Wealthfront vs. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services: Which Is Right for You?

Wealthfront and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services have multiple differences. Perhaps the biggest: Wealthfront is a digital advisor, while Vanguard offers access to human advisors.

Kevin VoigtApr 26, 2021
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In the heated battle of robo-advisors vying to help you build a portfolio, Wealthfront and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services are among the top choices. Yet there are key differences — especially the minimum you need to open an account, the types of accounts supported and management fees.

Let's see how they stack up.

Wealthfront
NerdWallet rating 

on Wealthfront's website

Wealthfront is best for:

  • Hands-off investors.

  • Taxable accounts.

  • Free financial tools, even if you don't have a Wealthfront account.

  • 529 college savings plan management.

Wealthfront at a glance

Account minimum

$500 for investment accounts, $1 for cash accounts, $0 for financial planning.

Account management fee

0.25% (first $5,000 managed free for NerdWallet readers).

Investment expense ratios

ETF expense ratios average 0.08%.

Portfolios that include the Wealthfront Risk Parity Fund have an average expense ratio of 0.11%.

Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)

None.

Portfolio mix

  • ETFs from 12 asset classes (portfolios generally consist of 6 to 8).

  • Clients can customize their Wealthfront portfolio by adding or deleting certain ETF holdings or building their entire portfolio from scratch.

  • Taxable accounts can opt-in for WFRPX, the Wealthfront Risk Parity Fund. Accounts will hold a mix of three ETFs (VTI, EMB, BND) until balances reach $100,000, at which point the Risk Parity Fund replaces these ETFs.

  • Portfolios over $500,000 are eligible for smart beta.

Socially responsible portfolio options

Clients can choose to invest in SRI portfolio options for no additional fee.

Accounts supported

  • Individual and joint non-retirement accounts.

  • Roth, traditional, rollover and SEP IRAs.

  • Trusts.

  • 529 college savings plans.

  • High yield cash account (not charged management fee).

Tax strategy

  • Daily tax-loss harvesting free for all taxable accounts.

  • Stock level tax-loss harvesting (direct indexing) can be selected. Balances under $100,000 will hold a particular ETF, VTI.

  • TurboTax customers can easily import tax-loss harvesting data from Wealthfront.

Automatic rebalancing

Free on all accounts.

Human advisor option

None.

Savings account/cash management account

The Wealthfront Cash Account offers high interest checking. The cash account offers a competitive yield and is covered by up to $1 million in FDIC insurance. The account requires just $1 to get started.

Customer support options (includes website transparency)

Licensed product specialists (have Series 7 & 66 and some are CFAs/CFPs/CPAs) available to provide support or product information via phone or email (they do not make recommendations or give advice).

Phone support Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific; and all emails are responded to within one business day.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
NerdWallet rating 

on Vanguard's website

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is best for:

  • Access to financial advisors.

  • Comprehensive financial planning.

  • Larger account balances.

Vanguard PAS at a glance

Account minimum

$50,000

Account management, planning or subscription fee

Starts at 0.30% but tiered (drops at higher balances):

  • 0.30% on account balances less than $5 million.

  • 0.20% on account balances from $5 million to $10 million.

  • 0.10% on account balances from $10 million to $25 million.

  • 0.05% on account balances over $25 million.

Setup or onboarding fee

None.

Other account fees

None.

Advisor access and credentials

  • Unlimited appointments over phone, email or videoconference.

  • Most advisors are certified financial planners; all are fiduciaries and compensated with salary instead of commissions.

  • Investors with account balances of $50,000 to $500,000 get a team of advisors; investors with balances of $500,000 or more get a dedicated advisor.

Financial planning services

Can advise and create a custom portfolio for a variety of situations, such as saving for retirement, college or a family vacation home.

Services include: Social Security optimization, dynamic spending, tax efficiency, long-term care and medical costs, high-level guidance on estate planning, charitable giving, Roth conversions and trust services.

Investment expense ratios on portfolios

Asset-weighted average is 0.06%.

Brokerage options

Clients must move money to Vanguard but can keep outside investments if there are embedded gains or other reasons to do so.

Portfolio construction

Customizable on client-by-client basis to fit their goals, circumstances and preferences. Uses Vanguard index funds and ETFs, which are low-cost and diversified with tight tracking. As potential alternatives to core index options, offers three ESG funds (scored on environmental, social and governance factors for sustainable investing).

Accounts supported

  • Individual and joint brokerage accounts.

  • Roth, traditional, rollover, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs.

  • Trusts.

Tax strategy

Assets are allocated strategically among taxable and tax-advantaged accounts to optimize for taxes.

Tax-exempt municipal bonds used to reduce taxes for taxable accounts.

Minimum tax cost basis method minimizes tax impact by identifying select units or quantities (lots) of securities to sell based on ordering rules.

Customer support options (includes website transparency)

Customer service hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. Ability to schedule appointments with an advisor at any time.

Curious about other options?

The number of online advisors continues to swell, as does the range of services. NerdWallet conducted an in-depth analysis of over 20 offerings this year. We’ve covered the best choices here.