Betterment and Vanguard both offer online investment services that help users invest toward retirement and other financial goals, without needing to meet with a financial planner. For those that do want to meet with a human advisor, both companies also offer advisor services with unlimited access to a team of licensed financial planners.

Betterment is an online investment service that helps users invest toward retirement and other financial goals without needing to meet with a financial advisor. But users can also schedule a meeting with a Betterment CFP® for one-on-one personalized financial advice through Betterment Premium.

Vanguard is one of the largest investment firms in the U.S., offering low-cost investments and financial guidance via its Digital Advisor service. Vanguard Digital Advisor is also an online investment platform that helps users build an investment strategy to save toward retirement. These investments are managed by Vanguard, but users do not interact with an investment advisor, as the entire process is handled by advanced investing software. For users that do want to talk to a human advisor, Vanguard offers its Personal Advisor Services, which allows access to a team of licensed financial advisors.

We’ve compared both Betterment and Vanguard’s robo-advisory services, breaking down the pricing, investment options, security, and user experience of each.

Betterment vs Vanguard Overview

FeaturesBettermentVanguard Digital Advisor & Personal Advisor Services
Account Fees
  • 0.25% Management Fee for Betterment Digital
  • 0.40% Management Fee for Betterment Premium
  • No other account fees apply (e.g. withdrawal, closing, trading, transfer)
  • 0.15% of assets under management for Digital Advisor
  • 0.05% - 0.30% of assets under management for Personal Advisor
Expense Ratios
  • 0.06% - 0.50% for ETFs
  • 0.05% average weighted expense ratio
Account Minimums
  • $0 for Digital and Cash accounts
  • $100,000 for Premium accounts
  • $3,000 for Digital Advisor
  • $50,000 for Personal Advisor
Investment Options/Choices
  • ETFs from 14 asset classes
  • Multiple portfolio choices: Betterment Core, Goldman Sachs Smart Beta, Blackrock Target Income, Betterment Cash
  • 3 Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Portfolio choices
  • Four ETFs, globally diversified
Investment Account Options
  • Individual investment accounts
  • Traditional, Roth, rollover, & SEP IRA
  • Checking and High-yield savings account
  • Joint accounts
  • Trusts
  • Individual investment accounts
  • IRA, Roth IRA, Rollover IRA Joint accounts
  • 401ks held through Vanguard
Portfolio Construction
  • Automatic portfolio rebalancing on all accounts
  • Automatic portfolio rebalancing on all accounts
Tax Strategy
  • Tax-loss harvesting available on all taxable accounts
  • Tax-Coordinated Portfolio tool
  • Tax impact preview tool
  • Donate shares to charity
  • Tax-efficient investing and withdrawal strategy
Customer Service and Support
  • Phone support weekdays 9AM - 6PM EST
  • Email and social media support available
  • Phone support 8am - 8pm EST, Monday - Friday
  • Email and social media support available
Mobile Compatibility
  • Open and manage accounts through mobile app
  • Mobile app available
  • Mobile-friendly website
Account Setup
  1. Select account type
  2. Choose a goal
  3. Use slider to customize asset allocation
  1. Sign up for an account online
  2. Select account type
  3. Answer a few questions
  4. Select portfolio
  5. Fund the account with a minimum of $3,000 ($50,000 for Personal Advisor)
Security
  • Two-factor authentication
  • FDIC insurance (on cash accounts
  • SIPC insurance (on investment accounts)
  • Two-factor authentication
  • SIPC insurance ($500,000 for investments, $250,000 for cash)
Ease of access
  • Web browser
  • Mobile app
  • Mobile app
  • Full-featured website with customer dashboard

About Betterment

Betterment is a robo-advisor that helps users automate their investing using computer software to create investment strategies for clients. It offers $0 account minimums, tax-efficient investing options, and a 0.25% management fee for the Betterment Digital service. There is also an intuitive mobile app that allows investors to monitor their finances on the go.

Users who invest a minimum of $100,000 can also pay for the Betterment Premium service, which gives you access to a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFPs). For a fee of .40% fee you can speak with an advisor to ask questions and formulate a custom financial plan.

About Vanguard

Vanguard is a large investment firm that now offers a robo-advisory service for a low annual fee of 0.15%. Great for beginner investors, Vanguard’s Digital Advisor service helps users invest toward retirement and other goals. The service uses Vanguard’s exchange traded funds (ETFs) to build an investment strategy for 0.15% annually. While Digital Advisor is a great option for beginner investors who want a simplified approach to investing, Vanguard requires a $3,000 minimum investment to sign up.

Vanguard also offers access to human advisors with its Personal Advisors Services for users who invest $50,000 or more. For a 0.30% management fee, investors gain access to a team of licensed financial advisors who can help them build a financial plan and choose investments. Investors can set up meetings with advisors over the phone, or on video via Zoom.

Still deciding? Check out our comparison of robo advisors vs financial advisors.

Main Features of Betterment vs Vanguard

Both Betterment and Vanguard offer online investment services that allow users to quickly pick an investment portfolio (e.g. a mix of investments) and start investing.

These services automate much of the day-to-day portfolio management, allowing users to stay “hands-off.” And both services help keep investment portfolios on track by automatically rebalancing them. But while Vanguard offers only a handful of investment options, Betterment offers a wide range of investment options and strategies.

Both services offer unique features that make them a great option for investors that want a low-cost way to invest.

Betterment Investment and Portfolio Options

Betterment offers access to a large selection of low-cost ETFs in 14 different asset classes, helping create a diverse investment portfolio. Betterment uses these ETFs to build multiple investment strategies for users to choose from:

  • Betterment Core - Offers a mix of stock and bond ETFs
  • Goldman Sachs Smart Beta - This portfolio is designed to attempt beating the stock market
  • Blackrock Target Income - 100% bond investments designed as an income-producing portfolio for retirees
  • Betterment Cash - Not an investment portfolio but a high-yield savings account

Betterment also has 3 different Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) Portfolios to choose from:

  • Broad Impact - Stock portfolio of ETFs that have high ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) ratings
  • Climate Impact - Climate-conscious ETFs with low carbon footprint
  • Social Impact - Two ETFs (NACP and SHE) supporting minority empowerment and gender diversity

Betterment Tax Optimization

Betterment offers multiple ways for users to save on taxes, including tax-loss harvesting, which helps offset capital gains taxes through strategically timed sales and purchases of similar investments.

Betterment also offers tax-coordinated investing, which allows Betterment to place funds that are less tax efficient into tax-advantaged accounts, such as an individual retirement account (IRA). This lowers the taxes owed for users with multiple types of accounts, including retirement accounts and standard investment accounts.

Finally, Betterment offers a Tax Impact Preview tool that shows users the possible taxes owed for any adjustments (buying or selling) within their investment portfolio.

Vanguard ETF Fees

Vanguard offers ETFs in its Digital Advisor service, giving users access to four of its top-rated funds.

Here is a breakdown of the fees for the Vanguard funds used in Digital Advisor portfolios:

Vanguard FundExpense Ratio
Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI)0.03%
Vanguard Total International Stock Market ETF (VXUS)0.08%
Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND)0.035%
Vanguard Total International Bond ETF (BNDX)0.08%

Vanguard Customer Service

Vanguard offers both phone and email support for customers from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. EST. Representatives can help users with the following:

  • Opening accounts
  • Setting up transfers
  • Answering questions about setting up or managing a Digital Advisor account

Vanguard also has an entire library of tutorial articles, showing users how to perform actions within their Vanguard account. This includes setting up automatic investments, opening an IRA, or transferring funds.

READ MORE: Vanguard Personal Services Review

Betterment and Vanguard Access to Financial Advisors

Both Betterment and Vanguard offer access to financial advisors with an upgraded service level.

If you’re a Betterment Digital customer, you can book a consultation with a CFP® for a flat fee. It costs $299 for a 45-minute consultation, and $399 for a 60-minute consultation. If you’re a Betterment Premium customer, you’ll get unlimited access to the CFP® experts for a 0.40% annual fee, as long as you maintain a minimum $100,000 investment portfolio.

Vanguard offers access to licensed financial advisors (some of which are CFPs®) for a 0.30% annual fee through its Personal Advisor Services. Advisors can help users with the following:

  • Build a comprehensive financial plan
  • Customize your investment portfolio
  • Provide advice on debt payoff and financial goals

This service is a good option for investors who want access to human advisors for a low annual fee. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services requires a minimum $50,000 investment portfolio.

Who Betterment is Best for

Betterment is ideal for clients that want an online service that helps them make smart investing decisions.

Betterment offers more portfolio options than most robo-advisors, while focusing on keeping taxes low for investors. Betterment also has no account minimums, making it a good option for beginner investors who want a more hands-off approach to investing.

Clients who want to speak to a licensed financial professional can access Betterment CPFs with a one-time fee, or by signing up for Betterment Premium ($100,000 minimum required). This gives users a personalized financial plan with the help of a financial advisor, and allows unlimited access to CFPs as long as you have the service.

Who Vanguard is Best for

Vanguard Digital Advisor is ideal for clients who want a simple, low-fee investment portfolio that needs very little maintenance.

Vanguard charges a 0.15% annual fee, helping keep overall costs low, while offering ETFs that cover both the U.S. and international markets. Vanguard Digital Advisor does have a $3,000 minimum investment, so some beginner investors may not be eligible.

Vanguard also offers its Personal Advisor Services, perfect for investors who want access to a team of financial advisors (for a 0.30% annual fee). This service does require a minimum $50,000 investment, so it's ideal for investors who already have larger balances available to invest.

Overall, Vanguard offers low fees and excellent customer service for clients who want a simplified investing approach.

READ MORE: Vanguard Digital Advisor Review

Summary

Both Vanguard and Betterment offer high-quality investment services to help users automate their investing, while keeping fees low. Betterment has more advanced features and tax optimization strategies available, as well as no account minimums. But it does charge a higher annual fee of 0.25%, versus Vanguard's 0.15% fee.

Vanguard only offers four ETFs, but they give investors access to the entire U.S. and international stock and bond markets. This gives investors broad diversification in their investment portfolio, and keeps fees to a minimum. Vanguard’s Digital Advisor service only charges a 0.15% annual fee, but it does require a $3,000 account minimum. Learn more about Vanguard's Personal Advisor and Vanguard's Digital Advisor.

Overall, both options can be great choices for investors, depending on your goals and investment preferences. Both services help guide investors through setting up investment accounts, choosing a portfolio, and investing toward financial goals.

Want to learn more? Check out our list of the best robo advisors.

References:

https://www.betterment.com/resources/
https://investor.vanguard.com/advice/digital-advisor/
https://personal.vanguard.com/pdf/vanguard-digital-advice-brochure.pdf
https://www.betterment.com/pricing

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Mark Herman, CFP
Mark Herman, CFP
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Mark Herman has been helping friends with financial questions since serving as an Army helicopter pilot. Since then, he’s gained valuable experience in the corporate world before moving on to become a Certified Financial Planner™

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