Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and Personal Capital are two hybrid automated investment advisors that aim to serve investors with larger nest eggs to invest. Both Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and Personal Capital have high account minimums that may put them out of reach for newer investors. If you can clear the account minimum, these two digital investment managers will customize your portfolio to meet your goals, financial situation, and risk tolerance. Yet, the way they construct their portfolios is distinct. Vanguard uses predominantly proprietary funds, while Personal Capital includes individual stocks in the U.S. equity portion of their portfolios. We’ll look at the similarities and differences between each of these investment management services to help decide which is best for you.

  • Account Minimum: $100,000
  • Fees: 0.89% to 0.49% for accounts over $1 million
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  • Personal Capital is our Best Robo-Advisor for Portfolio Management.
  • Personal Capital offers free net worth tracking and financial tracking, and retirement planning software for anyone.
  • Every paying Advisor client can access a financial advisor.
  • Personal Capital provides comprehensive tax-minimization strategies, including tax-loss harvesting.
  • Stocks and private equity investments are available for some Advisor clients.
  • Account Minimum: $50,000
  • Fee: 0.30% of assets under management (excluding cash) for up to $5 million; management fee tiers down to 0.05% for assets over $25 million
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  • You collaborate with a financial advisor to create your personal portfolio.
  • Active and passively managed ETFs and mutual funds are available.
  • PAS offers tax minimization but no tax-loss harvesting strategies.
  • Private equity investments are available for those trying to beat the market.
  • Clients can also access Vanguard’s other services, such as self-directed trading.

Account Setup

The Vanguard Personal Advisor requires a $50,000 minimum. Like many robo-advisors, setup begins with a quiz to determine whether the platform is a fit for you. If you don’t have $50K, you might consider Vanguard Digital Advisor, which requires a $3,000 minimum. The advisor-driven process begins when you answer a few questions related to your finances, time until retirement, and advisory goals. You’re asked to meet with an advisor by phone immediately or to schedule an appointment to begin the process. 

During the financial advisory meeting you’ll work with the consultant to create a plan. Once the plan is created, you set up an account and transfer in cash or securities to begin the investment management. The customized portfolio consists predominantly of Vanguard funds. The investments are rebalanced and managed digitally. Clients can link external accounts for planning and review, but these accounts aren’t considered in the portfolio construction or for rebalancing. 

The Personal Capital signup requires an email, password, phone number, and date of birth. Anyone can use the Personal Capital free financial management tools after creating an account and linking their investment, banking, and lending accounts. The Personal Capital managed investment service is for those with $100,000 or more seeking comprehensive financial management and unlimited access to certified financial planners (CFPs).

The advisory account set up proceeds with a call with a financial advisor. As is customary with most financial advisors, you'll answer questions related to your financial situation, goals, and risk comfort level. In accordance with your responses and financial information, the advisor presents  a written personal financial strategy for discussion. After that, you open an account and fund it with cash or transfer securities. You’re able to discuss potential portfolios and multiple investment strategies with the financial advisor any time, including prior to opening an account. 

Both Vanguard and Personal Capital’s hybrid investment managers offer a personal touch and customized portfolios. Personal Capital offers unlimited access to CFPs during and after the process, but we found the actual account setup to be equivalent at both digital investment managers. 

Goal Planning

Vanguard’s goal planning begins when you set up your account and includes time horizon and risk tolerance. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services supports multiple goals, and may recommend separate accounts for distinct goals. The goal-planning tools enable you to test various scenarios and it also measures 10,000 scenarios to calculate the possibility of reaching your goals. In addition, the planning tool incorporates the impact of inflation and fees on your investment scenarios. The goal planning tools consider both Vanguard and linked external accounts when analyzing your current status and likelihood of success in the future. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services representatives contact you at least once per year to confirm your goals and progress, although you can contact the financial advisors at any time.

Similar to Vanguard, Personal Capital investment services’ goal planning includes conversations with your financial advisor. Clients can opt to set up multiple goals with Personal Capital as well. Both advisory clients and those using the Personal Capital free tools are eligible to use the customizable retirement planner. This simulator considers your income and spending before and after retirement and projects the likelihood of meeting your retirement goals. 

Both Vanguard and Personal Capital are well suited to provide goal-based financial guidance and adjust your investments based on your personal situation. At each platform, you’ll receive information detailing goal-based progress, along with helpful recommendations to overcome potential shortfalls. Although these two digital investment advisors are very close when it comes to goal planning, we give a slight edge to Personal Capital for providing an excellent suite of free tools to investors who can’t meet the firm’s high account minimum.  

Account Types

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and Personal Capital each offer the most commonly used account types. The only distinction between the two is the availability of the Personal Capital Cash account. Vanguard users will need to create a separate cash account, outside of Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.

Vanguard accounts:

Personal Capital accounts:

  • Taxable individual and joint
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • SEP IRA 
  • IRA transfers and 401(k) rollovers
  • Trust
  • High yield cash

Account Services

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services’ account services are lean. Automatic deposits from external accounts is straightforward, but traditional banking, stock trading, and margin are not available within the investment management service. That said, you can access cash management and self-directed trading within the wider Vanguard brokerage services.

The services offered by Vanguard PAS vary based upon account value:

Account Value Services 
$50,000 Access to an advisor, personalized financial plan, investment coaching, ongoing portfolio advice, real-time goal tracking, access to actively managed funds
$500,000+  All of the above plus a dedicated advisor 
$1,000,000+  All of the above plus access to trust services 
$5,000,000+  All of the above with a dedicated advisory team, a reduction in advisory fees (0.20% $5-$10 million, 0.10% $10-$25 million, 0.05% above $25 million), and a tailored financial plan 

Personal Capital wins our Best for Portfolio Management designation and goes above and beyond in the account services department. Advisory clients receive all of the expected features of a traditional financial planner and more. The firm offers automated deposits and two revolving lines of credit with competitive interest rates and no additional fees. Like Vanguard, individual stock and fund trading is not available at Personal Capital. 

Personal Capital’s free budgeting, saving and investment management tools are available for a range of financial management activities. The Financial Roadmap product, available only to advisory clients,  considers all of your financial information and, like the name suggests, creates a personalized list of financial steps to take. 

Personal Capital services vary based upon account value:

Account Value Services 
$100,000 Access to a financial advisor, automatically managed portfolio with reviews upon request, and Personal Capital’s digital tools
$200,000+  All of the above and two dedicated financial advisors, specialists in real estate, stock options, and other asset classes, customized portfolio with regular reviews, and tax optimization through individual stock investments
$1,000,000+  All of the above and priority access to Personal Capital’s investment committee, and support from retirement and wealth planning specialists
$5,000,000+  All of the above plus private equity investment options

Cash Management

Users need to open a separate brokerage account to receive cash management services at Vanguard.

Personal Capital Cash is a fee-free high yield savings account with no minimum investment amount. Money is placed in several participating member banks and FDIC insured up to $1.5 million, surpassing the standard $250,000 offered by a single bank. Clients can access bill pay, direct deposit, and unlimited deposits and withdrawals. 

Portfolio Construction

All Vanguard Personal Advisor Services portfolios follow the tenets of Vanguard investing which includes using low-cost, passively managed index funds. Portfolios are broadly diversified with the ratio of stock funds to fixed income determined by the client's risk tolerance, goals, and time frame. Vanguard believes in allocating funds to niche market segments such as mid- and small-capitalization, growth, and value companies in addition to the typical market weight diversified U.S. and global stock and bond funds. A stand out feature at Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is the portfolio construction, which doesn’t fall into a predetermined template and might add actively managed ETFs, mutual funds, and private equity in addition to the passively managed funds.

Personal Capital has a unique portfolio construction method based upon 15 personal factors including time horizon, goals, net worth, income, risk tolerance, retirement age, growth rate needed, and more. The Personal Strategy portfolio includes six asset classes, including the typical U.S. and international stocks and bonds as well as alternatives, and cash. Portfolios follow the time-tested modern portfolio theory (MPT) asset allocation model with a unique equal sector weighting for the equity portion of the investments. 

The U.S. equity portion of portfolios, includes a diversified mix of at least 70 individual stocks. Individual stocks, in lieu of ETFs, allows Personal Capital to apply their tactical weighting strategy and better implement tax optimization. Like Vanguard, Personal Capital includes size and strategy allocations that tap mid- and small-capitalization along with value and growth companies. 

  Vanguard Personal Capital 
Individual Stocks  No Yes
Mutual Funds  Yes  No 
Fixed Income  Funds only  Funds only 
REITs  Yes  Yes 
Socially Responsible or ESG Options  Yes   Yes 
ETFs  Yes   Yes 
Non-Proprietary ETFs  No - In most cases Vanguard ETFs and mutual funds are used Yes 
Mutual Funds  Yes   No
Forex  No  No 
Crypto  No  No 

Portfolio Customization

Vanguard is known for its broad customization options, implemented in collaboration with your financial advisor. You and your advisor can use the available Vanguard products to customize any aspect of the portfolio including adding ESG and a modicum of company stock or individual securities. These additional investments are allocated on a case-by-case basis. The private equity options at Vanguard are offered in partnership with private equity provider HarbourVest. Investors who want extensive customization which includes actively managed funds, might gravitate towards Vanguard. 

In collaboration with your financial advisor, Personal Capital  portfolios are customized according to your financial situation and goals. After calculating the rate of return needed to reach your goals, and reviewing all of your investments, Personal Capital designs a customized asset allocation. Socially responsible investing (SRI) is available for those that desire to invest with their values as well. At Personal Capital, private equity is only available to those with $5 million or more. 

In collaboration with a financial advisor both Vanguard and Personal Capital offer customized portfolios, although the assets and strategies are unique to each investment manager. 

Portfolio Management

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services manages your portfolio like most other robo-advisors and reviews the asset allocation quarterly. Assets are rebalanced back to your preferred asset mix when they deviate 5% from the target range. Although external accounts might be linked, they don’t influence rebalancing and are only considered for goal planning.

At Personal Capital, rebalancing occurs when your financial situation changes or assets drift too far from the predetermined asset allocation. Changes in asset mix might also occur when the Personal Capital investment committee changes course due to a shift in the economy. 

At both Vanguard and Personal Capital, portfolio adjustments can be implemented in conjunction with your financial advisor.

Tax-Advantaged Investing

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services strives to implement tax-efficient strategies when managing your portfolio. These might include adding municipal bond funds to a taxable account, or strategically allocating assets among taxable and retirement accounts. At present, Vanguard doesn’t offer tax-loss harvesting. 

Personal Capital’s tax minimization strategies include tax-loss harvesting and are more comprehensive than those at Vanguard. Personal Capital avoids mutual funds and claims that they are tax-inefficient. Personal Capital populates the U.S. equity portion of the portfolio with individual stocks to improve tax-loss harvesting opportunities. Personal Capital also uses asset location strategies to minimize taxes. 

When it comes to tax minimization strategies, Personal Capital is a step ahead of Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.

Key Portfolio Management Features
  Vanguard PAS Personal Capital 
Automatic Rebalancing Quarterly-When portfolio drifts 5% from target Yes - as needed
Reporting Features  Online dashboard, annual checkups, monthly statements, annual tax reporting Online dashboard with scores of budgeting, saving, investing reports. Monthly statements, annual tax reporting
Tax-Loss Harvesting  No  Yes 
External Account Syncing/Consolidation  Yes - Used for goal planning, not portfolio management or rebalancing Yes - including investment, bank, debt, and custom. Yields comprehensive financial reports 

Security

Security protocols are up-to-date at both PAS and Vanguard.

Vanguard

  • Encryption
  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) validation
  • Username and password protection
  • Account activity alerts
  • Security questions for user authentication
  • Masking digits to protect bank account information
  • A member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) carrying excess insurance

Personal Capital

  • Includes two-factor authentication
  • Firewalls and perimeter security for data centers in compliance with international standards
  • Military grade data encryption
  • Continuous account monitoring with emails for all activity 
  • Member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC)

Investors can be confident that their identity and data receives the highest levels of security protection at both Vanguard and Personal Capital. 

User Experience

Desktop

The Vanguard Personal Advisor Services home page is informative and answers most questions regarding their platform. The fee slider shows how much you’ll pay in management fees at any account value. The account dashboard and reporting is adequate and lacks the expansive free financial management tools available at Personal Capital.  In general,the Vanguard website is due for a face lift. 

Personal Capital’s website is among the easiest to navigate, with all major categories listed on the menu bar including Banking, Investing, Planning, and Wealth Management. The Wealth Management vertical takes you to the fee-based advisory service with easy access to your financial advisor and the educational blog. The main dashboard is your financial roadmap to all of your finances, those managed by Personal Capital and those held outside of the platform. Personal Capital is well-regarded for their free financial tools which offer retirement planning, investment check up, fee analyzer, spending, debt, and investment account management and reports.

Mobile App 

Vanguard has one investment app and does not offer a dedicated mobile app for Personal Advisor Services. Users can view their investments and basic account information on the app. While the iOS app is highly regarded, the Android app is not well-liked by most reviewers.

Both Personal Capital’s iOS and android apps are well-regarded and include the majority of features found on the desktop version. There are a few of the typical issues mentioned including occasional difficulty syncing accounts. In general, the mobile app is equal to or better than most financial apps. 

Those who value superior user experience, on desktop and mobile will gravitate towards Personal Capital. They have the best platform accessibility and their free tools are superb and available to account and non-account holders. Moreover, the Personal Capital app is superior to Vanguard’s mobile offering.

Customer Service

This section compares the accessibility of and the mediums through which customer service is available, as well as whether customers can speak with a financial advisor.

  Vanguard PAS Personal Capital 
Phone contact available Yes - Monday - Friday 8am to 8pm Yes - Monday - Friday business hours
Pre-funding phone consultation with certified advisor  Yes  Yes 
Online chat available  Yes - video chat available  By appointment, with your financial advisor 
Website FAQ section  Yes  Yes 

Fees

The fee structure at Vanguard is significantly lower than at Personal Capital, although both firms use low fee investment funds and don’t levy transaction fees or commissions. Both platforms charge portfolio management fees based upon the assets under management (AUM).

Vanguard is among our lowest priced hybrid digital robo-advisor plus human financial advisor platform. Vanguard charges 0.30% of AUM, and it’s important to note that their financial advisors aren’t paid on commission. This eliminates conflicts of interest. Only SoFi and SigFig offer lower management fees, with SoFi offering fee free investment management and access to financial advisors. While Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolios Premium offers a low subscription pricing of $30 per month, plus a one time $300 setup fee. Vanguard Personal Advisor fees also go down further after managed assets go beyond $5,000,000, with the service costing 0.20% AUM between $5-$10 million, 0.10% AUM between $10-$25 million, and 0.05% above $25 million.

Personal Capital Advisors also charges a declining fee schedule based on assets under management. It starts at 0.89% for the first million and works down in steps to 0.49% for accounts over $10 million. The financial advisors are compensated with a base salary and incentives based upon assets under management. 

Account Value Personal Capital Management Fee  Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Management Fee 
$100,000 to $1 million 0.89% 0.30% 
First $3 million  0.79%  0.30% 
$3 million - $5 million  0.69%  0.30% 
$5 million - $10 million  0.59%  0.20% 
Over $10 million  0.49%  0.10% 
Over $25 million  0.49%  0.05% 

The management fees at Vanguard Personal Advisor Services are significantly lower than those at Personal Capital.

Category Vanguard PAS  Personal Capital 
Management fees for $5,000 account N/A N/A 
Management fees for $25,000 account  N/A  N/A 
Management fees for $100,000 account  $300 per year  $890 per year
Termination fees  N/A  Unknown 
Expense ratios  Low - based upon the fund  0.08% average ETF expense ratio 
Mutual funds  Low - based upon the fund  N/A 

Our Take

Although both Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and Personal Capital target higher net-worth investors, it is difficult to compare the two directly. Vanguard PAS charges much less in fees than Personal Capital, but it doesn’t go as far as Personal Capital in replicating the traditional wealth management experience. Personal Capital incorporates a number of personal factors when constructing your investment mix. It also uses a sector weighting for the equity portion of the portfolio and also employs both tactical and dynamic asset allocation shifts. For those with taxable accounts, the tax loss harvesting feature at Personal Capital might be of interest. The free portfolio management, retirement planning, and other tools are outstanding. 

That said, anyone, client or not, can access those tools. The biggest drawback of Personal Capital are the fees. These are lower than with most traditional financial planners and investment advisors, but are higher than many hybrid robo-advisors, including Vanguard Personal Advisor Services’ fees. Vanguard’s PAS offers access to a financial advisor plus digital wealth manager for significantly lower costs and investment minimums than at Personal Capital. If you have between $50,000 and $99,999, then Vanguard is the only choice. Those seeking a wider range of funds, including actively managed ones, will find them at Vanguard as well. Investors can also access private equity at Vanguard Personal Advisor Services at a lower account value compared to Personal Capital. 

A core feature of both hybrid digital investment managers is that you can interview the financial advisors before investing. At Personal Capital, you’re also eligible to receive an individualized portfolio analysis and discussion with an advisor before signing up. 

FAQ

Which is best, Personal Capital or Vanguard Personal Advisor Services?

It depends upon how much money you have to invest, whether you’d like tax-loss harvesting, and which investment management style you prefer. You need $100,000 to invest with Personal Capital and $50,000 to get started with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. Only Personal Capital offers tax-loss harvesting and they each offer distinct investment management approaches. 

Is Personal Capital free?

Personal Capital offers free financial and investment management software including retirement planning tools. The Wealth Management advisors charge a fee to manage your assets. 

Methodology

Our mission at Investopedia is to provide investors with reviews and ratings of robo-advisors that are comprehensive and unbiased. Our team of researchers and expert writers, led by Michael Sacchitello, spent months evaluating all aspects of a robo-advisor’s platform, including the account setup process, goal planning tools, account service options, portfolio construction offerings, portfolio management, mobile and desktop user experience, educational content, fees, and security. As part of this evaluation, we extract critical data points that are weighted by our quantitative model that produces a powerful star-scoring system.

With the individual investor in mind, we’ve designed a comprehensive ranking methodology to find the best overall robo-advisors and the best robo-advisors across nine key categories. Each advisor is then scored across multiple variables to rate performance in every applicable category. The score for the overall award is a weighted average of the categories.

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Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of robo-advisors. Our 2019 reviews are the result of six months of evaluating all aspects of 32 robo-advisor platforms, including the user experience, goal setting capabilities, portfolio contents, costs and fees, security, mobile experience, and customer service. We collected over 300 data points that weighed into our scoring system.

Every robo-advisor we reviewed was asked to fill out a 50-point survey about their platform that we used in our evaluation. Many of the robo-advisors also provided us with in-person demonstrations of their platforms.

Our team of industry experts, led by Theresa W. Carey, conducted our reviews and developed this best-in-industry methodology for ranking robo-advisor platforms for investors at all levels. Click here to read our full methodology.