

In addition to being one of the best robo-advisors, several additonal services are available.

Additional features include:

  • Online checking account
  • Cash management account
  • Rewards debit card
  • Retirement planning tools
  • Financial advisor access

While the investment products can be the best reason to use Betterment, you can also use the platform exclusively for its banking accounts.

Fees

Fees apply for the investment services but the banking accounts are free.

Investing Fees

You will pay an annual advisory fee for an investment account. The service withholds the fees on a monthly basis.

There are two different investing pricing plans:

  • Digital investing: 0.25% annual fee ($0 minimum balance)
  • Premium investing: 0.40% annual fee ($100,000 minimum balance)

The annual advisory fee covers all expenses including automatic portfolio rebalancing to buy or sell ETFs.

ETF expense ratios the fund manager collects are an additional charge. However, the fees are the same as if you buy the same funds in a self-managed account.

One optional fee are for financial advisor advice packages. These packages can cost between $299 and $399.

You can get unlimited financial advisor access with the Premium plan. However, the minimum account balance is $100,00 and the annual advisory fee is 0.40%.

Banking Fees

There are no service fees for the Checking or Cash Reserve accounts.

Betterment can also offer these banking perks:

  • Worldwide ATM fee reimbursements
  • Bill pay
  • Paper checks

While it’s not a fee, you will need to make a minimum $10 deposit to open a Cash Reserve account.

Who Can Join Betterment?

The minimum age is 18 years old for investment accounts.

Due to state laws, you may need to be 19 or 21 years old to open a banking account.

Unfortunately, the platform currently doesn’t offer custodial accounts for minors under the age of 18.

Betterment Investing Features

Here is a look at how investing with Betterment works and some of the core benefits each member enjoys.

Account Options

You can open the following investment accounts:

  • Individual taxable accounts
  • Joint taxable accounts
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Inherited IRA
  • Trust accounts

You can open any taxable or retirement account with a $0 initial balance. Opening an account lets you develop your investing goals and asset allocation.

However, your account balance must be at least $10 to make your first investment. The investment minimum is $10 for all future trades.

Digital and Premium Accounts

Betterment offers two types of investment accounts:

  • Digital
  • Premium

The investment options are the same. However, the Digital plan provides more advisory options.

Betterment Digital

You will most likely start with Betterment Digital as it doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement.

Account benefits include:

  • Automatic rebalancing
  • Tax-loss harvesting
  • Passive index fund investing
  • Advanced investment strategies
  • Dividend reinvesting
  • Add-on financial advice packages

The annual advisory is only 0.25% (instead of 0.40% for Premium). If your account balance exceeds $100,000, you can keep this account plan if you don’t need the additional Premium features.

Betterment Premium

You will need an investment account balance of at least $100,000 to qualify for the Premium pricing plan.

Additional plan perks include:

  • Unlimited calls and emails with a CFP
  • In-depth advice for non-Betterment investments

You will need to decide if these benefits are worth the 0.40% annual advisory fee.

Core Portfolio

The Core Portfolio is the standard investment strategy as they can have the lowest fund fees and base your asset allocation on the Modern Portfolio Theory.

Betterment recommends a mixture of stock and bond index ETFs with low fund fees that align with your risk tolerance and age.

As you grow older, the platform automatically rebalance to hold more bond funds that are inherently more risk-averse and less volatile than stocks.

Advanced Portfolios

You can also add an advanced portfolio strategy to focus on a specific strategy. These portolfios are optional.

The platform lets you invest in these strategies in addition to a Core Portfolio. If you don’t want a Core Portfolio, you can invest exclusive in one or several of the advanced strategies.

Your advanced portfolio options include:

  • Socially responsible investing (SRI)
  • Climate impact
  • Social impact
  • BlackRock Target Income (100% bonds)
  • Goldman Sachs Smart Beta (Tries to outperform a traditional index fund strategy)

These portfolios have more of an active investing approach that doesn’t try to track the overall market performance as closely as a Core Portfolio.

Depending on which strategy you try, you may sell assets more often. Each sale is a taxable event in a non-retirement account.

Flexible Portfolios

Users can also modify the asset classes and geographic weights of your portfolio.

This feature is optional and can be beneficial to experienced investors that still prefer automated investing but want to control some of the investment options.

Automatic Portfolio Rebalancing

Portfolio rebalancing is necessary because it helps you maintain your target asset allocation.

You don’t want the balance between stocks and bonds to stray too far from their target allocation.

Betterment rebalances your portfolio as necessary when positions “drift” from their target percentage.

With each new investment, the first portion of your cash buys funds that have the highest underallocation.

The service may sell overallocated positions and reinvest your profits into underallocated positions.

You can create customized rules for how often the service rebalances your portfolio.

Tax Loss Harvesting

Tax loss harvesting is when you sell a security that has experienced a loss and then replace it by purchasing a similar one.

This selling and replacing gives the investor the opportunity to claim a capital loss on their taxes while still maintaining “exposure to the asset class.”

These losses can minimize your taxable gains in non-retirement accounts.

This feature is free and Betterment suggests if your portfolio balance is large enough to benefit from this rebalancing tool.

Other robo-advisors may charge an additional fee for this convenience.

Tax Coordination

When you have taxable and tax-advantaged retirement accounts at Betterment, the platform uses a tax coordination feature to optimize your tax situation.

The service will primarily invest in assets with more taxable income in tax-advantaged account.

Therefore, your taxable account will hold funds that generate less taxable income.

Charitable Giving

Along with offering socially responsible market assets to invest in, Betterment has Charitable Giving.

You can donate shares directly from your account to charities, which is tax deductible. You’ll avoid capital gains taxes on whatever you decide to donate.

SmartDeposit

Once you link your checking account to Betterment, you can automatically transfer money directly into the account.

If you want to take it one step further to really automate your savings, Betterment has a feature called SmartDeposit that takes out unneeded cash from your checking account and invests it for you.

This feature is similar to Acorns, except SmartDeposit allows you to set a budget for yourself so it knows not to take out too much out from your account.

Goal Forecaster

You can project your potential portfolio value in future years with the Goal Forecaster tool. Simply enter your initial investment and recurring contribution amount to adjust the prediction.

This tool estimates your average, favorable and unfavorable outcome depending on how the market performs and your portfolio rebalances.

Investment Options

Here are some of the stock and bond ETFs your portfolio can invest in. Your portfolio will primarily invest in Vanguard, iShares and Schwab ETFs.

Which Stock ETFs are Used in Betterment’s Portfolio?

Betterment offers the following stock ETFs:

US Total Stock Market – Vanguard U.S. Total Stock Market Index ETF (VTI)
In a nutshell: These are stocks that give you broad exposure to the entire U.S. stock market.

US Large-Cap Value Stocks – Vanguard US Large-Cap Value Index ETF (VTV)
In a nutshell: It’s similar to the US Total Stock Market. But, it’s geared to focus the portfolio on large-size companies that have low price-to-earnings ratios.

US Mid-Cap Value Stocks – Vanguard US Mid-Cap Value Index ETF (VOE)
In a nutshell: It’s similar to the US Total Stock Market, except it’s geared to focus the portfolio on medium-size companies that have low price-to-earnings ratios.

US Small-Cap Value Stocks – Vanguard US Small-Cap Value Index ETF (VBR)
In a nutshell: It’s similar to the US Total Stock Market, except it’s geared to focus the portfolio on small size companies that have low price-to-earnings ratios.

International Developed Stocks – Vanguard FTSE Developed Market Index ETF (VEA)
In a nutshell: You get exposure to various international countries such as the UK, Europe, Japan, and others.

Emerging Market Stocks – Vanguard FTSE Emerging Index ETF (VWO)
In a nutshell: You have the opportunity to have your portfolio grow with developing nations as they modernize and grow, but these tend to also have higher risk.

Which Bond ETFs are Used in Betterment’s Portfolio?

These are the Bond ETFs that are available:

Short-Term Treasuries – iShares Short-Term Treasury Bond Index ETF (SHV)
In a nutshell: These are low-risk and can mature between one month and a year.

Inflation Protected Bond – Vanguard Short-term Inflation-Protected Treasury Bond Index ETF (VTIP)
In a nutshell: Part of your portfolio assets are protected from the depreciating effects of inflation.

US High-Quality Bonds (IRA and 401(k) accounts) – Vanguard US Total Bond Market Index ETF (BND)
In a nutshell: These bonds are generally stable, have low risk and take an average of seven years to mature.

National Municipal Bonds (Taxable accounts) – iShares National AMT-Free Muni Bond Index ETF (MUB)
In a nutshell: These bonds are federally tax-exempt, which can make excellent additions to your taxable portfolios.

US Corporate Bonds – iShares Corporate Bond Index ETF (LQD)
In a nutshell: These types of bonds are made to finance business activities and help diversify fixed-income portfolios.

International Market Bonds – Vanguard Total International Bond Index ETF (BNDX)
In a nutshell: These bonds are issued by non-US based governments and organizations and can offer interest rate diversification.

Emerging Market Bond – iShares J.P. Morgan USD Emerging Markets Bond ETF (EMB)
In a nutshell: These are issued by governments in fast-growing countries and pose a higher risk but also a higher expected return.

Betterment Banking Features

You can open two different fee-free banking accounts. An investment account isn’t necessary to have either of these accounts.

Checking

The Betterment Checking account is a fee-free checking account with several exciting. Individual and joint accounts are available.

Some of the best perks include:

  • Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement worldwide
  • Foreign transaction fee reimbursements
  • Rewards debit card
  • No overdraft fees
  • Online bill pay
  • Can mail paper checks
  • Up to $250,000 in FDIC insurance ($500,000 for joint accounts)
  • Up to $600 in cell phone protection

This account doesn’t earn interest but you can earn cash rewards at participating purchases. Most offers let you get up to 5% back at stores and restaurants.

You may also consider these other free checking accounts to find the best option.

Cash Reserve

The interest-bearing Cash Reserve account is also fee-free but requires a $10 minimum opening deposit.

You might use this account to store your uninvested cash for short-term savings goals. The account can also be a competitive alternative to high-yield savings accounts but you can make unlimited monthly withdrawals.

Account benefits include:

  • Entire balance earns interest (0.30% APY, as of August 11, 2021)
  • Unlimited account withdrawals and transfers
  • Up to $1 million in FDIC insurance ($2 million for joint accounts)

This account is able to provide above-average FDIC insurance as Betterment has four partner banks. Each partner bank provides up to $250,000 in FDIC insurance.

Betterment Planning Tools

The platforms offers several free and paid financial planning tools.

Financial Advice Packages

All users can request advice sessions with CFP® professionals. These sessions last 45-60 minutes and cost approximately $299.

Each session is free for Premium Plan members and the session can be longer than 60 minutes.

The advice package topics can include:

  • Financial checkup
  • Retirement planning
  • Marriage
  • College

Retirement Planner

The free retirement planning tool is an interactive retirement calculator.

Some of the best planning features include:

  • Create a retirement savings plan
  • Connect and track external bank accounts
  • Plan multiple savings goals
  • Prioritize savings goals
  • Schedule auto-deposits and one-time contributions

This tool can be an effective planning tool but you may appreciate NewRetirement to run multiple assumptions to simulate your retirement savings.

Track Savings Goals

You can also create non-retirement savings goals on your online dashboard.

This feature is similar to what many online banks offer so you can calculate your monthly savings amount to achieve your goal.

Some of the goals you may track include:

  • Buying a new car
  • Wedding
  • Gifts
  • Education
  • Vacation

The service can recommend an investing or banking account that can help you earn the most passive income and manage risk.

Is Betterment a Good Match For You?

Betterment can be worth using if you want a fully automated investing account that only invests in index funds. The platform offers several features that can make investing easy.

Being able to have a taxable and retirement investment account on the same platform makes tax-loss harvesting and tax-coordinated investing easy to use.

The banking products and planning tools are also worth a look if you desire these features.

However, you may decide to avoid Betterment if you’re comfortable managing your own investments. The investment account advisory fee is reasonable for robo-advisors but can still be a nuisance when there are many free investing apps.

Betterment Pros and Cons

Here are the positives and negatives of using this platform.

Pros

  • Flexible investment options
  • Automatic portfolio rebalancing and tax-loss harvests
  • Low $10 minimum investments
  • Fee-free Checking and Cash Reserve accounts
  • Financial planning tools

Cons

  • Cannot invest in individual stocks
  • Annual advisory fee for investment accounts
  • Premium plan requires $100,000 minimum balance
  • CFP financial advice packages can be pricey

FAQs

Here are some lingering questions you may have about how Betterment works?

Is Betterment worth the fee?

The 0.25% annual advisory is competitive with similar robo-advisors. It can be worth paying the fee if you want a fully-automated portfolio and only want to invest in index funds.

The best reasons to use Betterment include automatic rebalancing, tax-loss harvesting and financial advisor access.

The Betterment banking accounts are fee-free and are a great option if you want a checking account or interest-bearing savings account.

Is my money safe with Betterment?

Your Betterment investments have up to SIPC Insurance if the platform closes. However, your investments are subject to normal market losses.

A Betterment Checking account has $250,000 in FDIC Insurance and the Cash Reserve account has $1 million in FDIC Insurance.

What are the Betterment customer support options?

The platform has an extensive online knowledge library. You can also send an email. Another option is having a 1-on-1 financial advisor session for personal advice.

Wealthfront vs Betterment: Which platform is better?

Both platforms have competitive advisory fees, investment options and banking accounts.

Betterment can be the better option if you want financial advisor access. However, Wealthfront can have a better free financial planning tool and may offer more portfolio customization if you have a portfolio balance above $100,000.

Does Betterment have a mobile app?

Yes, a mobile app is available for iOS and Android devices. It has the same features as the web platform.

Is Betterment easy to use?

The Betterment investment platform is very easy to navigate which can be good for new and experienced investors.

Summary

When it comes to saving for retirement, time is both your friend and enemy. Invest too late, and you’ll probably end up working for much longer than you wanted. Or you may run out of money in your retirement years.

Invest early, and you’ll have the freedom to retire early, travel, work (or not), and do whatever you want.

Betterment can help you invest and save for your short-term and long-term goals. It’s one of the best robo-advisors to use because of its many features and competitive fees.