Wealthfront Review: Automated Investing with an Advisor’s Touch [2020]

Want to pay minimal fees to have your investments managed for you? Wealthfront could be just what you’re looking for.
Last updated Jul 17, 2020 | By Matt Miczulski
Jar of coins with plant growing inside

FinanceBuzz is reader-supported. We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

New and experienced investors alike face many of the same challenges when investing. And a common question is, how do you know where to invest your money?

You can pick individual stocks, but you should really know a lot about the company you’re investing in. You can stick with an index fund, but will that provide the most value? Or you can choose Wealthfront.

Wealthfront makes it possible to invest in a diversified portfolio of funds, customized according to your goals as an investor. With minimal fees and no guesswork into which investments you should choose, Wealthfront brings a lot to the table.

We’ll cover all these details in this Wealthfront review. So let’s take a look to see whether this investment platform might provide the experience you’re looking for.

Jump To

What is Wealthfront?

Wealthfront is a robo-advisor that gives beginner investors the ability to save for the future, even if they don’t have the time or money for hands-on investing. Wealthfront’s automated planning and investing build a custom investment portfolio of low-cost, exchange-traded funds designed to maximize returns while remaining balanced to reflect your level of risk. With an advisory fee that’s just a fraction of the price of the industry average and a minimum investment requirement of $500, it’s an affordable way to begin investing.

In addition to its brokerage accounts, Wealthfront offers free planning tools, a handy mobile app, and a cash account so you can plan and save for what’s important. Unlike traditional savings accounts, which are typically insured up to $250,000 by the FDIC, the Wealthfront cash account offers up to $1 million in FDIC insurance.

How does Wealthfront work?

Wealthfront uses software that automatically builds a diversified portfolio of low-cost ETFs across 11 global asset classes. Your investment portfolio is customized according to your level of risk and is monitored and automatically rebalanced to maximize long-term returns. These low-cost ETFs come with an expense ratio between .06% and .13%. An expense ratio is an annual fee charged by the company that runs the investment fund.

Instead of an investment strategy based on emotion — think fear, greed, and overconfidence — Wealthfront uses its proprietary suite of rules-based investment strategies, known as PassivePlus. In general, rules-based investment strategies seek to follow various predetermined investment rules. Through a software-driven approach, Wealthfront can automate these strategies to make them more affordable for users. Wealthfront charges an advisory fee of just .25%, compared to the industry average of 1.06%, according to the most recent report on The State of Retail Wealth Management by PriceMetrix.

The software also continuously monitors your investment portfolio to minimize your taxes and maximize tax efficiency. When an investment is underperforming and declines in value, selling at a loss can offset taxable capital gains or up to $3,000 (for a married couple filing jointly) of ordinary income, which can reduce your overall tax bill. The money received from the sale of the investment is then used to purchase a similar investment so your risk and potential returns of your portfolio are unchanged. This is known as tax-loss harvesting. Unlike traditional investment platforms that may offer tax-loss harvesting once a year, Wealthfront offers daily tax-loss harvesting.

Wealthfront: The basics

Investment account minimum $500
Management fees .25% annual advisory fee
Fund fees .06-.13%
Account types available
Asset classes
  • 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
Features
  • Automatic rebalancing
  • Tax-loss harvesting
  • Free financial planning

Who can use Wealthfront?

Wealthfront is a robo-advisor, which makes it best for hands-off investors. Although a good option for beginner investors who don’t want in-depth control over their portfolio allocation, experienced investors can also benefit from Wealthfront’s automated investment management. The Wealthfront cash account, 529 college savings plan, retirement accounts, helpful planning tools, and advanced tax optimization strategies make it even more appealing. If you are looking for guidance from a financial advisor, a platform like Betterment may be a better fit.

Due to financial regulations, you must meet the following requirements to open an account with Wealthfront:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Have a U.S. Social Security number
  • Have a permanent U.S. residential address
  • Currently reside in the U.S.

How much can you earn with Wealthfront?

Wealthfront is an investment platform, and all investments involve some degree of risk. Although returns are impossible to predict, your investments will perform depending on how much risk you’re willing to tolerate. In general, the more risk you’re willing to take, the greater the potential return. Wealthfront shares its historical returns, but past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

Maximizing your earnings with Wealthfront

Returns are almost impossible to predict, but Wealthfront helps to maximize your earnings in the following ways:

  • A diversified portfolio: Wealthfront invests your money across 11 global asset classes so your money is diversified. This should help reduce the overall volatility of your portfolio. Although a diversified portfolio might underperform the top-performing asset class, not all your eggs are in one basket. If you invest in one asset class and that asset class underperforms, you have no other investments that can offset the loss.
  • Minimal fees: High fees can eat into gains quickly. With Wealthfront, fees are minimal. You’re charged an annual advisory fee of just .25%, and Wealthfront only invests in low-cost ETFs.
  • Minimizing your taxes: Wealthfront checks your portfolio and automatically makes adjustments to lower your tax obligation. By reducing the taxes you pay, you have more money to invest and grow.

How to stay safe investing with Wealthfront

When you sign up for an account with Wealthfront, you choose what level of risk you’re willing to take and Wealthfront customizes your portfolio accordingly. All investments come with risk, but everyone’s situation is different, and everyone has a different investment timeline.

If you’re young and have time on your side, you can afford to take on more risk for greater potential returns. Although you might see higher losses, you typically have more time to rebound from them. If you’re planning to retire in the near future, however, it’s generally recommended to reduce the risk in your portfolio, as you’ll soon be relying on this money.

Common questions about Wealthfront

How good is Wealthfront?

With low advisory fees, free planning tools, and an automated investment strategy, we feel Wealthfront is a good investment service for both beginner and experienced investors who prefer hands-off investing.

Can I trust Wealthfront?

In short, yes, you can trust Wealthfront. Wealthfront outlines its approach to investing in its investment methodology white paper so you can better understand how your money is invested. In addition, you can withdraw your funds at any time without fees if you no longer want to use the service. Although there is no protection against loss of market value of your investments, your investment account is insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation up to $500,000 in total against loss if Wealthfront fails.

As of September 2019, Wealthfront has $20 billion in assets under management (AUM), up from $10 billion AUM the previous year. The use of robo-advisors is also expected to increase considerably in the coming years. Research from Charles Schwab indicates that 60% of American consumers plan to use a robo-advisor by 2025.

Is Wealthfront good for beginners?

Wealthfront is a good option for beginner investors as it doesn’t require you to be hands-on in your investment strategy. Using software, Wealthfront customizes your portfolio based on your risk tolerance and automatically rebalances your investments to maximize returns.

Is Wealthfront good for experienced investors?

Wealthfront is also a solid option for experienced investors. Investors with account balances over $500,000 get access to Wealthfront's Smart Beta feature, which automatically adjusts the weighting of portfolio securities to help maximize returns. Experienced investors will also appreciate Wealthfront features such as stock-level tax-loss harvesting, which can help minimize tax bills; and risk parity, an asset allocation strategy that can also help maximize returns.

Does Wealthfront pay dividends?

Wealthfront offers ETFs that pay dividends.

Which is better: Wealthfront or Betterment?

Whether one platform is better than the other depends on what you want in an investment service. Both services charge similar fees, and both invest in low-cost ETFs. The minimum required deposit to open an account with Wealthfront is $500, whereas a minimum balance isn’t required for a Betterment Digital account. Compare both services to determine which option is better for you.

Which is better: Wealthfront or Stash?

Wealthfront and Stash offer two different approaches to portfolio management, as well as different pricing structures and investment options. Wealthfront charges a .25% annual advisory fee for choosing your investments, and Stash offers three subscription plans ranging from $1 per month to $9 per month. It also gives you control over the stocks and ETFs you want to invest in. Whether one is better than the other depends on the type of investment service you are looking for.

How to sign up for Wealthfront

It takes just a few minutes to sign up for an account with Wealthfront. Here’s how:

Step 1: From the Wealthfront homepage, click “Get Started” in the top right corner. From there, click the option to “Open a Wealthfront account.You’ll then need to provide some personal information to verify your identity. When you’re done, click “Continue.”

Step 2: The next page will ask you about the type of account you want to open and whether it's an individual account or a joint account. When you’ve chosen the type of account you want, click “I want this account” to proceed.

Step 3: The next couple screens will ask for your birthday, your annual pre-tax income, and the value of existing investments. From there, Wealthfront asks some questions to understand your investment goals and risk tolerance. With this information, Wealthfront will recommend an investment strategy. If everything looks good, click “Looks good, continue” to move on.

Step 4: On the next screen, you’ll need to choose how you want Wealthsimple to reduce your tax bill. After that, you’ll need to link an external account to fund your new Wealthfront account before the process is complete.

Other investment apps to consider

Wealthfront provides clients with an automated, hands-off, and tax-efficient approach to investing. This, along with Wealthfront’s free planning tools and low advisory fees, make it an appealing passive investment service. However, it might not be right for you. If that’s the case, you may want to consider another investment service.

As mentioned above, Stash is an investing app that provides a more hands-on approach to investing, if that’s the type of investment strategy you’re looking for. With three subscription options ranging in price from $1 per month to $9 per month, you can choose the one that best aligns with your financial goals. With Stash, you can invest in individual stocks, as well as ETFs. Stash also offers the option to invest in fractional shares of companies, which means you can get started with any dollar amount.

Or maybe you’re eager to start investing but don’t want to get started in stocks. In that case, you may want to consider Fundrise. With Fundrise, you can get started investing in low-cost, diversified portfolios of real estate projects that Fundrise manages on your behalf. Depending on your experience, Fundrise offers four account levels to choose from. But if you’re just getting started, you can start investing in real estate with Fundrise’s Starter Account for just $500.

See more of our picks for the best investment apps of September 2020.

Wealthfront Investing Benefits

  • First $5,000 managed for free
  • Globally diversified portfolio
  • Automated tax-loss harvesting
  • Algorithmic, rules-based investment strategies