Wealthfront Review 2017

September 14, 2017

Wealthfront is one the largest independent robo-advisors with nearly $8 billion in client assets under management. They have combined the best of modern technology with rigorous investment research to provide diversified, low-cost, tax-efficient portfolios comprised of index ETFs.

In plain English, Wealthfront makes it easy for anyone to get access to a diversified, long-term investment portfolio (and financial advice) without the high fees & account minimums of traditional wealth managers.

Wealthfront offers Cash Cow readers their first $15,000 managed free.  For balances larger than $15,000, the management fee is a flat 0.25% per year.

Wealthfront Background

Since launching in December of 2011, Wealthfront has grown into one of the most sophisticated robo-advisors in the world.

Much of this success can be attributed to Wealthfront’s team of experts. CEO Andy Rachleff is vice chairman of the endowment investment committee at the University of Pennsylvania and a faculty member at Stanford’s School of Business. He was previously the co-founder of Benchmark Capital.

The investment team is led by Burton Malkiel, Ph.D., who is the Professor Emeritus of Economics at Princeton University and author of the best-selling A Random Walk Down Wall Street. Other members of the investment committee hold a doctorate degree or the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation.

Here is an excellent introduction to the company and the service provided:

Wealthfront’s Investment Process

Getting started with Wealthfront takes less than ten minutes. Perhaps more importantly, the onboarding process is 100% free with no strings attached.

You can create a free account, complete the risk tolerance questionnaire, and review Wealthfront’s investment recommendations without paying a dime. Account funding is the last step in the onboarding process (and is entirely optional).

1) Create a free account

After creating a free Wealthfront account, you will be asked to select your investment goal. You can choose between retirement savings, general savings, college education, or something else entirely. Your answer will help Wealthfront suggest the correct type of investment account.

Wealthfront then asks you to complete eight multiple-choice questions about your investment preferences and risk tolerance. The questionnaire is designed to assess your willingness and ability to accept investment risk, and Wealthfront uses this information to recommend an appropriate asset allocation.

Traditionally, risk tolerant investors will own more stocks than bonds, because stocks have historically offered the greatest growth potential.

2) View investment recommendations

After you complete the questionnaire, Wealthfront will explain your assessed risk tolerance on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest risk level. When I went through the process, I scored a 10/10, which is not surprising. I have a long investment horizon, making stocks a great investment choice for me.

Using your risk tolerance and financial goals, Wealthfront recommends a diversified investment portfolio. You can review the detailed investment recommendation before funding your account, providing a layer of transparency that I appreciate.

The investment recommendation varies by account type. If you are opening a taxable account, Wealthfront recommends select ETFs to increase your expected after-tax return. If you are opening a retirement account, Wealthfront recommends a slightly different set of ETFs to maximize potential growth.

For Taxable Accounts, Wealthfront recommends a combination of the following ETFs:

  • Vanguard U.S. Total Stock Market Index (VTI)
  • Vanguard Developed Foreign Stock Index (VEA)
  • Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index (VWO)
  • Vanguard Dividend Yield Stock Index (VIG)
  • State Street Energy Select Sector (XLE)
  • iShares Municipal Bond Index (MUB)

For Retirement Accounts, Wealthfront recommends a combination of the following ETFs:

  • Vanguard U.S. Total Stock Market Index (VTI)
  • Vanguard Developed Foreign Stock Index (VEA)
  • Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index (VWO)
  • Vanguard Dividend Yield Stock Index (VIG)
  • iShares Emerging Market Bond Index (EMB)
  • iShares Corporate Bond Index (LQD)
  • Vanguard Real Estate Index (VNQ)

By combining these various ETF asset classes, Wealthfront investors are able to own thousands of financial securities at a very low cost.

The percentage of each ETF in your portfolio depends on your risk questionnaire. In my example, here is the recommendation for my taxable account:


wealthfront investing review

As you can see, it’s an aggressive mix of 90% stocks, 5% natural resources, and 5% municipal bonds.

If I select a retirement account, Wealthfront recommends a different portfolio:


wealthfront investing

The recommendation is 74% stocks, 16% real estate, and 10% taxable bonds.

Wealthfront makes these recommendations to maximize your after-tax investment returns.

3) Open and fund your account.

If you don’t like the Wealthfront recommendations, you can change your asset allocation by adjusting your risk tolerance. Once you decide on your preferred portfolio, simply click “next” and fund your new account with a minimum of $500. If you aren’t ready to fund your account, you can save Wealthfront’s recommendations in your account and return at a later date.

Wealthing Account Funding

Most account types are supported, including:

  • Traditional & Roth IRA accounts, including 401(k) and 403(b) rollovers
  • Personal and joint brokerage accounts
  • 529 college savings plan
  • Corporate accounts
  • SEP-IRA accounts
  • Trust accounts

Wealthfront Features

Differentiated Asset Location – Wealthfront uses a different mixture of asset classes for your taxable and retirement accounts. For example, because municipal bond interest is exempt from federal taxation, Wealthfront recommends that muni-bonds be held in a taxable account. On the other hand, corporate bond interest is taxed as ordinary income, which is why Wealthfront recommends they be placed in a tax-sheltered account.

Automated Rebalancing – Wealthfront maintains your desired asset allocation over time. Hypothetically, let’s assume that your portfolio begins with an asset allocation of 50% stocks, 50% bonds. Over time, stocks might outperform bonds resulting in a portfolio comprised of 60% stocks, 40% bonds. That’s not ideal because the portfolio now has more risk than you are comfortable accepting. Rebalancing is the act of returning your asset allocation to 50/50. Wealthfront rebalances the portfolio using efficient methods:

  • Intelligent Dividend Reinvestment – Wealthfront automatically reinvests all dividends into the asset class that is underperforming, reducing the need to sell investments.
  • Cash Flow Reinvestment – If you’re adding to your Wealthfront balance over time, they use those funds to automatically purchase the asset class which is underperforming. Again, this maintains your ideal asset allocation without requiring the sale of one asset class (which results in less taxation).

Tax-efficient Withdrawals – When you sell any financial asset in a taxable account, you will realize a gain or loss. The tax consequences of your sale depend on the holding period. If you sell an investment after holding it for 365 days or less, you have a short-term capital gain (or loss). If you sell the investment after holding it for 366 days or longer, that is considered a long-term gain (or loss). Short-term capital gains are treated as ordinary income, while long-term capital gains are taxed a preferential tax rate.

When you request a withdrawal from your taxable account, some of your investment must be liquidated (sold) so that you can receive cash. Wealthfront offers a withdrawal system that is designed to minimize taxation. First, they sell any positions that will result in no taxable gain. Second, they sell any positions that result in long-term capital gains. As a last resort, they sell the positions that result in short-term capital gains.

Wealthfront’s Selling Plan – Many professionals receive company stock as part of a compensation package, but it’s risky to have a sizable portion of your wealth tied to a single company’s stock. The Wealthfront selling plan allows you to sell your company shares gradually (and commission-free), minimizing taxation in the process. Doing this on your own is expensive and time-consuming, and Wealthfront is the only company to offer this service.

Passive Plus Investing and Tax-Loss Harvesting

Wealthfront now offers three unique features designed to increase your return on investment and reduce your tax liability.

1) Daily Tax-Loss Harvesting – Free for all taxable Wealthfront accounts, tax-toss harvesting is the process of selling investments that have declined in value and replacing those investments with highly correlated alternatives.

By selling an investment at a loss, you earn the right to deduct that loss from your taxable income – thus lowering your annual tax burden. By replacing the original investment with a highly correlated alternative, the risk and return profile of your portfolio is unchanged, even as you gain tax savings. These tax savings can then be reinvested to further grow the value of your portfolio.

At Wealthfront, when one of your ETFs drops in value it is automatically sold and quickly replaced by a highly correlated alternative.

2) Tax-Optimized Direct Indexing – Available to clients with $100,000 or more invested in a taxable account, Wealthfront will create your own index portfolio, harvesting losses among the individual stocks in the S&P 500 or S&P 1500. This feature is unique to Wealthfront and cannot be found anywhere else.

Instead of using a single ETF investment to implement the U.S. stock allocation of a portfolio (typically Vanguard’s Total Stock Index (VTI)), Tax-Optimized Direct Indexing replaces VTI with individual securities.

Thus, if a single stock in the portfolio is down in value, it can be sold to harvest losses (even if the overall market is up). In Wealthfront’s standard index ETF portfolios, no tax-loss harvesting benefit would be available unless the U.S. stock market ETF (VTI) declined in value.

Wealthfront offers three levels of direct indexing to clients:

  • Wealthfront 100: Available now for taxable accounts of $100,000, the Wealthfront 100 will utilize up to 100 of the largest capitalization stocks from the S&P 500 combined with specific ETFs to provide US stock market coverage equivalent to Vanguard’s Total Stock Market ETF (VTI).
  • Wealthfront 500: Available now for taxable accounts of  $500,000, the Wealthfront 500 utilizes up to 500 stocks from the S&P 500 combined with the Vanguard Extended Market ETF (VXF) to provide US stock market coverage equivalent to Vanguard’s Total Stock Market ETF (VTI).
  • Wealthfront 1000: Available now for taxable accounts of $1,000,000, the Wealthfront 1000 utilizes up to 1000 stocks from the S&P 1500 combined with the Vanguard Small-Cap ETF (VB) to provide US stock market coverage equivalent to Vanguard’s Total Stock Market ETF (VTI).

Wealthfront has written a few research oriented white papers on the topic of tax-loss harvesting. They conclude that a portfolio including Wealthfront’s Daily Tax-Loss Harvesting service and Tax-Optimized Direct Indexing service could add up to 2.03% annually in additional investment returns (compared to VTI only)

3) Advanced Indexing – Halfway through 2017, the Wealthfront investment committee introduced Advanced Indexing, which replaces Direct Indexing in the Wealthfront 500 (requires $500,000) and Wealthfront 1,000 (requires $1,000,000).

Advanced Indexing blends five single-factor strategies (value, momentum, high dividend yield, low market beta, and low volatility) with the cap-weighted market index (VTI) to generate a new modified index. This new index then serves as the benchmark for the tax-loss harvesting algorithm in your portfolio.

Historically, this strategy has provided additional portfolio gains and more opportunities for tax-loss harvesting. When combined with the Daily Tax-Loss Harvesting and Direct Indexing features previously described, Wealthfront estimates the overall after-tax benefit to be as much as 3% each year, as discussed in their latest research.wealthfront smart-beta review

Portfolio Line of Credit

Wealthfront’s Portfolio Line of Credit offers you access to immediate cash without disrupting your investment strategy.

  • Availability: Wealthfront clients with an account valued at $100,000 or more have immediate access to the line of credit.
  • Interest Rate: Your line of credit is secured by your diversified investment portfolio, and current rates are between 3.5-4.5% depending on your account size.
  • Complete Flexibility: Borrow the amount you need, when you need, for any reason. Then repay on your own schedule.
  • No Application or Fees: If your account is eligible, you have a line of credit. Simple as that. No paperwork, credit checks, or application process. Just request the cash (up to 30% of the current value of your Wealthfront account) and Wealthfront sends you the money as quickly as one business day.

This line of credit is an excellent way to obtain cash, should you ever need immediate liquidity.

Path (+ Wealthfront Portfolio Review)

Path is Wealthfront’s financial planning experience – free for all customers.

Path allows you to link all of your external financial accounts through your Wealthfront Dashboard. The service can then evaluate your accounts to measure four important metrics:

  1. Fees
  2. Cash Drag
  3. Tax Efficiency
  4. Diversification

If your external accounts are flawed, Wealthfront offers a unique solution and an opportunity to easily transfer your funds into a new Wealthfront account. Instead of selling everything at once, Wealthfront uses their Tailored Transfer process to migrate your investments tax-efficiently over time.

Path also allows you track your financial progress in real time. Path uses your real transaction history to calculate a rolling 12-month average of how much you’ve been saving and spending, then provides advice on how to achieve your financial goals using this data.

If that’s something you’re interested in, take a look at this video:

College Planning with Path

Wealthfront recently updated Path to include customized college planning advice. With this addition, Path walks you through every important aspect of college planning and delivers a complete, personalized assessment in three steps:

  1. You Select A College – Wealthfront connects to every U.S. college to calculate the estimated cost of tuition, room and board, books, etc. You can change your desired school at any time and the data will update automatically.
  2. Path Calculates Financial Aid – Using outside data for each college and their specific approach to calculating financial aid, along with the personal details that you’ve shared through Path, Wealthfront provides a customized estimate of financial aid per school.
  3. You Choose How Much to Save – Path will show you how far your estimated savings will go towards covering college expenses. Just like with retirement, you can adjust the inputs to see the impact of increased savings. Want to make it personal? You can upload a custom image for each account on your dashboard.

Wealthfront is the only robo-advisor offering a cost-effective 529 plan and a personalized college planning service all in one.

Wealthfront Security and Protection

Wealthfront protects your investments through the following measures:

SIPC Insurance: Wealthfront is protected by SIPC insurance. This insurance covers up to $500,000 in securities for each type of account you hold with Wealthfront. An IRA is considered a different type of account than a taxable account for this purpose, but different types of IRA accounts are considered one account for this purpose. SIPC insurance also covers up to $250,000 in cash.

Third party custodian: Your assets are held in an account at a third-party custodian named Apex Clearing. Wealthfront only has the right to issue trading instructions against your account. The firm cannot access your money, other than to receive the agreed upon advisory fee. You are the only one who can deposit into, or withdraw from your account.

No rehypothecation: Wealthfront clients only have cash accounts (not margin accounts) at Apex Clearing. That means at no time can the cash or securities held in your account be loaned out or borrowed by Wealthfront or Apex.

No proprietary trading: The brokerage partner, Apex Clearing, performs no proprietary trading.

Everything in street name: Wealthfront only invests in SIPC covered securities registered in street name at the Depository Trust Company (DTC). That means the securities purchased on your behalf by Wealthfront are held separately from other Wealthfront assets and remain fully insured.

Wealthfront Fees

For all of the services described in this review, Wealthfront charges an advisory fee of 0.25% per year. Your first $10,000 invested has zero management fees. However, they are currently offering readers of our blog an additional $5,000 managed free for a total of $15,000.

If you were to sign up here to receive $15,000 bonus, here is the total annual cost by account balance:

Total Account BalanceBalance Subject to 0.25% Annual FeeTotal Annual Fee
$10,000$0$0
$25,000$10,000$25
$50,000$35,000$87.50
$100,000$85,000$212.50
$150,000$135,000$337.50
$250,000$235,000$587.50

Wealthfront clients incur no other fees outside of the 0.25% advisory fee. There are no trading commissions, custodial fees, or exit fees if you close your account.

Keep in mind that although Wealthfront charges no additional fees, you will have to pay fees for the underlying ETFs that you own through Wealthfront. You would pay these even if you managed your own portfolio. These are typically around 0.12% annually on top of the 0.25% management fee.

Once you have an account opened and funded, you can get an additional $5,000 managed free for each friend that you invite who opens and funds their account. The person invited gets an additional $5,000 managed for free as well. That’s $5,000 for the both people involved. There’s no limit to the amount you can get managed for free and these funds are managed free for as long as the account remains open.

Possible Drawbacks

No fractional share investingBetterment, M1 Finance, and Motif Investing all allow investors to utilize fractional shares, but Wealthfront does not. For example, Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTI) costs a bit more than $125 per share today. If you only have $100 available in your investment account, these other firms will allow you to purchase a partial share. At Wealthfront, no investment would occur until your account balance exceeds $125.

No cash equivalent investments – At Wealthfront, your money is invested in a blend of stock and bond ETFs. Financial markets are risky, and you can lose your money even in their most conservative portfolio. If you are a very risk averse investor, or if you need immediate access to your funds, consider a savings account.

No customization – Wealthfront recommends a diversified set of ETFs to everyone, but no customization is allowed. For example, if you would rather choose a different type of real estate investment, that’s not allowed. The Wealthfront team makes very good, research-based recommendations, but you can’t replace or delete any of their chosen ETFs.

Wealthfront Review Summary

Wealthfront offers quality asset management and financial planning services at a very reasonable fee. But I think Wealthfront offers even more to a select group of people:

Individuals just getting started: Wealthfront recently lowered their minimum account balance to just $500. When combined with the $15,000 free management offer, Wealthfront is a great option for new investors or individuals wanting to test the service.

Young professionals and families: Wealthfront is focused on offering services and features that directly address the needs of young professionals. The Wealthfront 529 College Savings Plan, Stock Selling Plan, and Path (Financial Planning) are examples of unique services designed to help young families manage their finances.

Individuals who have an extensive network: All investors who sign up through our website begin with $15,000 managed free, but each additional referral results in an additional $5,000 managed free. Someone with an extensive network could have a sizable portfolio managed for free.

Individuals with $100,000 or more to invest in a taxable account: Retirement accounts don’t count because no tax-loss harvesting is available. Taxable account balances in excess of $100,000 receive Wealthfront’s Passive Plus suite of tools, which become increasingly valuable as your account balance grows.

The combination of features offered by Wealthfront is unmatched by other robo-advisors, as detailed in my Wealthfront vs M1 Finance vs Betterment comparison.

Wealthfront Review 2017
Summary
In my opinion, Wealthfront is the best robo-advisor in existence. In 2017 alone, Wealthfront has added several innovative features, including Path financial and college planning, a portfolio line of credit, and the Passive Plus suite of tax reduction tools.
Features9.8
Total Cost9.3
Ease of Use9.2
Customer Support8.4
Investment Options8.6
Strengths
Outstanding tax-loss harvesting
Quality investment recommendations
$15,000 managed free
Innovative features
Weaknesses
Limited customization
No fractional shares
9.1
Overall
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51 Comments on "Wealthfront Review 2017"

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Brian
Brian

Jacob, I’m a Wealthfront customer for about 6 months, and when I look at my contributions 8300 and my total value of the portfolio as being 8540, with a time weight and money weighted return of 8.5 percent. With a simple return of 2.1 percent. Granted there was a larger percentage of the money invested in the last month or so. Am I being duped here or perhaps I just don’t understand the math?

Mark
Mark

I have been investing in Wealthfront for about 2 years. I moved an old IRA to Wealthfront, and I have been investing taxable funds as well. So far I am very happy with them. But the harvested losses are adding up and I can only deduct 3k per year on my taxes. What advantage does this have if I cannot take the deduction. Am I losing through increased trading of my account?

Don
Don

I am considering opening a $2500 Roth IRA with Wealthfront. I would like to keep the money available in case I should need to use it. Is this a wise choice, or would it be better to not use an IRA for this purpose? Thanks.

Wilson
Wilson
I’m 19 and I’ve done 2 summer internships and have a few thousand dollars that I would like to invest and I think Wealthfront would be great for opening up a Roth IRA. What my concern is that I don’t have any knowledge about investing in stocks and bonds. I know that Wealthfront makes you take a risk test which will determine how your assets would be allocated. For example let’s say Wealthfront puts 70% in stocks, 20% in bonds, and 10% in real estate. What does that really mean? How can I watch the stock market to determine how… Read more »
natalie
natalie
Hi, have a personal investment account at wealthfront. So far I’m pleased with an overall 5% rate of return in 4 months. I have a 401k (non matching) and pension plan with work so this additional account is more of a long term savings (not roth eligible). My question is, given that it is liquid, is there any value is putting some money in there that I DO plan to use in the relatively near future? I have a vehicle I’m selling, but plan to use the money in about 6 months to purchase a new one. I’d like that… Read more »
Elizabeth
Elizabeth

I’m in my early 40s and starting a Roth IRA for the first time. Wealthfront seems like a great option; however, if I decide I don’t like it, are there penalties for moving my investment elsewhere? If I wanted to change companies how would I go about doing it?

Also is the .025% fee considered low for the industry? With max contribution I will be >$10K in less than two years. Thanks!

Pree
Pree

I am 28 years old. I recently opened a Roth IRA account with Betterment (90% stock and 10% bonds). I contribute 12% to Roth 401K. My employer matches 33% of the first 6%. I am wondering if it is worth to start a general investing taxable account with Wealthfront considering the first $15K managed for free.

Philip Faulconer
Philip Faulconer
Great and thorough write-up on Wealthfront! One thing with Wealthfront is that, as you point out, you can’t explicitly modify their allocations for you. But the questions you answer in the risk assessment determine your risk tolerance which they encapsulate as a numeric “Risk Score”. While you’re able to influence your asset allocations directly, you are able to change your Risk Score once every thirty days. This gives you the ability to tweak their asset allocation strategy for your account to be more conservative or more aggressive within their strategy and allocation templates. I point this out because I’ve created… Read more »
Bill G
Bill G

Thank you for the thorough explanations! Would you recommend investing ALL funds – taxable, IRAs and 401k, into either Wealthfront? Putting all of my taxable account funds into Wealthfront would exceed the $100,000 limit to take advantage of direct indexing. To simplify things, I’d just as soon have all of my investments in one place, then, so I’d move over my IRAs and 401k. Kind of all my eggs in one basket. Is that too risky? Should I have everything in Wealthfront?

Debra
Debra

Thank you for the great information. You really provide a great resource! My husband and I are considering moving our retirement (SEP-IRA), currently valued at about $225,000 to Wealthfront or Betterment. (I’m 49, my husband is 45). We are currently using a traditional advisor, and I simply can’t stomach the fees any longer. However, in addition to these two robo-advisors, we are also considering Vangard’s Personal Advisor Services in the mix. Any thoughts on how this might compare?

Garret
Garret

I just inherited some money $100K, I have no cc debt, I have an emergency fund. I’ve been sitting on this money for about a year collecting .10% in a saving account at a credit union. I know I need to start making my money work for me. I love the interface and the ETF options with Betterment. They both have Tax-Loss Harvesting. Do you feel that the Tax-Optimized Direct indexing with Wealthfront is enough to tip the scales in their favor (obviously I know its just your opinon.) Awesome blog. Thanks

Steve
Steve

After starting account with $500 minimum is there a feature that allows additional automatic monthly investments? If so, what is the minimum additional monthly investment amount? $100? $500?

Stephen
Stephen

The min amount you can invest at a time with Wealthfront is $100. You may only invest whole dollar amounts.

Carol
Carol

Two questions:
1. Can I ask my money be moved to cash if I anticipate a long term draw down in the market and/or can I invest in reverse ETFs with Wealthfront?
2. I heard of one site that will manage your funds in your existing accounts but I can’t seem to remember the name. Are you familiar with that?

mike
mike

Carol,
Thats what money managing firms do, keep you from getting emotional and taking money out in a bad market. For instance if you doubled down in 2009 instead of selling you make a killing.
How could you as in individual anticipate a long term draw down of the market? If you could do that you wouldn’t need an advisor.
Mike

Brian Atwell
Brian Atwell

Excellent blog with solid feedback. Thank you for all of the advice you have provided. Good to see more people are looking to invest and save as opposed to spend & live paycheck to…

Nicely done!

ed b
ed b

Would wealthfront or betterment be appropriate for a non-profit, say a Rotary Club?

Doofus
Doofus

Yes!

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