The past few years have seen the rise of a number of specialized, online investment management services. One of the better programs out there is Betterment.
Betterment describes itself as “The fully diversified, automated, and smart investment account that helps you feel good about your future.” It offers a simple, efficient investment system that will appeal to a large number of investors.
How Betterment Works
Betterment uses a simple investment strategy that’s based on two investment options, referred to as baskets. One basket is made up of stocks and the other of treasury bonds. But rather than holding individual stocks, each basket is comprised entirely of a mix of exchange traded funds (ETF’s).
As an investor, all you need to do is set your portfolio allocation and the system handles your investing for you.
Unlike many online investing services, Betterment does not require a minimum opening account balance. If you open your account with less than $10,000 however, you will be required to make monthly deposits of at least $100 until the balance is achieved. Once you reach the $10,000 mark, continued monthly contributions are optional.
You can move money easily and automatically between your Betterment account and any outside accounts you have with next day transfers. The system also allows you to do investment projections online simply by changing asset allocations and projected contributions.
One of the coolest parts is that you can “try before you buy” so-to-speak by running savings goal scenarios before actually committing the money to those investment mixes.
Betterment will also give you $25 if you open and account with at least $250.
In regard to investment fees, Betterment has no transaction fees, but charges a management fee based on portfolio size. There are three pricing tiers that determine the amount of the management fee:
- for accounts under $10,000 the annual percentage charged is .35% of the balance,
- for accounts of $10,000 and up to $100,000, the fee is .25% of the balance,
- for balances of $100,000 and higher the annual fee is .15% of the balance.
If your account balance is $100,000, your annual account management fee will be .15% of the balance, or $150.
This makes betterment one of the lower cost investment systems around, especially on accounts with higher balances.
Pricing is an obvious advantage with Betterment. To be able to maintain $100,000 of managed investments for just $150 per year would be difficult to duplicate elsewhere.
Simplicity is another advantage. You can set your portfolio allocation between stocks and bonds and management will take it from there. You don’t need to actively trade, to follow your investment positions on a daily basis or to make changes.
Betterment also has professional management which saves you the time and effort that will take to become a successful investor. And rather than investing in stocks, management invests instead in ETF’s. That not only keeps trading expenses at a minimum, but it also achieves significant diversification within each asset class.
Management’s investment philosophy also seems very solid. The bond basket is invested in ETF’s that hold Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) with maturities of three years or less. That minimizes interest rate risk that is inherent with longer-term bonds. This makes Betterment’s bond positions more secure than typical bond funds
The stock position is held in ETF’s that invest in value funds and small-cap funds. At this time the entire stock portion is held in US based stocks. Betterment holds the stock position in several ETF’s that are determined by management to best achieve the program’s investment goals for its equity positions.
Like many of the online investment systems available, your holdings in the account will be limited to Betterment’s baskets. You will not be able to hold individual stocks, mutual funds, or ETF’s as you would in a typical online brokerage account. Betterment is, after all, a managed investment account, and not a general investment account. This is how they keep it simple for you, the investor.
On balance, Betterment looks to be a good investment choice for most investors, particularly for those who are looking for aggressive equity investments, counterbalanced by conservative bond investments. And the cost and simplicity will be hard to beat anywhere.
You can get more information on how Betterment works, and take advantage of a free 30 day trial offer and the $25 bonus by visiting the Betterment website.
Grayson @ Debt Roundup says
I have been using Betterment for about 6 months and I love it’s ease of use. Simply great. I will most likely switch to vanguard once I hit the minimum investment over there.
Joe Morgan says
I’m not crazy about the fees… I’d rather pay a commission on the transaction than a management fee. Especially on top of the expense ratio of the ETF… I suppose it might make sense for people trickling in small amounts regularly though.