Wealthfront vs. Vanguard – Which Robo-Advisor is Best for You?

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Wealthfront vs Vanguard Digital and Personal Advisor Services

This comparison of Wealthfront vs. Vanguard Digital and Personal Advisor Services showcases two powerful robo-advisors.

Wealthfront or Vanguard – which one is for you?

The Vanguard robo advisors and Wealthfront have some vast differences, most notably target clientele, live advisors, and fees. But both are well-known names in the financial sector, with solid historical performance and a knack for appealing to their clients’ needs.

*This article contains affiliate links to help pay for this website. That said, our reviews are held to the highest standards of honesty.

Currently, Vanguard owns the title of robo-advisor with the most assets under management, at $161 billion. While Wealthfront holds the 4th place in the robo-advisor AUM race with $21 billion AUM.

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard—Top Features

FeaturesWealthfrontVanguard Digital and Personal Advisor
OverviewGoals-based robo advisor investment manager with digital financial advice, cash management, and lending.2 Robo Advisor Options:
Digital Advisor-Computerized investment manager
Personal Advisor Services-Hybrid live financial advisor and computerized investment management
Minimum Investment Amount$500Digital - $3000
Personal Advisor - $50,000 (can be spread across multiple Vanguard accounts)
Free ServicesFree portfolio review, home buying guide, and financial education info.

Vanguard website offers a wealth of tools and educational materials.

Fee Structure0.25%  AUM

Digital - 0.15% AUM
Personal Advisor -
0.30% AUM on assets up to $5 million
0.20% AUM on assets between $5-10 million
0.10% AUM on assets between $10-25 million
0.05% AUM on assets over $25 million

Top FeaturesAutomated, goal-based investment advisor
Daily tax-loss harvesting
Smart beta and risk parity investing
Individual stocks for large accounts
Cash management and borrow
Digital - Low fee ETFS, Considers all investments, retirement focused.
Personal Advisor-The human financial advisor drives the entire process. Together, you and the advisor create a customized investment plan.
Investment FundsLow fee exchange traded funds from diverse asset classes. Individual stocks - for accounts over $100,000.Digital - 4 Vanguard ETFs
Personal Advisor - Low fee stock & bond mutual funds and ETFs selected from among the scores of Vanguard funds. Includes passive and actively managed.
Accounts AvailableIndividual and joint investment accounts. Roth, traditional, SEP and rollover IRAs. Trusts. 529 college savings plan accounts. HIgh yield checking/savings account with debit card.

Individual & joint investment accounts. Roth, traditional, SEP, Simple & rollover IRAs. Trusts. 

Contact & Investing AdvicePhone M–F 10 am–8 pm EST
Email-24/7
Customer support - Phone 8 am - 8 pm est M-F, Email 24/7, Extensive support articles online
Digital - No live financial advisor available.
Personal Advisor - Can schedule live online appointment with advisor during normal business hours. 
Cash ManagementHigh yield cash account with debit card and many features.The Vanguard platform offers cash money market accounts and CDs. These are bought through a brokerage account at Vanguard, not either robo-advisor.
Borrowing - MarginWealthfront Borrow or Portfolio line of credit allows customers to borrow approximately 30% of their account value for a low interest rate. Only available for accounts greater than $25,000. Money may be used for any purpose.Offers margin loans through a brokerage account not within the the digital and personal advisors accounts.
PromotionsGet first $5,000 managed for free with this link. N/A

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard—Overview

What are Vanguard Digital and Personal Advisor Services?

Vanguard, well-known for lo fee index mutual funds, is the powerhouse behind the 2 Vanguard robo-advisors:

  • Digital Advisor Services – an automated investment manager
  • Personal Advisor Services – a comprehensive hybrid live and digital investment advisor.

Vanguard Digital Advisor

LIke many of its robo-advisor competitors the digital advisor creates a well-balanced investment portfolio that reflects your goals, age, and risk level. The Vanguard Digital Advisor is a basic robo advisor with rebalancing and goal based investing.

Vanguard Personal Advisor

The Personal Advisor robo-advisor begins the investment process with a human financial advisor, who acts as the point person in establishing your account. The investment strategy is broader with the Personal Advisor and includes access to both passive and active investment strategies.

With the Personal Advisor Services, you can expect a complete financial plan.

Because of its connection to the larger Vanguard company, the Vanguard robo-advisors offers its clients a host of benefits and services, including access to professional financial advisors for Personal Advisor customers and lower account management fees than most traditional financial advisors.

What is Wealthfront?

Wealthfront may not be part of a larger financial company, but you shouldn’t underestimate it. Wealthfront is one of the earliest and largest stand-alone robo-advisors, so it has longevity and experience on its side.

With low investment management fees, Wealthfront employs state of the art research to craft an efficient, diversified investment portfolio.

This means that your investments are managed in a comparable way to a high fee financial advisor, for a fraction of the cost. Wealthfront’s combination of strategies would take an individual investor or investment manager 105 hours to replicate, according to company research.

Visit the Wealthfront platform and take a look around. You’re eligible for free management if you sign up here.

Investors with Wealthfront can expect a combination of DIY investing and professional digital support—a nice middle ground for investors who feel confident in their risk tolerance but want the failsafe provided by Wealthfront’s Path financial planner. Wealthfront offers a range of digital services for investors at all stages of their financial journey.

Wealthfront Top Features:

  • Daily tax-loss harvesting
  • Path digital financial planner
  • High-yield cash account
  • Wealthfront Borrow – Loans
  • Wealthfront Risk Parity Fund and Smart Beta

Vanguard Top Features:

Digital Advisor

  • Low 0.15% investment management fee.
  • Retirement planning feature which shows how to reach your goals.
  • Invests in 4 low-fee Vanguard ETFs (exchange traded funds).
  • Access to the well-established Vanguard brand.
  • New features coming soon: emergency fund and debt management assistance.

Personal Advisor Services

  • Financial advisors for all account holders – for Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
  • Index and actively managed ETFs and mutual funds – for Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
  • Tiered fees, which range from 0.30% for accounts under $5 mil to 0.05% for accounts over $25 mil – for Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard—Who Benefits?

Seeking a digital automatated investment advisor? Choose Wealthfront

Wealthfront is an affordable and efficient robo-advisor that benefits novice and expert investors alike. Wealthfront is ideal for the investor who’s comfortable with an all-digial investment manager.

Wealthfront is also appropriate for investors seeking lending, cash management, and a comprehensive digital financial advisor.

Vanguard Digital Advisor is appropriate for existing Vanguard clients with at least $3,000 to invest.

For an all digital advisor-we prefer Wealthfront due to their “extras”, low investment minimum, and comprehensive Path online financial advisor. 

Need a Financial Advisor? Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services offers live financial advisors, but you need $50,000 to invest.

Pick Vanguard Personal Advisor Services if you want a financial advisor. 

Low on Cash? Wealthfront

Beginner investors with a small minimum investment amount benefit from Wealthfront. At only $500, this investment amount is within reach of most investors—even those just starting out.

Wealthfront is the clear winner with only $500 to get started.

Take a look around Wealthfront now!

Tax-Loss Harvesting – Wealthfront

Wealthfront will benefit anyone who wants frequent tax-loss harvesting. Wealthfront’s daily tax-loss harvesting offering is much more frequent than other robos on the market.

Vanguard offers tax-loss harvesting on a case-by-case basis.

Go with Wealthfront for Tax-loss harvesting.

Fees and Minimums – Wealthfront

There’s no comparison in this category: The Vanguard Personal Advisor Services robo-advisor is definitely tailored for a wealthier clientele.

In a head-to-head – Wealthfront fees vs Vanguard Personal Advisor Services – Wealthfront comes out ahead.

Wealthfront Digital Advisors wins the “basic robo-advisor” fee contest with an expense ratio of 0.15% of AUM.

wealthfront mobile

Wealthfront vs Vanguard—Deep Dive

Aside from the higher minimums and the live advisors with Vanguard, you are likely wondering what else sets these two robo-advisors apart. This deep dive will showcase other important differences and help you decide, Wealthfront or Vanguard.

Fees and Minimums

Winner: It’s a tie. Fee’s for Vanguard Digital are lower than Wealthfront, but minimums for Wealthfront are the lowest.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

A $50,000 minimum is required for the Vanguard Personal Advisor robo-advisor and comes with a tiered fee system:

  • .30% AUM for accounts under $5 million
  • .20% AUM for accounts over $5 mil and under $10 mil
  • .10% AUM for accounts over $10 mil and under $25 mil
  • .05% AUM for accounts over $25 mil

If you have a lot of money to invest, this tiered fee scale is extremely attractive—.20% AUM fee is practically unheard of.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services has one of the highest minimums of any robo we feature here on Robo-Advisor Pros at $50,000. But, this amount can be spread out over other non-robo Vanguard accounts. Although it is lower than Personal Capital’s $100,000 minimum for their investment Advisory services (remember: Personal Capital has free retirement planning options).

Vanguard Digital Advisor

The Vanguard Digital Advisor requires $3,000 to invest and charges a 0.15% AUM fee. Additionally investors will pay a small amount for ETF management fees. Vanguard’s funds are known as low-fee leaders.

Wealthfront Fees and Minimums

Wealthfront fees and minimums, on the other hand, require only a $500 minimum and charge a low management fee of 0.25% AUM regardless of the size of your investment portfolio.

Investors who are looking for robo-advisors with low minimum investment requirements or account management fees more in line with Wealthfront might consider tossing robo-advisors like Betterment or M1 Finance into the running.

Account Types

Vanguard Personal Advisors

  • Individual and joint investment accounts
  • Roth, traditional, SEP, Simple and Rollover IRAs
  • Trusts

Vanguard Digital Advisor

  • Individual and joint investment accounts
  • Roth, traditional, SEP, Simple and Rollover IRAs

This is a relatively limited account selection for a basic robo. You’ll find greater account choices at many comparison robo advisors.

Although you can access a high yield money market fund at Vanguard, you’ll need to set up a separate account, outside of the robo-advisors.

Wealthfront

  • Individual and joint investment accounts
  • Roth, traditional, SEP, Simple and Rollover IRAs
  • Trusts
  • 529 College Savings Plan
  • High Yield Cash Account

Wealthfront is the only robo-advisor that offers the 529 College Savings account, that we are aware of. This is a big offer for those seeking to invest for a childs education.

Human Financial Planners

Winner – Vanguard Personal Advisors

Vanguard

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services pulls ahead in this category. All portfolios are managed by a combination of human financial planners and algorithm-based robo-advisors. This platform allows you to collaborate as much or as little as you would like.

Vanguard Personal Advisor portfolios valued under $500,000 have access to the team of advisors who manage other accounts as well. Investors with accounts over $500,000 have a designated personal advisor for their portfolios.

Vanguard Digital advisor doesn’t offer financial planner access, although you can talk to a Vanguard service representative for general questions.

Wealthfront

Wealthfront doesn’t offer human financial advisors. The Wealthfront Path financial advisor is the best digital version of a financial planner that we’ve seen. Although, with a low 0.25% investment management fee, Wealthfront users in need of financial planning might consider hiring a fee only financial planner for specific money-related questions and concerns.

Tax-Loss Harvesting

Winner – Wealthfront – with the caveat that you prefer daily tax loss harvesting.

Be aware that more frequent tax loss harvesting might lead to greater tax record keeping.

Vanguard

Vanguard is not against tax-loss harvesting, but they operate on a case-by-case basis for the Personal Advisor Services. One potential benefit to Vanguard’s strategy is that investors can be sure a qualified financial professional is overseeing their tax-advantaged strategies.

Vanguard Digital also performs tax-loss harvesting, when necessary.

Wealthfront

Wealthfront is more proactive in this category, offering tax-loss harvesting on a daily basis. For investors who understand the pros and cons of tax-loss harvesting, this more frequent practice may be valuable come tax time.

As a reminder, tax-loss harvesting only matters in taxable investment accounts. Money within a retirement account isn’t taxed, so won’t benefit from tax-loss harvesting.

Investments

Winnner – Wealthfront wins the digital contest. It’s a tie for Vanguard Personal Advisors vs. Wealthfront.

Both Wealthfront and Vanguard’s robo-advisors offer low-fee index funds for the bulk of their investment portfolios. But, investors who want an opportunity for actively managed investments and more personalized customization might lean towards Vanguard robo investing with the Personal Advisor Services.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

Unlike other robo-advisors, Vanguard does not limit your investment choices strictly to ETF’s. Instead, they are comprised primarily of index funds, but may also include actively managed funds. Because the investment process is directed by a live financial advisor, you have the opportunity for greater customization and personalization.

The core holdings include Vanguard’s low-cost Admiral Shares, including:

Investment Fund CategoryIndex Fund Ticker Symbol
US Total Stock MarketVTIAX
Total Bond Market Index FundVBTLX
Total International Bond Index FundVTABX
Intermediate-Term Investment Grade FundVFIDX
Short-term Investment Grade FundVFSUX
Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (taxable accts only)VWIUX

There are adddtional investment funds available to all of the Vanguard Personal Portfolio robo advisor clients.

Vanguard Digital Advisors

Vanguards Digital Advisor offers four basic Vanguard ETFs, in proportions that reflect your risk level and goals. If you want more than four funds this one isn’t for you.

The following four Vanguard ETFs encompass the US and International stock and bond markets.

List of Vanguard Digital Advisor ETFs

*Funds are subject to change.

We were very impressed with how the portfolios are crafted at Vanguard. They use a risk quiz that is designed by Trueprofile.com, a company that uses economic science to design the risk questionnaire. The tool reveals a true risk tolerance, loss aversion score that will likely lead to the best possible asset allocation.

Wealthfront Investments

Wealthfront’s portfolios are also crafted to fit with specific risk levels. Depending upon your risk tolerance level – from conservative to aggressive – you’ll have varying percentages of stock ETFs vs. bond ETFs. The only way to vary your Wealthfront asset mix is to change your risk tolerance.

We really like Wealthfront’s fund choices, and their chief investment advisor, Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, is one of the greatest investing minds of the past 50 years.

Wealthfront’s fund choices are divided among broadly diversified, low-fee stock, bond and alternative exchange traded funds:

Investment Fund CategoryIndex Fund Ticker Symbol
US Total Stock MarketVTI and SCHB
Foreign Stock - Developed MarketVEA and SCHF
Foreign Stock - Emerging MarketVWO and IEMG
Dividend Appreciation Stock VIG and SCHD
US Treasury Inflation Protected Bond (TIPs)SCHP and VTIP
US Government BondBND and BIV
Municipal BondVTEB and TFI
US Corporate BondLQD
Foreign-Emerging Market BondEMB
Real Estate VNQ and SCHH
Natural Resources (Energy)XLE and VDE

For a nod to active investing, Wealthfront also offers a risk parity fund and smart beta investing options.

While Wealthfront investors have access to the Wealthfront Cash Account. There are no fees levied against investments in the Wealthfront Cash Account.

Goal Setting and Retirement Planning

Winner – It’s a tie.

Vanguard

The Vanguard Personal Advisor with live advice can help you navigate all of your future goals, including retirement planning.

The Digital advisor focuses on the retirement goal.

For DIY calculators and planning, the Vanguard website offers a goals page with tools and calculators to help you plan for a variety of savings goals, emergency fund, and college.

Wealthfront

We love the Wealthfront/planning page which helps you clarify your money goals. Of course, there is a retirement goal planning tool to help ensure a secure tomorrow.

The Wealthfront goal setting assistance answers questions like:

  • Can I buy a home-in this city
  • Am I on track for early retirement
  • Can I take a year off for retirement
  • Can I send my kid to college
  • Project your net worth over time
  • Understand the tradeoffs when you make a financial decision

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard—Loans

Winner-Wealthfront

Vanguard’s robo-advisors don’t offer lending options.

Wealthfront Borrow – Portfolio Line of Credit has no application fees and is available for all customers with an individual, trust, or joint investment account worth $25,000 or more. The loan is available quickly with a low interest rate. It’s a helpful feature to pay for expenses like a vacation or wedding, when you don’t want to sell investments to free up cash.

Security

Winner – It’s a tie. Both platforms are secure.

Vanguard

Vanguard has been around a long time and has well honed security protocols.

Client funds are covered by SIPC (Securities Investor Protection Corporation) and excess insurance. The site uses state of the arti 256-bin SSL encryptioin and provides two-factor authentication.

Wealthfront

Wealthfront partners with expert security companies to create and maintain secure, read-only links. These firms use bank-grade security and employ state of the art data protection. Wealthfront does not store your account password. Read more about Wealthfront Security here.

The Wealthfront Cash account is FDIC insured for up to $1,000,000.

Vanguard vs Wealthfront Promotions

Sign up for Wealthfront with this link and you’ll receive $5,000 managed for free.

Get $5,000 managed for free when you sign up for Wealthfront below:

Wealthfront Invite

Once you are a Wealthfront customer,  you’re eligible for free investment management. When a friend signs up and funds their account, you get $5,000 managed for free. And your friend also gets $5,000 managed for free! It’s a win – win.

At present, there are no specific Vanguard Promotions.  Although the firm is known for low fee funds and customer service for all account holders.

FAQ

Is Wealthfront better than Vanguard?

For all digital and automated investment advice, we prefer Wealthfront due to its greater investment selection and wider range of features. If you’re seeking a robo-advisor with live financial advisors, Vanguard Personal Advisors is better, as Wealthfronts financial advice is all-digital.

Is Wealthfront worth the fee?

We believe that the low 0.25% AUM fee is quite low and a good value for the investment management and advice that you receive. If you’re seeking fee-free investment management then check out these free robo-advisors.

Is investing with Vanguard a good idea?

Vanguard is among the premier financial management companies with a strong legacy of low fee investment advice and products. We have no reservations about the Vanguard investment firm.

Wealthfront vs. Vanguard — Takeaway

Choosing between Vanguard vs. Wealthfront boils down to what you’re seeking in an investment manager. Eash platform is disctinct, so the decision between Wealthfront or Vanguard shouldn’t be difficult.

Both robo-advisors have performed well over the last few years and have demonstrated over time their stability and commitment to their clients. However, that’s about where their similarities end.

For digital investment advice – Wealthfront wins hands down.

Despite not being part of a larger financial institution, Wealthfront is a solid choice. This robo-advisor packs a lot of value into one affordable package. The Path financial advisor is only one of Wealthfront’s offerings that demonstrates the power of a robo-advisor to help keep investors on track for their professional goals.

Since digital investing is Wealthfront’s jam, they do it exceptionally well!

Wealthfront wins – the access competition for new and small investors. Unless you have $3,000 for the Digital Advisors and  $50,000 available to invest in the Personal Advisor, Vanguard may be out of the question.

We also appreciate Wealthfront Cash – the high yield, insured cash account with zero management fees.

In fact, even if you don’t open a Wealthfront investment account, the high yield cash account is a solid choice for emergency and short-term cash needs.

For live financial advisors – Choose Vanguard Personal Advisors.

When considering Wealthfront or Vanguard, and seeking someone to guide the process, Vanguard is the only choice. We like how the advisor guides the process and fees are quite low when compared with traditional financial advisors.

Bit, if you lack the $50,000 minimum investment amount and want a low-fee robo-advisor with access to financial advisors, and a low minimum investment amount SoFi Invest is worth a look. SoFi offers fee-free investment management and live financial advisors.

For more information or to sign up:

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Disclosure: Please note that this article may contain affiliate links which means that – at zero cost to you – I might earn a commission if you sign up or buy through the affiliate link. That said, I never recommend anything I don’t believe is valuable.

 

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