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A Year of Investing With Betterment

Investing with BettermentLast week we discussed retirement investment options. Because of tax advantages, that is where most of our build wealth money goes at this point. When it comes to keeping money or giving it to the good ole’ US government, you can guess who wins every time! However, we all know it’s a good thing to keep diversified. Maybe you want to retire early or have money that’s accessible without penalty before age 59.5. After reading about a million reviews of brokerages, I decided to try out Betterment. I wanted to do a year in review, but my, how time flies. When I logged into my account last week before writing this post, I was amazed that I’ve been investing with Betterment since March 2013!

Betterment Fees

Honestly, I don’t promote many brokerages because I think Vanguard is almost always the easiest and cheapest way to go. I still believe that for IRA and 401k type accounts, it’s the hands down winner. However, if you want to invest in non-retirement account stocks or funds outside of Vanguard ETF’s AND don’t have at least $50,000 already invested, Vanguard’s fees are $7 each for the first 25 trades, then $20 after that. Plus they have a $20 per year account management fee. You also have the individual fund management fees, which are generally very low, but it all adds up. Since most of us have to start with small amounts, Vanguard would eat quite a bit of that money in fees.

I chose Betterment because you can start investing small amounts without a significant portion taken out for fees. They charge a flat .35% for accounts under $10,000 if you schedule a minimum $100 monthly auto deposit. If you invest less than $100, there is a flat $3 fee. At a glance, this might seem higher than some of the broad index funds that are available, but if you only invest $100 per month, having fees of $.35 instead of $7 is huge.

As you invest more, your fee percentage decreases. At $10,000, it drops to .25%, and with $100,000, it drops again to .15%. I added up all the fees since opening my account, and they came to right around $10 so far. I expect this to grow as my account balance increases, but so far, that’s pretty sweet.

Try Out Betterment

Betterment is Easy

When you sign up for a Betterment account, you will be asked some questions to determine your risk tolerance and investment goals. An investing plan is created based on your answers. In my case, I have a very boring 80/20 stock/bond mix that is made up of large, medium, and small cap stocks as well as bonds and emerging and international funds. It took about 5 minutes to set this up.

I think many novice investors, self included, are guilty of setting things up and forgetting them. I don’t think you should necessarily log in and check your balance every day, but you do need to evaluate and rebalance from time to time. Since I’m so lazy busy, I often get way behind on that task. Betterment does this automatically so that your allocations stay in line with your goals and risk tolerance. I love easy!

Related: Read one of the most in-depth Betterment reviews around

Are the Returns Good?

My total return for the year to date is 14.7%, with a 9.7% return since account opening in March 2013. That seems to track right with Vanguard funds of similar allocations. If you are like me and forget to rebalance, or if you have a tendency to go with the herd, Betterment will keep you on track so you don’t become too loaded in whatever portion of your portfolio is doing well at the moment. You also won’t be tempted to try and time the market.

How Much Should I Invest?

I think one of the hardest parts of investing is getting started. If you have no investments, I’d start with your 401k or Roth first. If you already do that and want to try some non-retirement fund investing, I really think you should try and start with $100 per month. If you don’t have an extra $100, then make it your goal to increase income or cut expenses to get to that point.

I did start with $100 per month and have increased that amount as money became available. Cutting our satellite TV added about $70 per month. We don’t have day care costs like we used to. We also had a reduction in our mortgage escrow amount this year. I thought about putting that extra cash toward mortgage principal, but that return would only be 3.25%. If I can get 9-15% from investing, that make more sense. If you invest found money instead of finding something else to spend it on, you’ll be surprised how fast that money grows!

Should I Invest With Betterment?

That’s for you to decide on your own. I will say that I’ve found Betterment very easy to use, and I think the fees for beginning investors are really competitive. I have been happy with the service and return, and their dashboard is very user friendly. If you don’t like to micromanage your accounts and want it to be very simple, Betterment might be a good fit. Whatever platform you decide to use, get started. The longer you have to let compound interest work for you, the sooner you’ll hit your financial goals.

To make it even easier, you can sign up for Betterment right here today!

Do you do any non-retirement investing? Are you good about rebalancing?  


Image: Freedigitalphotos.net


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. We hold our US retirement accounts with Vanguard (Questrade for my Canadian RRSP which holds solely Vanguard ETF’s) but we have been talking about opening a joint taxable investment account. I was planning to open it with Vanguard as well for simplicity sake but I will certainly check out Betterment to see if it could be a good fit for us.

  2. We don’t have much in the way of non-retirement investments right now but it’s definitely on our list once the debt is gone. Betterment sounds great!

    • I have really been pleased with them. Truth be told, I opened my account because they were doing a promo that gave me $25. I was going to transfer it to Vanguard after that, but I decided I really liked Betterment.

  3. I have my Roth in Betterment, but that was because I didn’t have enough to put into Vanguard at the time. I have enjoyed it so much, I haven’t moved. I started using Motif Investing for my non-retirement investing.

    • That $1000 opening minimum at Vanguard is overwhelming to many first time investors. I like that you can start with a lower minimum at Betterment. It’s all well and good to say that you’re going to save up a thousand dollars to start a Roth IRA, but it’s too tempting to spend that money elsewhere if you can’t invest it right away.

  4. I’ve been with betterment for just over a year as well, and one of the things that I love (other than the set-it-and-forget-it options) is that it almost forces you to invest $100 a month. Even though we’re paying off debt, we still need to be saving (a little bit) and this is an easy way to do it!

    • That’s a very good point. I think almost everyone can come up with and extra $100 per month and that’s and investing it is the smart thing to do.

  5. I do ZERO non-retirement fun investing, unless you count my small businesses and rental property as investments (which I do). Betterment is something I’m considering down the road when I am fully funding my retirement accounts and not pouring money into real estate.

  6. Thanks for your review Kim! I have not checked out Betterment, but they seem to be popping up more. I think that Vanguard is okay for basic investing; however, I have had clients who are frustrated with all of the fees that can pop up if you want to do anything out of the ordinary like invest in a fund not managed by Vanguard. I am always looking for good alternatives to recommend to my investing clients.

    • Yes, Vanguard takes care of their own, but can be a fee drain if you don’t want their funds. I’ve found Betterment to be very user friendly for those of us who aren’t super awesome with trading and stock picking.

  7. Thanks for the information. I had never heard of Betterment, but now that they are on my radar I will have to check them out. Keep up the great work.

    • Betterment is a very easy place to get started if you don’t have thousands to start with and don’t want to manage everything yourself.

  8. We have very few non-retirement investments, but we’ll build it up slowly. I have never heard of Betterment, but it sounds like a pretty good deal.

    • It is a great fit for someone like me. If you really want to get in and choose stocks or funds, not so much, but I love easy!

  9. My focus is on debt repayment and tax advantaged accounts, I will be working on this stage later in the process.

  10. I was curious what kind of returns people saw with Betterment, and if they’d be any better/worse than the market average. I invest in my own pool of dividend stocks outside my retirement account. Unfortunately it’s not quite up to snuff with the market average 🙂

  11. I love Betterment! It makes investing super easy.

  12. Didn’t the S&P 500 perform better than Betterment during the timeframe you mention? Up more than 20% from 3/1/13 to 3/1/14.

    • My Betterment portfolio is a mix of stocks and bonds. I would expect the S&P to outperform when markets are up because those are all stocks.

  13. Thanks for this, I appreciate all investing posts as I do find it confusing!

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