Betterment in a Nutshell
Betterment is all the rage for new investors, and for good reason. Betterment allows normal people to start investing in a proven portfolio of stocks and bonds. With no account minimum and affordable fees, your new Betterment account can be set up to accomplish your investment goals. Betterment’s intuitive website shows you how much you need to contribute for retirement, and you can see how your account will grow over the years in all kinds of market environments. With automated deposits, you won’t have to manage a thing. Betterment’s tax-loss harvesting, automated diversification, Tax-Coordinated Portfolio, and reinvestment of dividends will make your money grow. Finally, Betterment is offering new users 6 months commission-free! It’s affordable. It’s simple, effective investing for the internet generation. Our enthusiasm about Betterment is real. Read on to learn why.
The Betterment Story
Betterment was founded in 2008 by a guy named Jon Stein. He’s still CEO today. The company launched in 2010 after a big debut at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC. Betterment quickly scored $3 million in funding and has enjoyed steady growth ever since. Today, Betterment has more than 150,000 users, and manages more than $4 Billion. The press has been kind to Betterment, and you’ve likely seen glowing reviews in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and CNN. Betterment’s portfolio results have proved that this is more than hype. Betterment is here to stay, and they’re a major player that’s bringing a new generation into intelligent stock market investment.
- Better Investment Performance: Independent investment managers usually charge more than 1% annually, and often fail to beat average (unmanaged) market returns. Betterment has “beaten the market” 88% of the time since its inception, using a portfolio of US and international stocks compiled by their panel of experts. Betterment’s portfolio grew a massive 101.3% between 2009 and 2014. In 2013 the platform boasted 11% growth, with a 70% stock allocation. Betterment’s new user promo makes the service free for a few months when you make sufficient deposit, and there are extra perks for those who refer other users.The Betterment platform performance couldn’t be better. Whether you’re using the platform on your desktop, your cell phone/smartphone, mobile device, or any other piece of tech you can fathom, Betterment runs like butter. It’s a 21st century platform and it just works.
- Better Investment Philosophy: Betterment uses every possible method to save their users money and add value to the platform. These methods include free (!) standard offerings like Tax-Loss Harvesting, Smart Deposit Automation, and a Tax-Coordinated portfolio built on low-cost, high-performance ETFs.
- Better Investment Options: It’s easy to create custom allocations and personalized investment goals. Users can also create a variety of account types, including taxable and non-taxable accounts. We have found every element of the Betterment system to be strong, an investment model that offers the best results to the most people.
FAQ and TL/DR
If you’re too busy to read the full review below, here are answers to your deepest burning questions about Betterment.
- How Does Betterment Work? Betterment takes your money and puts it into low cost ETFs (thousands of stocks sold as a single unit, like individual shares) and stable US bonds. These funds grow steadily most of the time, along with the American and international markets these company stocks compose. Betterment uses a bunch of different methods and technologies to save you money and maximize your returns. Betterment is a great way to create wealth for retirement, for a distant financial goal, or simply to save money without losing value to inflation.
- How Much Does Betterment Cost? Betterment has no minimum balance for new users. Users with up to $10,000 contributed will pay 0.35% annually, as long as they deposit at least $100 every month ($3/month otherwise). $10,001-$99,999 users pay 0.25% annually. $100,000+ users pay only 0.15%. Betterment lowered their fees considerably in 2012, from 0.3-0.9%. There are small fees for ETF purchases, always less than one tenth of one per cent of the purchased amount, automatically deducted from your balance. There’s a promotion for new Betterment users as well; the first 6 months are commission free.
- How to Use Betterment. Just sign up, complete the simple account personalization process, deposit your funds, and watch your returns start to accumulate. Betterment is easier to use than competitors like Motif or eTrade, making it perfect for people just starting their investment journey.
- Betterment Vs. Vanguard. You can technically get the same products from Vanguard for less money than Betterment. In most cases, the difference is very small. You’ll also have to perform all your own tax-loss harvesting, tax-coordinated portfolio service, re-allocation, re-investment, etc. Betterment is a new generation’s robo-advisor, and it looks the part. Attractive and intuitive, Betterment’s core investment model is likely to match or outperform any Vanguard portfolio you could dream up.
- Betterment Returns. The past year has been mediocre for all investors, even for investors very careful of risks. Since its founding, however, Betterment has performed extremely well. The Betterment portfolio grew 11% in 2013. Every year of investment in index funds/ETFs will have wildly different ROI, but Betterment’s fundamentals are strong and have proven results over its short existence.
- Can I Trust Betterment? Betterment is regulated and its users insured by the SIPC. It also has awesome scam/fraud protection and encryption. See their BBB rating here.
- Can I Use Betterment in Canada? Can I Use Betterment in Australia? Sorry No, and Nope. They’re working on it.
Reviews of Betterment’s Departments, Products, and Offerings
There are a lot of aspects to Betterment’s service. This being the case, we’re going to review several different parts of the Betterment platform. Here’s what we’ve found after more than a year of use.
Tax-Coordinated Portfolio: Betterment’s newest feature adds a lot of value to the already great service. A Betterment-controlled Tax-Coordinated Portfolio is a way to automatically put expensive holdings into tax-protected accounts, and cheap holdings into taxable accounts. Of course, this only works for people who have multiple accounts with Betterment, but as you use the service longer and longer, this becomes more likely. Let’s say you have one taxable account, one Roth IRA, and one Traditional IRA. Betterment’s algorithms automatically swap out all the assets contained in these accounts until they are in an orientation that costs you the least amount of money possible. Betterment estimates annual savings of 0.48%, or 15% over 30 years. Betterment Tax-Coordinated Portfolio Review: 5 Stars
Customer Service: Betterment support rules. I have usually opted to use email to contact them, as my question had to do with settling up tax-loss harvesting for both myself and my wife. It took a little back and forth to make this happen (we had to make sure our TLH was in keeping with our tax filings), but Betterment was responsive and detailed in their emails. I always receive thorough replies in less than 24 hours. Betterment chat is now available, and representatives are available by phone 7 days a week until mid-late evening EST. There is even a special line for 401(k) customers. Betterment Customer Service Review: 5 Stars
Promotions: Betterment’s promotions are simple and steady. They’re not a company to offer flashy bells and whistles at every turn, but that’s not a problem. Your first opportunity for savings comes with your initial deposit. Users who deposit $5,000 get 3 months free; $25,000 get 4 months free; $100,000 get 6 months free. Thereafter, you can 30 days free by referring a single friend; a whole year is free once you invite 3 new users! Betterment Promo Review: 5 Stars
Tax-Loss Harvesting and Automatic Re-Allocation: Betterment offers free Tax-Loss Harvesting and Re-Allocation/Portfolio Balancing. This is a great benefit. Both of these could be accomplished by users through traditional platforms, but the time and costs involved would quickly eat up the savings incurred. Betterment’s algorithms accomplish these services automatically, meaning that your portfolio is never too light or too heavy in one asset class, and buying and selling decisions are done for maximal tax savings at the end of the financial year. Betterment TLH and Portfolio Balancing Review: 5 Stars
Betterment Methods and Returns: We’ll go into more detail elsewhere in this Betterment review, but suffice to say, Betterment’s methods and returns are strong. Based upon Modern Portfolio Theory, which values diversification, low cost ETFs, and the strength of entire markets over the hunt for individual stock winners – this is strong, conservative trading for long term success. Betterment’s returns are intimately linked to the overall health of the economy, but have “Beat the Market” many times over the company’s existence. Betterment Methods and Returns Review: 5 Stars
Overall Review: We like Betterment. It’s easy to use. It’s secure. It works. It’s teaching a new generation of people how to invest, and making it very affordable for them to do so. 5 Stars
Digging Deeper into Our Betterment Review
If you’re still reading, you want to understand the nuts and bolts of Betterment’s online platform. We’ve taken a lot of time compiling every bit of information we can find about Betterment, and have even used the service ourselves. We believe that Betterment will provide an excellent investment strategy for a lot of our readers. Below, we’ll explain our reasons why.
How Much Does Betterment Cost?
The first thing many readers look for in a Betterment review is an explanation of price structure. Fortunately, this is one of Betterment’s best features. Until 2012, Betterment’s fees were pretty high: 0.3%-0.9% annually. The service finally grew to a size that these fees could be slashed to only 0.15%-0.35%. It’s hard to beat this price point in the robo-advisor marketplace. If you manage to find cheaper offerings, it won’t be by much. Betterment also has no minimum balance, unlike competitors like Vanguard, making it easier for more people to begin investing.
Betterment divides users into three fee level groups, based on account value: Users with $0 to $10,000 pay $3 a month, or 0.35% annually, with an automated monthly deposit of at least $100; Users with $10,001 to $99,999 pay 0.25% annually; Users with $100,000 or more pay only 0.15%. Users with more than $500,000 get free investment consultation from Betterment’s advisors.
Betterment eliminated the transaction fees common to older investment platforms. The only other fees you’ll pay are for ETFs purchases, which are well less than one tenth of one per cent (.06% for Vanguard Total Stock Market Index ETC (VTI), for instance). ETFs are cheaper to trade than equivalent mutual funds.
If you don’t want to do the math in your head, Betterment would charge about $17.50 in yearly fees for an account with $5,000. As independent advisor/manager commonly charges 1-2% ($50-$100), it’s hard for anyone to complain that Betterment isn’t remarkably affordable. New users get up to 6 months free, depending on initial deposit, and receive a free month every time they refer someone else to the service.
What Does the Betterment Portfolio Look Like
Betterment gives the user a strong selection of stocks and bonds, chosen for great historical performance and affordability. The user selects their own stock/bond allocation. Bonds are pretty stable. They rarely experience strong losses, but don’t grow much either. They’re a way to save money while earning more than the value lost to inflation. Allocating investment funds to bonds is a way to “lock in” these funds, while money allocated to stocks allows for much bigger growth potential. Betterment’s current portfolio offerings are as follows:
|US Total Stock Market
Vanguard U.S. Total Stock Market Index ETF (VTI)
iShares Short-Term Treasury Bond Index ETF (SHV)
|US Large-Cap Value Stocks
Vanguard US Large-Cap Value Index ETF (VTV)
|Inflation Protected Bonds
Vanguard Short-term Inflation-Protected Treasury Bond Index ETF (VTIP)
|US Mid-Cap Value Stocks
Vanguard US Mid-Cap Value Index ETF (VOE)
|US High Quality Bonds (IRA and 401(k) accounts)
Vanguard US Total Bond Market Index ETF (BND)
|US Small-Cap Value Stocks
Vanguard US Small-Cap Value Index ETF (VBR)
|National Municipal Bonds (Taxable accounts)
iShares National AMT-Free Muni Bond Index ETF (MUB)
|International Developed Stocks
Vanguard FTSE Developed Market Index ETF (VEA)
|US Corporate Bonds
iShares Corporate Bond Index ETF (LQD)
|Emerging Market Stocks
Vanguard FTSE Emerging Index ETF (VWO)
|International Developed Bonds
Vanguard Total International Bond Index ETF (BNDX)
|Emerging Market Bonds
Vanguard Emerging Markets Government Bond Index ETF (VWOB)
*Note: Betterment stocks slightly favor value and small-cap stocks, which historically outperform the broad market. You wanted a detailed Betterment review. We tried to leave no stone unturned.
What Does the Betterment Platform Offer?
Betterment is really easy to use, but still offers a lot of powerful tools to understand your investments and save money.
- Betterment RetireGuide – This is a really helpful visualization feature, designed to show you how much money you’ll have available every month during retirement, compared to how much money you’ll need. Comfortable retirement spending is all about monthly spending. All of your savings and assets (investments, income, tax rates, spousal holdings, etc.) will be taken into account. As you continue to build wealth and investments, you’ll see notice a shrinking gap between what you have and what you need.
- Security – Betterment is regulated by the SIPC, protecting users with up to $500,000 in invested funds, in the case of fraud or mismanagement. Betterment manages any fraud recovery committed by outside parties. The whole system employs 256-bit SSL encryption. Betterment won’t sell your information – they promise!
- Visualization Tools – Betterment looks cool. The platform has a lot of visual resources to help you understand your investment better. When you make a deposit, you can immediately see how much it is likely to grow in various market climates, over any number of years. You can also see how returns are likely to differ with different allocation splits. It’s very helpful to “See” how simple changes to your investment goals are likely to play out over decades. Seeing the promise of big returns is also very exciting, making it easier to keep up the contributions necessary to hit your financial marks.
- Automatic Re-Allocation – Betterment investment reinvests dividends and uses other tools to keep your investments on track. Given time, this can change your stock/bond allocation. Betterment automatically fixes the discrepancies. You can also automate your allocations to change over time, opting for a more conservative stock/bond ratio as you get closer to retirement.
- SmartDeposit – SmartDeposit is a really cool feature. If you’ve got money sitting in checking or savings account, you’re losing value to inflation. Invested, these funds will almost certainly outpace inflation, preserving and growing your wealth. With SmartDeposit, users tell Betterment how much money they need in their checking and/or savings account. If the amount exceeds this benchmark, Betterment will invest the difference. Don’t worry, they’ll ask you every time, giving you at least 24 hours to confirm or deny the transfer.
- Tax-Loss Harvesting – This one is huge. Tax-Loss Harvesting works like this: Even with tax-deferred accounts, investors will eventually have to pay capital gains taxes on the money they make. Tax-Loss Harvesting sells securities that lose money. This “locks in” the loss. That loss can be written off on your capital gains taxes, lowering your tax bill. Betterment automatically replaces the security with something that fills the same portfolio role. Without harvesting, capital gains are determined starting at the lowest point in a security’s value history. With accounts in the $50,000-$100,000 range, we’re talking thousands of dollars in tax savings. Tax-harvesting is a pain to do on your own, so much so you almost certainly won’t do it. It’s expensive to pay someone else to do it for you. Betterment used to offer TLH only to users with more than $50,000 invested. But now it’s free for all.
- TaxMin Lot Selling – When a user withdraws money, Betterment sells shares to get the cash. These sales trigger capital gains taxes. But not all shares trigger the same tax levels. Betterment sells the shares that cost you the least.
- Smart Rebalancing – Betterment reinvests dividends and cash flow. These share purchases result in lower capital gains than those purchased with fresh contributions.
- The Betterment Investment App – It’s a stripped-down mobile Betterment experience, for Android and iPhone.
How Do I Sign Up For Betterment?
If you’ve read this far, you might be ready to sign up for Betterment. Good news – it’s really easy. New users input all the usual information, then start asking some questions about their investment goals (risk tolerance, time-specific goals, etc.). You’ll be asked to link to your financial institution, which can be completed in minutes. New funds show up in just a couple of days, at which point your account is up and running. Users transferring IRAs and other accounts from other brokers will usually see the accounts appear in 2-3 weeks.
There’s no minimum balance to begin, but Betterment will give you 6 months free if you put in $50,000 right away. There are smaller free periods for smaller initial deposits. Once your account is humming along, Betterment will send you a series of helpful emails, detailing Betterment features and making sure you’re getting the most out of the service. Betterment understands how to make this helpful, not annoying, a delicate balance Vanguard hasn’t figured out, IMHO.
Betterment IRA Review, and Other Account Types
Because so many users start Betterment IRAs, this account type is worth a little extra attention. Users can choose between a Traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, and a SEP IRA, depending on tax deference preferences. Betterment’s visualization tools make it easy to see the advantages of each tax model. In addition, users can start Taxable Accounts, 401k, Trust Accounts, and 529 Plans.
Real Users Review Betterment
You’ve just read lots of words about Betterment investing. By now, you know we’re enthusiastic about Betterment, and that we have every reason to be. To sum up, Betterment is affordable and effective. It’s so easy to use, and so effective at growing wealth, that new investors are signing up by the thousands. We love how responsive Betterment is to user feedback, how quick they respond to our emails, and how many useful features and improvements they’ve added in a short time. We only expect Betterment to get better. Even now, they’re a true leader in the robo-advisor and modern investment landscape.