You know a couple weeks ago when I told you that I was finally going to open a retirement account? I said I was going to open an SEP IRA.
Well, I lied. Kind of.
You see, I had every intention of opening an SEP IRA. So when I was ready to open my retirement account I started weighing options. Which brokerage should I go with?
I started reading reviews. Then I would go to each website and check them out.
And with my beginner investing abilities I wanted to go with something easy. Something really easy.
With that said, I'm loving Betterment.
For those of you who have yet to open a retirement account let me tell you why we think it's a top choice for a robo-advisor to help you manage your investments. Check it out in our Betterment review.
- Robo-advisor that allows automatic investing
- 0.25% to 0.40% per year management fees
- Has free checking and a high-yield savings account
0.25% to 0.40%
Taxable, IRA, SEP, Checking, Savings, And More
Up to 1 Year Free
How Does Betterment Work?
When you create an account Betterment will ask you some basic questions about yourself in order to determine your risk tolerance.
They use these questions as well as your age to determine this.
After answering my set of questions they determined my risk allocation to be 90 percent stocks and 10 percent bonds. Yep, sounds about right to me!
After determining your risk allocation you can then set up your chosen an account (which takes about a minute) and create a goal.
The accounts you can set up are:
- Roth IRA
- Traditional IRA
- SEP IRA
- House Down Payment Savings
- Education Savings (not to be confused for a 529 college savings account, Betterment's Education Savings is not tax advantaged.)
- General Savings (Feel free to name this what you want.)
After setting up your account and linking up your bank info you simply choose a goal and Betterment will give you advice.
How Is Your Money Invested?
The next thing you’re probably wondering is how will your money be invested?
Here is an example:
You do no work at all here. You simply deposit your money and Betterment invests it for you. And you can adjust your allocation ratio at any time.
If you feel the allocation they give you is either too risky or too boring simply adjust it to what you prefer!
What Are The Minimums, Deposits, and Fees?
My favorite part about Betterment?
There are no minimums to open an account and no required automatic deposits. This is perfect news for beginner investors with little money to put down!
With that being said, they have two different plans:
Digital Plan - 0.25% AUM
A “digital” plan, what I signed up for, costs a straightforward 0.25% fee of the account balance. That means if you deposit $10k into a Betterment account, the annual fee will be $25. Not bad.
What you get in exchange for that fee (straight from their website):
- Personalized financial advice
- Low-cost, globally diversified investment portfolios
- Automatic rebalanced
- Advanced tax-saving strategies
- Your entire financial picture in one place (you can sync external accounts)
- Reliable customer service
Premium Plan - 0.40% AUM
Betterment also offers a “premium” plan, which costs 0.40% annually and requires a $100k minimum balance. Included in this price is what you would expect, much more hands-on and personal advice regarding your financial situation. For example, the premium service includes:
- All the benefits listed as part of digital plan
- In-depth advice on investments outside of Betterment (such as 401(k)s, real estate, etc.)
- Unlimited access to Betterment’s team of CFPs. These are real humans that can advise you on planning for a child, buying a home, retiring, etc.
Right now you can get up to 1 year of free management when you sign up for Betterment using our special link.
Betterment Financial Advice
What if you have the digital plan but still want to actually talk to someone and get some real help or advice? Betterment has that too.
Customers at any balance can purchase individual financial advice packages to receive in-depth guidance around various life events. These packages include a personalized action plan and educational content related to the life event or financial goal they are seeking guidance on. All calls will be handled by a CFP or licensed financial expert.
The currently have 5 different packages, ranging in price from $299 to $399. Unlike their management fee for your portfolio, this is a one-time fee. The packages are:
These are great deals because you likely won't be able to speak to a financial planner for less. It can be especially good if you just want to talk about one specific goal or plan.
Betterment has launched the Betterment Checking account, which is a free checking account that works seamlessly with Betterment's other products - Cash Reserve and their robo-advisor.
This account has a lot of great features:
- Get ATM fees reimbursed directly to your account worldwide, where Visa is accepted.
- Visa foreign transaction fees reimbursed
- Mobile check deposit
- No monthly maintenance fees, no minimum balances, and no overdraft fees
- Checking is FDIC insured up to $250,000 (through NBKC Bank)
This account is promising, and will likely compete well with the best free checking accounts currently out there.
Betterment Cash Reserve
Betterment Cash Reserve is Betterment's savings account. The Cash Reserve account is a cash management savings account that has a top yielding account with no fees. In fact, this account is "outside" the management product, so you get the full APY on your money.
Right now, you can earn 1.10% APY. And deposits are insured by the FDIC up to $1 million.
See how it compares on our list of the best high yield savings accounts.
Are There Any Additional Features And Perks?
Betterment has a ton of additional features that may be of interest to some - especially if you want to at least know what's going on with your investments even if you maintain a hands-off approach.
Some of the key ones include:
This was one of the early features of Betterment that set it apart from other companies. If you have a taxable account, you can leverage tax loss harvesting to potentially boost your returns over the long run. What happens is when your investments lose value, Betterment can sell them to help offset the taxes that come with income and capital gains.
This strategy is usually employed by sophisticated investors, but Betterment's technology enables it for everyone.
Betterment's software is designed around goals - with one of the biggest being retirement. Their retirement tools are easy to understand and helpful for calculating both what you'll have and what you'll need.
One thing we noticed is that their tools actually factor in an early retirement, unlike other tools on the market. This is great for those looking to FIRE.
Cash Analysis, Two-Way Sweep
One of the great things about Betterment is that it's set and forget - but one thing you typically have to set is at least a deposit into your Betterment account. Now, with their Betterment Everyday program, you can setup a minimum amount to keep in your checking account, and Betterment will sweep the rest into your Betterment account.
Then, of you just want to keep cash on hand, Betterment has an Everyday account that could earn you more than 20x the average savings account. This is a great way to keep cash without worrying about having to open another account at another bank.
Finally, Betterment is introducing a Two-Way Sweep - which combines the best of the above. Two-Way Sweep allows you to take your extra cash and invest it in your Smart Saver account. When you need it, they'll move it back to your checking account.
Read our full Betterment Smart Saver review here.
Socially Responsible Investing
If investing in companies that align with your values is important to you, Betterment also offers a Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) portfolio. It's not a perfect fit for SRI investors. But it's a good mix of SRI and performance.
Betterment's SRI portfolio aims to maintain the diversified, low-fee approach of Betterment's portfolio while increasing exposure to companies that meet SRI criteria.The great thing here is that you can get SRI investing at the same pricing you'd normally pay Betterment.
Finally, for individuals interested in giving, Betterment has a charitable giving program where you can donate shares from your taxable accounts to a charity that Betterment has partnered with.
Betterment will calculate and recommend donating shares that you’ve held longer than one year so that the gift can be deducted up to the maximum amount come tax time. This can be a great way to contribute to a charity and maximize your tax benefits.
How Does Betterment Compare?
While Betterment has a lot going for it, but it's not the only robo-advisor in town. While it does rank on our list of the Best Robo-Advisors, it does have some close competition.
Check out this quick comparison:
0.25% to 0.40%
0.15% to 0.30%
$3,000 to $50,000
Auto and Human
Auto and Human
How Do I Contact Betterment?
There's a reason why Betterment calls itself a robo-advisor. It tries to automate as many services as possible. And that means it will try to push customers towards non-personal support options as often as possible.
If you're on the Premium plan, you'll obviously have unlimited access to CFPs. But if you're a Checking, Cash Reserve, or Digital Plan client who's just looking to get general account help, you'll have a hard time accessing human support.
When you visit Betterment's "Contact" page, you'll find several Help articles and a live chat service. But you won't find a customer service phone number.
Is It Safe And Secure?
Yes, Betterment's website is secured by HTTPS encryption. It's servers are monitored 24 hours a day and are frequently subjected to internal and external security audits. It also offers two-factor authentication and safer connections to finance services through "App Passwords."
That covers Betterment's data security. But what about financial protection? Investment accounts are protected by SIPC insurance up to $250,000. And Betterment is able to offer up to $250,000 of FDIC insurance on Checking deposits and up to $1 million of FDIC insurance on Cash Reserve deposits through its program banks.
Is It Worth It?
I love Betterment for the fact that it’s so easy. Every single part of the process is simple.
You don’t get charged any transaction fees, you start investing with practically nothing, and your money is invested based on your risk profile.
This is exactly what a beginner needs. Check out Betterment here.
Let's answer a few of the most commonly-asked questions about Betterment:
Can Betterment clients invest in individual stocks?
No, Betterment only offers ETF portfolios that are customized to your risk tolerance and goals.
Can the weightings of Betterment portfolios be adjusted?
Yes, with Betterment's Flexible Portfolio options, you can modify the weights of each asset class or choose not to invest in certain classes.
What happens if Betterment goes out of business?
Betterment is an SIPC member broker, which means that client assets would be protected up to $500,000 ($250,000 maximum for cash) if it were to file for bankruptcy.
Does Betterment offer any fee-free accounts?
Yes, Betterment's Checking and Cash Reserve accounts do not come with any annual advisory fees or monthly maintenance fees. Its advice and planning tools are also accessible to everyone free of charge.
Does Betterment have any bonus offers or incentives?
Yes, readers of The College Investor who open a new account using our special link can get up to one year of free management of an investing account.
Socially Responsible Investments
Access to Human Advisor
Yes, for clients on the Premium plan
Cash Reserve APY
Customer Service Number
Customer Service Email
Other Customer Support Options
CFP Advice Packages
Mobile App Availability
iOS and Android
Up to 1 year free
Commissions And Fees
Ease Of Use
Features And Tools
Betterment is a robo-advisor that offers low cost investing and advice, as well as banking products and fee-only financial advice for a CPA. It’s a strong contender if you want low cost managed help with your finances.
- No minimum to get started
- Automatically invest based on your goals
- Banking services
- Pay for additional help from a CPA
- Limited options for experienced investors
- Cannot setup allocations to include external accounts (like a 401k)
- Doesn’t offer investments in all asset classes
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.