Wealthfront vs Vanguard: Best Digital Robo Advisors?

    by Benjamin Aronson
Updated May 29, 2024

If you’re looking for great investment advisory firms look no further. Wealthfront and Vanguard are top of the line offering the best Robo-Advisor options in 2021! While both investment management companies have strong upsides, they do differ from one another. Deciding the right online broker will come down to your future goals and investment planning.

In this article, we break down the key differences between Wealthfront and Vanguard. So don’t get frustrated, you’ll find out the essential information for making a decision between the two below.

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Quick Glance: Wealthfront vs Vanguard


Account Minimum: $500 USD

Fees: 0.25% for most accounts

  • No commissions on trades or fees for withdrawals
  • 0.42%-0.46% for 529 College Plan 
  • ETF average- 0.07%-0.16% management fee

Wealthfront is Great For:

  • Investors who want to see the big picture of their financial account 
  • Anyone who wants the ability to access a line of credit from their broker
  • Best for investors with limited funds who want to invest 


Account Minimum: $1,000 USD

Fees: 0.30% on assets (under the management of Vanguard, not including cash in account)

Vanguard is Great For:

  • Best for investors with more money available (high entry point)
  • Investors who are in the long game of investing 
  • Those who want advisory input and good customer service 

Now that we had a quick glance, let’s start out with the basics! 

Process of Investing

Understanding how these brokers work will give you a better understanding of which one is right for you. 

Were going to walk you through the process of investing with Wealthfront and Vanguard.


As long as you are above 18 and a U.S citizen, you can open an account with Wealthfront quickly. 

Once you log in with personal information, you will have a risk score assigned to you. You will also receive a custom portfolio that correlates with your risk tolerance and personal goals. These features help new investors find the right assets when building a portfolio.

Once your account is up and running, you can use their investing software to manage and improve your portfolio. With Wealthfrons monitoring software, you’ll know exactly what’s going on with your assets and how everything is performing.


Setting up an online account with Vanguard is a breeze! All you need is your bank information and personal details. This process shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. 

Once you have funds in your account, you can start investing. At this point you have a choice, you can pick investments yourself or you can use the automated software to do it for you.

If you’re just starting out, automated software is a great way to learn how they invest. If you want a more hands-on approach, simply pick the stocks, options or other securities that you want. 

Account Overview

Wealthfront and Vanguard, in general, have similar Personal Advisor Services. Currently, Wealthfront and Vanguard do not offer custodial accounts.


  • Taxable accounts (individual, joint, and trust)
  • Traditional IRA accounts
  • Roth IRA accounts
  • SEP IRA accounts (for the self-employed and small businesses)
  • IRA transfers
  • 401(k) rollovers
  • 529 college savings plan account
  • High-interest cash accounts (individual, joint, trust)


  • Taxable accounts (individual, joint, and trust)
  • Traditional IRA accounts
  • Roth IRA accounts
  • SEP IRA accounts (for the self-employed and small businesses)
  • IRA transfers
  • 401(k) rollovers

Wealthfront has the edge here providing 529 college saving plan and more options to choose from. 


Although in the same field, Wealthfront and Vanguard differ from one another in many ways.

Wealthfront scouts out the younger generation who have less cash on hand and are more technologically updated. Vanguard aims for more experienced clients with higher investing margins.

Both of them have great features that help investors raise the bar.

Let’s check them out!


  • Wealthfront Cash Account: A high-interest cash account
  • 2.07% APY (no fees)
    • Unlimited transfers (FDIC deposit insurance up to $1 million) 
  • 529 College Savings: An account specifically designed to save for college
    • There are great tax advantages that help you save
    • You can use it for tuition, room, board, etc 
  • Portfolio Line of Credit: Once you have $25,000 in your individual, trust, or joint account you have access to credit
    • 4.5%-6% interest
    • Can borrow up top 30% of your account
  • PassvePlus: Wealthfront’s investment strategy set
    • Established to maximize client investments using tax-loss harvesting
    • Beta Smart is a service that helps clients weigh stocks in portfolio more intelligently (for investors with $500,000 and up)


  • Access to Advisors: Certified financial planners assigned to each client
    • Offer Robo-advising as well as personal human guidance
    • Vanguard considers themselves a “hybrid” advisory service bringing the best of both worlds
  • Whole-Picture: Advisors look at the full picture when designing your portfolio and giving advice
    • Personal advisors look at other accounts (college savings, retirement, etc) and take everything into consideration to meet your financial goals   
  • Dedicated Advisors for Large Accounts: Available one on one assistance for large accounts (usually $500,000 and up) 
  • Cross-Company Application: $50,000 investment capital can be applied across all assets


Both Wealthfront and Vanguard have a similar approach when it comes to building your portfolio. They do differ in the amount of time it takes to get your portfolio started. 

Let’s Check out Wealthfront first:

When setting up an account with Wealthfront the broker won’t show your portfolio asset allocation until you answer a few questions. They need the investor to answer questions such as risk tolerance and time horizon to determine your financial goals.

Clients with more than $100,000 in their accounts can choose a stock portfolio instead of a portfolio made up of ETFs.

Wealthfront also offers a service called Wealthfront Asset. Clients can choose from numerous ETFs and mutual funds (State Street, Vanguard, Schwab, iShare or they can save cash).

At Vanguard the upfront paperwork is fairly similar. You will be asked about your risk tolerance and future goals to help generate a proper portfolio that suits you. 

New clients must speak with a financial advisor to complete the customization plan. Due to the in-depth process, you could be waiting a few weeks for your final investing plan.

Vanguard also offers Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Assets. This is a methodology that follows the Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) principles. The main idea is to focus on diversification to maximize expected returns.

Retirement Planning

Wealthfront and Vanguard offer a few retirement account options. 

  • Traditional IRAs
  • Roth IRAs
  • SEP IRAs
  • 401(k) rollovers 

Wealthfront uses a Robo-Advisor to estimate your net worth at retirement. This is an impressive feature that tells you the amount of money you can spend per month to live comfortably during your golden years. 

The Path planning tool helps you compare your current spending habits to your projected retirement income. You can alter information to see how they affect your bottom line. 

Vanguard features a variety of impressive tools. They have a retirement income calculator that shows clients how much money needs to be saved aside to reach retirement goals.

Minimum Investment

The minimum investment is where Wealthfornt and Vanguard differ:

Wealthfornt- $500 USD

Vanguard- $1,000 USD

Before you lose it, it’s important to understand that Wealthfront and Vanguard are designed for different clients in mind. With that said, Wealthfront makes it much easier for new investors to start investing due to the low amount of capital needed.

Annual fees 

Throughout a lifetime, hundreds of thousands of dollars can go to fees if you’re not paying attention. Luckily, Wealthfront and Vanguard are not too pricey and are both top-notch in their industry.

Wealthfront charges a 0.25% fee on investment accounts every month. Larger portfolios invested in Smart Beta programs could be invested in funds with slightly higher fees. There are no fees for opening an account, closing an account, account transfers or withdrawal. Wealthfront also offers cash saving account, also no fees

Vanguard charges an advisory fee of 0.30% every quarter. There are hidden costs that may add up since there are transaction fees. The average expense ratio of investments equals out to about 0.11%.

Tax Advantages

There are many ways to effectively invest money and avoid excessive taxes. Both  Wealthfront and Vanguard take advantage of tax-loss harvesting.

What is Tax-Loss Harvesting?

That’s a great question, I’m glad you asked. Tax-loss harvesting is the practice of selling a security (a tradable financial asset) that experiences a loss, then buying a similar security in its place.

Why do that?

Another great question! You can use this loss to offset your taxable income. Investors are taxed by capital gains. The IRS realizes these losses, lowering your tax bill.

By tax-loss harvesting, you keep your market exposure constant, yet the IRS acknowledges a 

loss giving you bigger tax savings when you cash in. 

When an ETF loses value in a portfolio with Wealthfront, they sell that ETF, then replace it with another highly correlated ETF. Tax-loss harvesting is a part of PassivePlus, Wealthfront’s investment features. For more information on Wealthfront’s policy, check here

Vanguard also takes advantage of tax-loss harvesting. They request clients to identify specific lots of shares to sell. You will need to use a specific identification cost basis method when you sell shares.  For more information on Vanguards policy, check here.


Wealthfront and Vanguard have high levels of security. Both firms take this issue very seriously to protect clients from hackers and external dangers.

Wealthfront is a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). That means that clients are protected up to $500,000. Wealthfront also has a 2-step authorization and security questions at login for added protection. 

Vanguard has systems set up to stop external criminal activity. They say in the fine print, if assets are taken or transferred by an unauthorized online transaction, Vanguard will reimburse. Vanguard is also a SIPC member, protecting clients up to $500,000.

Customer service

Wealthfront has a large variety of services on their desktop panel. A few of the following are: “Getting Started,” “My Wealthfront” and “Learning Center.” These services are available in the online help center. 

Wealthfront also has a ton of informational videos on investing. If something isn’t clear or you have a problem you can always contact the Wealthfront’s support team online. They are open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m-5 p.m Pacific time. There is no online or mobile chat at this moment.

The Vanguard help center is separated into account types giving the client the most accurate assistance. Vanguard also has a support team and you can call Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m-10 p.m Eastern time.

 Clients can also speak with a financial advisor by scheduling an appointment. If you do not schedule an appointment prior to your call, be prepared to wait 9 minutes on average.

Our Verdict

Investments are a crucial part of anyone’s financial forthcoming and It can be challenging choosing between the two. Both Wealthfront and Vanguard are positively performing financial firms that investors can feel safe being a part of. 

Wealthfront is a great way for novice investors to build their portfolio and prepare for the future. With their low minimum deposit and free activation, it’s hard to beat. Wealthfront has a great hands-off approach. From our analysis, we think that Wealthfront is ideal for investors who lack the time or simply don’t desire to manage their investments.

If you are a sophisticated investor and you’re looking to invest a high net worth, Vanguard is the place for you. Vanguard is a large well-known firm that has a wide array of investment options and support. 

If you’re looking to invest in a single stock or a micro-investing app,  Wealthfront and Vanguard might not be for you.

The question comes down to the investor, what is your style? Leave a comment and tell us who you prefer!


  1. Vanguard
  2. Wealthfront