Wealthfront, our top choice overall for robo-advisors as well as best for goal setting, offers the full package of goal-setting, planning, banking, and investing in an elegant, user-friendly platform. Wealthfront has continued to improve its offering over the past year when we gave it top awards to include a much more robust set of personal banking services.
If you are looking for financial guidance and don’t require it to come from a human, Wealthfront offers fully digital investing for a very competitive price. Wealthfront’s goal-setting and planning technology is excellent and should serve as a model for other robo-advisors to emulate. Setting up a Wealthfront account gives you access to Path, the free financial planning tool that integrates your account data and uses third-party data to better project your financial situation.
New and Notable Updates
- Wealthfront has brought new portfolio customization tools to customers, allowing them to add and remove ETFs, build an ETF portfolio from scratch, and filter investments for factors like ESG.
- Wealthfront has taken huge strides towards its goal of Self-Driving Money with the launch of Autopilot, which monitors bank accounts and moves funds above your monthly spending needs into an investing account or Wealthfront's high-yield savings account.
- Direct deposit of paychecks may give you access to those funds up to two days early.
- Wealthfront's Cash Account is offered in partnership with Green Dot Bank and includes features such as mobile deposit and a network of fee-free ATMs.
- Wealthfront is our best robo-advisor overall and also our best for goal setting.
- The Wealthfront Cash Account can be opened for $1 and carries FDIC insurance.
- Wealthfront's goal-planning process is extremely detailed and gives you a good picture of how much you need to save.
It’s worth taking a look at the scenarios provided by Path, even if you have your primary investment account at another institution. The other pieces of Wealthfront’s offering—Invest, Cash, Save, and Borrow—can help you accumulate wealth, manage your cash, and open a line of credit without any fuss.
In August 2020, Wealthfront acquired Grove, a financial planning startup, as part of the firm's commitment to a vision they call Self-Driving Money. The goal of this vision is to help clients get their bills paid, build an emergency fund, and contribute to their investment portfolios. Pieces of Self-Driving Money are available; this acquisition is another step along the path to completing Wealthfront's plans.
Terrific financial planning that helps you see the big picture.
Goal-setting assistance goes in-depth for large goals, such as home purchases and college savings.
Portfolio line of credit available.
If you have multiple goals, Path shows you the trade-offs you’ll face.
No online chat for customers or prospective customers.
Larger accounts may contain more expensive mutual funds.
The experience of getting started with a Wealthfront account varies depending on how many other financial institutions and assets you will connect to your plan. If it’s just a checking account, it will go fairly quickly. However, you can put a lot of information into Wealthfront, and you will benefit from this effort with better goal planning later on. For example, you can put the value of your house into your assets along with the offsetting mortgage.
Once your information is all entered—including IRAs and 401(k)s, as well as any other investments you might have, such as a Coinbase wallet—Wealthfront shows you a picture of your current situation and your progress towards retirement. All of this is done without talking to an advisor, unlike some robo-advisors that have made a session with a human advisor part of their setup process.
To determine the portfolio you’ll invest in, you’re asked a few questions about your attitude towards risk and when you might need the money. You’re shown the exact portfolio prior to funding your account. While this portfolio wasn't able to be customized previously, in May 2021, Wealthfront gave new and existing customers the ability to customize portfolios. Clients with more than $100,000 in a Wealthfront investing account can choose a stock portfolio rather than a portfolios of ETFs. You can also put some companies on a restricted list if you’d rather not invest in them.
Wealthfront allows you to open taxable individual, joint and trust accounts, as well as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, and 401(k) rollovers. Wealthfront also allows you to open a 529 college savings account, which is rare among robo-advisories. Fees are slightly higher for 529 accounts when compared with other Wealthfront accounts, since these plans include an administrative fee.
Goal planning and tracking are where Wealthfront shines. Your dashboard shows all of your assets and liabilities, giving you a quick visual check-in on the likelihood of attaining your goals.
If a home purchase is in your plans, Wealthfront connects to Redfin to help you estimate how much a house in a particular geographic location will cost. Similarly, college savings scenarios have cost estimates for numerous U.S.-based universities. College expense projections include not just tuition, but also room and board, as well as other expenses including travel.
Wealthfront’s use of third-party data makes it incredibly useful for all sorts of planning and you may find yourself running scenarios far beyond your current investment needs. You can even figure out how long you can take a sabbatical from work and travel, while still making your other goals work.
Wealthfront adds additional goals to the suite based on customer feedback, so be sure to speak up if the one you want is missing.
Automatic deposits are easy to set up with Wealthfront since your bank account is linked during the onboarding process. Clients with more than $25,000 in their accounts can borrow up to 30% of the value of their accounts using Wealthfront’s portfolio line of credit at interest rates of 2.45-3.70% as of September 2020. You can pay the loan back on your own schedule. If the value of your investments drops significantly, you may be asked to pay back the loan faster.
Wealthfront also offers a cash management account paying 0.10% interest as of April 2021. The interest rate fluctuates depending on the Federal Funds rate. It’s a separate account from the investing account, but you can move money back and forth easily.
The Wealthfront Cash Account allows clients to set up direct deposit for their paychecks and have that amount credited two days early. Automatic payments can also be set up from a Cash Account. When making a purchase using a Wealthfront debit card, you can take out cash or use a fee-free ATM. The account includes the ability to transfer money and pay bills.
Autopilot, a unique feature launched in September 2020, is a major step on the path to Wealthfront's goal of "self-driving money." To use it, you set a bank account that you want to monitor, which could be Wealthfront Cash or an external bank account. Then you define the maximum balance for that account based on your monthly bills. With autopilot on, an excess of $100 is transferred to a Wealthfront account of your choosing. You get an email when Autopilot finds extra money and you have 24 hours to cancel it, so the feature is automatic but still controllable.
Wealthfront follows Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) in creating the asset allocations in your portfolio. There are 20 different portfolios available based on client risk scores. Wealthfront primarily uses low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to cover 11 asset classes, not including cash. The asset classes are:
- U.S. stocks
- Foreign stocks
- Emerging market stocks
- Dividend stocks
- Real estate
- Treasury inflation-protected securities
- Municipal bonds
- Corporate bonds
- U.S. government bonds
- Emerging market bonds
- Natural resources
The ETFs covering these asset classes are provided by the usual suspects including Vanguard, Schwab, iShares, and State Street. Although Wealthfront prefers ETFs for their tax efficiency, there can be mutual funds in the offering. Large accounts are able to invest in Wealthfront’s Risk Parity mutual fund, for example, which carries a higher expense ratio in exchange for offering high-net-worth clients potentially higher returns. Also, Wealthfront will accept and manage mutual funds as part of an account that has been transferred in, so long as they fit the allocation needs. However, these mutual funds will likely be replaced over time with more tax-efficient ETFs.
Wealthfront has also given investors the ability to build their own portfolio from a collection of vetted ETFs selected by their research team. Investors can also choose investment themes such as technology ETFs, socially responsible investing (SRI) ETFs, and so on.
There is no set schedule for rebalancing; Wealthfront’s philosophy is to monitor portfolios and rebalance them when they drift significantly from the target asset allocation strategy. Deposits, withdrawals, and dividend reinvestments can all be used as triggers to rebalance your portfolio. Similarly, if a customer changes her risk score, Wealthfront’s algorithms will transition the asset allocation to match the new score, but it can take some time.
This is because Wealthfront takes tax minimization quite seriously. Wealthfront’s goal is to minimize short-term capital gains and avoid wash sales, and it does this even when accounts are transferred in or stocks are added to your restricted list. Wealthfront has one of the most robust tax-loss harvesting programs of all the robo-advisors. The company has an excellent white paper explaining the process, but rest assured that the methodology is sound and will benefit your portfolio over time.
If you are holding larger amounts with Wealthfront, such as $100,000 or $500,000, the company brings more technology to bear on your account with stock-level tax-loss harvesting and their Smart Beta portfolio weighting, designed to increase your expected returns by weighting the securities in your portfolio more intelligently.
The mobile apps, native iOS and Android, are designed to be extremely simple to use with minimal typing. Data inputs, such as dates and monthly deposits, are displayed on sliders or drop-down menus to avoid making typos. When linking external accounts, however, you still have to enter your user IDs and passwords. The workflow for a new account is logical and easy to follow.
Wealthfront was initially designed to be a mobile experience, so the desktop platform takes advantage of the additional real estate. The design is clean and all the primary information is easy to find, especially when you are searching in the help center.
Wealthfront is taking its non-human approach seriously. It does not have an online chat feature on its website or in its mobile apps. There is a customer support phone line staffed by licensed professionals, who can help you with anything from a forgotten password to a question about your portfolio. Most support questions posed on their Twitter feed are answered relatively quickly, though we saw one that took more than a week before there was a response.
Education & Security
Wealthfront does a terrific job helping its clients figure out a financial plan. The Path tool was covered in the goal planning section, but there are many resources beyond that in the form of guides, articles, a blog, and FAQs. In terms of the nitty-gritty details on using the platform, there is a lot of help on the website and most of it is accessible through the mobile apps as well.
Wealthfront is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and client accounts are protected up to a maximum of $500,000. The site actually has an article on why SIPC insurance doesn’t protect investors in the way they think it does, but the company still holds the coverage—likely because they have faced too much client friction on the matter. The separate cash account is FDIC insured. The specific details on the site security were not given, but Wealthfront’s site states that it uses third-party providers that “employ robust, bank-grade security and follow data protection best practices.”
Commissions & Fees
Wealthfront’s fee structure is very simple and very competitive: 0.25% of your portfolio, assessed monthly. There are no fees charged for cash balances. The ETFs that make up most of the portfolios have annual management fees of 0.07%–0.16%. Larger portfolios enrolled in the Smart Beta program may be invested in funds with slightly higher management fees. It is worth noting that the lack of trading, withdrawal, and transfer fees is integral to the tax management strategy that would otherwise cost you a lot to implement—possibly wiping out the tax savings entirely.
- Monthly cost to manage a $5,000 portfolio: $1.04
- Monthly cost to manage a $25,000 portfolio: $5.21
- Monthly cost to manage a $100,000 portfolio: $20.83
Is Wealthfront a Good Fit for You?
If Wealthfront succeeds in becoming your digitally managed, all-in-one financial solution, it is possible that the robo-advisor function will be overshadowed. As it stands now, however, it is an impressive platform for algorithmic portfolio management. One of the few knocks on Wealthfront was that it didn't offer you a lot in terms of customization. Given the 2021 updates to the portfolio construction, allowing investors to add and remove ETFs, filter for specific themes, and build from scratch, this no longer applies. The customization is up to the level you would have running your own portfolio with an online brokerage, but that is not the point of a robo-advisor. If you are looking to make regular deposits to a portfolio and not worry about it, Wealthfront is more than up for the job. If you want to make a few tweaks to that portfolio to better fit your individual values, Wealthfront allows you to do that as well.
Wealthfront's planning tools are spectacular and definitely worth a look, even if you don’t intend on funding your account. If you do decide to go forward, you will be getting one of the most competitively priced robo-advisors with among the most robust tax minimization methodologies available. The cash management features, especially with Autopilot enabled, are a huge help.
Investors using Wealthfront have to be ready to leave the crutch of human advisors behind, but it makes the prospect of welcoming our robot overlords a lot more appealing than you’d think—at least in terms of helping you achieve your financial goals.
Wealthfront is a great solution for many types of investors. See how it compares against other robo-advisors we reviewed.
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Investopedia Robo-Advisor Rating Methodology
Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of robo-advisors. Our 2020 reviews are the result of in-depth evaluations of over 20 robo-advisor platforms, including the user experience, goal-setting capabilities, portfolio construction, costs and fees, security, mobile experience, and customer service. You can read our full robo-advisor rating methodology for a much more in-depth explanation than the summary below.
Overall Star Rating Explained
With the individual investor in mind, we took a critical look at the services and technology provided by robo-advisors. We organized our methodology into nine categories, scoring each advisor 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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The Review Process
To evaluate these platforms, we sent questionnaires with over 100 queries to the participating robo-advisories. Most of the companies we reviewed gave us socially-distanced video demonstrations of their platforms and services during August 2020.
From the questionnaires, the hands-on testing of the platforms, and the platform demonstrations, we scored each category and then combined the category scores into an overall rating for each robo-advisor. Each category covers the critical elements users need to thoroughly evaluate a robo-advisor.