Vanguard vs. Betterment: what’s the difference?

1 min readLast updated May 30, 2024by Unbiased team

Vanguard serves self-directed investors with its vast array of low-cost investment options, while Betterment targets those seeking automated, goal-oriented solutions.

Summary 

  • Vanguard is an investor-owned company with over 50 million investors. 

  • Their funds outperform their peer averages in stocks, bonds, and money markets. 

  • Betterment's Robo Advisor received excellence awards in 2023 and 2024 from BuySide, Nerdwallet, The Ascent, Forbes Advisor, Investopedia, and Bankrate. 

  • Betterment's curated portfolios include sustainability, tech, and crypto. 

Betterment vs. Vanguard: what’s the difference?  

Vanguard and Betterment both operate in the financial services industry, targeting different segments of investors.  

Vanguard, a mutual fund company established in 1975, is renowned for offering extensive low-cost index funds and ETFs. It appeals to DIY investors seeking hands-on management and minimal fees. Vanguard is unique in its industry because it is investor-owned and focuses on long-term success instead of quarterly results. 

Vanguard is a stalwart of traditional investing, catering to those who prefer to construct their portfolios independently. To this end, they offer educational resources to personal investors wishing to start and manage their portfolios. 

On the other hand, Betterment, founded in 2008, offers a more modern approach with automated investing services. It's geared towards individuals who prefer a hands-off approach and leverages robo-advisory technology to manage portfolios based on clients' goals and risk tolerance. 

However, the company complements its automated investing technology with excellent advice so that its investors can excel. Betterment financial advisors’ customer base stands at over 850,000, and it has over $45 billion in assets under management. 

What are Vanguard and Betterment’s specific investment strategies?  

Vanguard financial advisors primarily employ a strategy centered around low-cost index funds and ETFs, aiming to match the performance of broad market indices. Investors can build diversified portfolios by investing in these funds across various asset classes. 

In contrast, Betterment utilizes a goals-based approach, where investors specify their financial objectives and risk tolerance. Betterment then constructs and manages a diversified portfolio of ETFs tailored to help clients achieve those goals while optimizing for tax efficiency and rebalancing regularly. 

What fees can I expect from Betterment and Vanguard?  

Betterment and Vanguard's fee structures depend on the services offered. Here is a breakdown of what you can anticipate: 

Betterment's pricing is as follows: 

  • Investing: A $4 monthly fee or an annual fee of 0.25% of assets under management (AUM), with a minimum balance of $0. 

  • Crypto: A 1% annual fee plus trading expenses of up to 0.15%, with a minimum balance of $0. 

  • Cash reserve: No fee, no minimum balance. 

  • Checking: No fee, no minimum balance. 

Vanguard's fee structure looks like this: 

  • Account and service fees: $25 annually for brokerage and mutual-fund-only accounts. 

  • Advisory services: Each of Vanguard's four investment advisory services has its own fee schedule. 

  • Simple IRAs, Individual 401(k)s, and the Vanguard 529 Plan: Own account service fees. 

Vanguard prides itself on having an expense ratio for mutual funds and ETFs that is 82% lower than the industry average. They also don't charge commissions or trading fees for certain online transactions. 

Is Vanguard or Betterment better? 

Determining whether Vanguard or Betterment is better depends on individual investment preferences and goals. Here are some pros and cons of each to consider: 

Pros of Betterment 

  • Automated, goal-based investing. 

  • User-friendly interface. 

  • Automatic rebalancing and tax optimization. 

  • Personalized goal setting. 

  • Accessible customer support. 

Cons of Betterment 

  • Higher fees for larger account balances. 

  • Limited investment options compared to Vanguard. 

  • Less control for hands-on investors. 

Pros of Vanguard 

  • Wide range of ETFs and low-cost index funds. 

  • Established reputation and track record. 

  • Access to human advisors for higher-tier accounts. 

  • Extensive investment options. 

  • Lower fees for self-directed investors. 

Cons of Vanguard 

  • Requires active portfolio management. 

  • Lack of automated features when compared to Betterment. 

  • Potential for trading fees and commissions. 

Betterment or Vanguard: which should I choose? 

The choice between Betterment and Vanguard depends on individual circumstances and preferences. Vanguard financial advisors might be the better choice if you prefer a hands-on approach with a wide array of low-cost investment options. However, if you prefer automated, goal-based investing, Betterment’s financial planning could be more suitable. 

Therefore, before deciding, it is wise to do some research. As well as fees, investment strategies, and the various pros and cons, here are some other questions you should ask yourself when choosing between Betterment and Vanguard: 

How do Betterment and Vanguard remain competitive and adapt to changing market conditions? 

Betterment and Vanguard stay competitive by continuously updating their offerings, leveraging technology for efficiency, and responding to customer needs. They adapt by introducing new features, improving their platforms' user experience (UX), and adjusting their strategies to align with evolving market conditions and investor preferences. 

Which platform provides better customer service and support? 

Betterment and Vanguard both offer robust customer service, but Betterment often receives praise for its user-friendly interface and responsive online support team. This said Vanguard's customer service is also highly regarded, particularly for its access to human advisors for high-tier accounts. 

Can I access my Vanguard or Betterment accounts through their websites and mobile apps? 

Betterment and Vanguard each offer access to their services through websites and mobile apps. This means investors can conveniently manage their accounts, track their performance, and access educational resources on investment strategies and market trends through these platforms. 

Get expert financial advice  

Betterment and Vanguard both offer financial advisory services in the US, yet they each have unique approaches to investing and customer service. While Vanguard offers low-cost index funds for hands-on investors, Betterment provides automated goal-based investing solutions. 

Additionally, both financial service providers offer websites and mobile apps for account management. 

For expert financial advice, let Unbiased match you with a professional SEC-regulated financial advisor now. 

Writers

Unbiased team

Our team of writers, who have decades of experience writing about personal finance, including investing and retirement, are here to help you find out what you must know about life’s biggest financial decisions.