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We would all like to turn our money into more money if possible, and luckily, there’s a plethora of investing services that can help with just that. The main question is: Should I invest on my own, or pay an expert to do it for me?
Investing on your own must be complicated, and getting professional help is probably expensive, right? Actually, it’s not nearly as expensive or complicated as you might think. This article is here to answer those questions and show you the ins and outs of both Wealthfront and Robinhood.
Let’s see what these companies are all about and which one can help you with your investing journey more.
DIY stock trading
DIY stock trading
Top robo-advisors like Wealthfront charge a very low fee for completely managing your money and getting it ready for the future. Earning money while doing nothing is the name of the game here, and it’s no surprise that these kinds of companies are on the rise right now.
If you want to put in a bit more extra work and take matters into your hands, you can invest through very beginner-friendly and almost completely free platforms. One of the most popular players in this category is Robinhood – a common tool among millennial investors.
So, which is more profitable? Should you learn the basics and start trading or get expert help and enjoy life?
At the moment, Wealthfront is one of the most popular robo-advisor providers in the US. Since its founding in 2014, the company has grown to a giant with over $20 billion in assets under management.
Wealthfront’s competitive price and hands-free, fully-digital advisory service has made an impression on millennial investors who make up a large percentage of the robo-advisors audience.
Investor Warning: Investing with Wealthfront involves risk, including the possible loss of money you invest, and past performance does not guarantee future performance. Historical returns, expected returns, and probability projections are provided for informational and illustrative purposes, and may not reflect actual future performance.
Robinhood was founded in 2013 by Vladimir Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, Fintech experts who built high-frequency trading systems for companies and institutions in New York before starting their popular online brokerage.
The company strives to offer cheap online trading on a modern, user-friendly platform that caters to new investors. Since its launch in 2015, Robinhood has seen a massive increase in clients, reaching the 3 million mark in early 2018.
Investor Warning: Carefully consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of any investment company before investing. All securities trading, whether in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), options, or other investment vehicles, is speculative in nature and involves substantial risk of loss. Robinhood Financial encourages its customers to invest carefully and to use the information available at the websites of the SEC at http://www.sec.gov and FINRA at http://FINRA.org.
Right now, the company is estimated to have between 7 and 10 billion in assets under management and is a well-known, millennial-oriented discount broker.
Whether you’re looking to save up for retirement or make more aggressive trades you’re going to need a plan. Robo-advisors like Wealthfront can hold your hand and help you make a solid long-term financial plan even if you’re a complete beginner.
On the other hand, as a self-directed investing medium, Robinhood doesn’t provide anything of the sort. The platform can make some recommendations and help you organize your portfolio, but that’s it. Your investing success will fully rest on your shoulders but the research tools on Robinhood can come in handy if you’re an independent investor.
Let’s see how these two services work and which system suits your preferences.
As soon as you open up your Wealthfront for the first time, you’ll come across its goal-setting system called “Path”.
First, Path will ask you a series of questions. These will include questions about your age, income, financial goals, etc. After your data is inputted, Path will offer you a financial plan and tell you how much money and time you need to reach your goals.
You’ll get a prediction of when your goals can be reached, after which you can tweak your data and move around your risk tolerance until you reach the prediction you like. The data you can input is quite extensive – you can even input important events like a sabbatical, which is very handy.
Then, the platform will start investing your money and you can keep an eye on your portfolio’s progress easily from Wealthfront’s app on your phone or desktop computer. You can have multiple plans with individual money pools, so you can keep an eye on your kid’s college fund and your retirement as separate categories.
If your assets aren’t growing as planned, the platform will send you a notification and recommend a solution. The solution might be depositing more money, or relocating money from a long-term goal to a more immediate one, that’s your choice.
Wealthfront also allows account aggregation, which means you can link all your financial accounts to the platform. Having your banking and other information in one place is very handy, as it gives you a holistic view of your finances.
Even though Wealthfront offers no human advice, its fully-digital planning system is comprehensive and very easy and quick to use. If you like how this accessible planning system looks like, check out the full Wealthfront review to see why it’s considered to be one of the top players in the industry.
As an online brokerage, Robinhood doesn’t offer the advice and automation a robo-adviser would. If you want to buy and sell, you have to do it yourself. However, self-directed investing on this platform is made easy, and here’s how.
The platform allows you to buy and sell assets, just like any other online stock broker and has tools to help you monitor your portfolio and its progress. One such tool is the earnings report card.
This is an interactive chart that shows the performance of stocks. Monitoring all your stocks with this tool is very handy, as you can track their historical performance, market cap, analyst rating, and even its popularity among investors. You can also click on the stocks on the earnings screen to see their info in more detail.
To keep an eye on your portfolio, as well as some stocks you’re looking to buy, you can make watchlists. All the assets you’re looking at, including cryptos, will be in one place with their information displayed through the earnings screen, which makes organizing your plans very easy.
Another noteworthy feature is the candlestick charts. These financial charts are loved by day traders everywhere because they clearly display drops and raises in price during the day with different colors. You can also see variables like the lowest and peak price, as well as the opening price, so you know when it’s a good time to buy and sell.
If you’re looking for outside opinions, there’s something for that as well. These charts show analysts rankings, which you can view as buy and sell percentages. For example, the chart will tell you if 90% of analysts think you should sell a stock for whatever reason.
There are also top lists that show the 100 most popular stocks in the US and North America. To get the feel of what you’re fellow traders are thinking about, you can also look at the “people also bought” screen.
The only accounts types offered by Robinhood are individual and joint taxable accounts. So, there are no IRAs, Roth IRAs, custodial accounts, 529 plans, etc. Robinhood’s focus is self-directed investors who want a handy, intuitive platform for free.
The company certainly provides for its target audience, but it doesn’t have as much use to retirement investors as some of the brokers with the best IRAs in the industry.
Draw. Since one company is a robo-advisor and the other a broker, their services are inherently different in certain aspects, and therefore not comparable. Wealthfront and Robinhood both offer great planning and portfolio management systems, one for self-directed investors and the other for investors who want someone else to do it for them. Robinhood provides for traders who want a very intuitive and quick interface, so they can manage their accounts on the fly. Wealthfront’s strength lies in how comprehensive and yet accessible its platform is, which is why it is a very handy tool for any passive investor.
A great thing about robos like Wealthfront is that they’re dramatically cheaper than traditional advisory services. On the other hand, Robinhood is pretty much completely free, but it doesn’t provide an automated investment advisory service like a robo-advisor. Let’s see which service is more profitable and suits your preferences better.
As one of the cheaper top robo-advisors, Wealthfront has a competitive 0.25% annual management fee. The fee is the only expense you’ll need to worry about as there are no hidden costs on this platform. Moreover, Wealthfront is very accepting of new investors with its minimum initial deposit of $500, which is quite affordable.
There are a few ways to further lower your expenses on Wealthfront’s platform. All new investors get the so-called “PassivePlus” package, which is a bundle of cost-reducing features that gets more and more effective as your portfolio grows in value.
Right of the bat, new users get basic tax-loss harvesting. This means that some of your assets will be sold in a way that reduces the tax you have to pay, saving you money in the long run. This service is common among robo-advisors and its cost-reducing effect can basically negate the 0.25% yearly fee in many cases.
However, things get a bit more interesting when your portfolio reaches $100,000. At this point, you get direct indexing. Basically, instead of buying mutual funds and ETFs, Wealthfront will buy individual stocks and make your own stock index. This way, you’ll get around the costs associated with buying ETFs and mutual funds, which will speed up your portfolio growth slightly.
Clients also get risk parity at this point. This service is supposed to lower risks and increase returns but hasn’t proven to be effective in all cases. Some customers have accused Wealthfront of underperforming with risk parity and hurting their portfolio growth, so the method is by no means bulletproof.
However, you can always opt-out of this service if you don’t like it, so there’s no need for concern.
Clients whose portfolios have $500,000 get another interesting service called “Smart Beta”. Since a portfolio this large is very valuable to the robo-advisor, Wealthfront’s experts will take the time to invest your money more optimally. Basically, they will do more research before investing for you, which should lead to better returns.
These cost-reducing features won’t give your portfolio a huge boost immediately. Rather, they will stack up over time and make a noticeable difference in the long run.
Wealthfront caters to investors who are playing the long game, which is why the PassivePlus program is a very welcome feature. This is one of the reasons why Wealthfront is considered to be one of the best robo-advisors around.
If you always want to have money ready to go, you can keep it in Wealthfront’s high-yield cash account. This account pays a 0.26% APY, which means your cash will grow, but not nearly quick enough to keep up with inflation. An APY of 0.26% isn’t much but Interest rates are very low nowadays, and most banks offer a lot less.
You can also Borrow money equal to up to 30% of your portfolio quickly and easily. This money can then be invested so that it pays for itself and gives a boost to your portfolio. The interest you have to pay can be anywhere between 2.40% and 3.65%, which is less than what Robinhood charges.
Nothing reflects Robinhood’s take-it-easy image quite as well as its pricing. Unlike most brokers, Robinhood charges no commissions for buying or selling cryptos, options, US stocks, and ETFs. Moreover, there is no minimum initial deposit, which is always a boon for beginners.
The non-trading fees are also nonexistent for the most part. You don’t have to worry about leaving your account dormant as there are no inactivity fees. However, if you’re looking at foreign stocks, the fees can be intimidating, as they can go up to $50 per stock.
|US Stocks and ETFs||$0||$0||$0||$0|
|USD Margin Rate||5%||9.8%||10.3%||9.3%|
|Basic Account Minimum||$0||$50||$500||$0|
Robinhood’s inexpensive and user-friendly service is why it’s considered as one of the best stock brokers for beginners, but there are few features for more experienced traders too.
Robinhood also offers margin investing, which means you can borrow money from the broker, buy stocks/options, profit, and return the money plus interest. The amount you can borrow is limited on a standard account but the limit can be removed by upgrading to the Gold Account. The rates themselves are around 5%, which is on the low side.
Unlike the rest of Robinhood’s features, margin investing is the one you should be careful with, as you can end up owing the broker if the stocks you bought with a loan lose value. Also worth mentioning is that all cash on your account will earn a 0.30% APY, which is not spectacular, but is better than Wealthfront’s 0.26%.
All in all, using the basic account with Robinhood can be a very care-free experience, as there are no inactivity fees or high requirements to worry about. If you like this service so far, check out the full Robinhood review to see the company in more detail.
There are no withdrawal and deposit fees, but there are some limitations to keep in mind here. You can only transfer funds via your bank account. PayPal works too but has to be linked to a bank account you’ve already used on Robinhood. This means you can’t use e-wallets or a credit/debit card to transfer money.
You can also make a wire transfer, but that actually has a fee and a high one at that. A domestic wire transfer will incur a $25 fee, and an international one costs $50, so it’s better to have everything go through your bank if possible.
Standard account holders can make an instant deposit of up to $1,000 per week. Otherwise, making a regular transfer usually takes about 4-5 business days. However, there’s a way to increase the limit on instant deposits by upgrading your account.
Robinhood has a very free-spirited vibe, as it has no punishing fees, no commissions for most trades, and is easy to use. However, the Gold account is a different story. If you’re looking to get more serious with Robinhood, the gold account will open up features that can make this platform more alluring to advanced traders.
Instant deposits with the upgraded account are limited to $50,000, which allows traders to quickly drop a pile of cash into an asset they think should be bought as soon as possible. Also, there’s no limit to how much you can borrow from Robinhood as a margin investor.
Also worth noting is that margin trading on the Gold account was exploited recently by users.
Namely, a few clients figured out a way to borrow ad infinitum, increasing their purchasing power tremendously. This loophole was fixed and no charges were pressed against the users, but it still pays to be careful with margin trading. If margin trading isn’t for you, no worries. You can turn it off whenever you want.
Upgrading to Gold has a few requirements, the first being a $2,000 minimum account balance. After you got enough on your account, you need to answer a few questions about the stability of your portfolio and that’s it.
The Gold account will incur a $5 monthly fee, but you can try the 30-day trial to see if it’s something you want to invest in. You can also upgrade your Gold account to enable more features, but that will raise the monthly fee.
Winner: Robinhood. Wealthfront has a great suite of cost-reducing features. But ultimately, Robinhood is pretty much free, and you can’t go lower than that. Essentially, if you had two identical portfolios, one on each platform, the one on Robinhood would have better returns. Wealthfront also has a very competitive price. However, the bonus features that make it profitable only kick in when you have a substantial portfolio, unlike Robinhood which gives you a discount brokerage service right off the bat.
The list of financial products you can buy and sell is quite extensive with Wealthfront. The company offers many mutual funds, individual stocks, as well as investments in natural resources, real estate, etc.
Just about anything can be bought in the form of an ETF, which is where Wealthfront shines. There are ETFs from 11 asset classes and most portfolios have between 6 and 8. The average expense ratio among the most popular ETFs is usually between 0.06% to 0.13%, which is on the good side.
Here’s the list of some of Wealthfront’s more popular ETFs:
|Asset Class||Primary ETF||Expense Ratio|
|US Government Bonds||BND||0.05%|
|Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities||SCHP||0.05%|
Wealthfront’s range of offerings caters mostly to investors who are in it for the long term. However, some other top robos offer a similarly rich selection of investable assets, if not better.
One such company is Betterment, one of Wealthfront’s fiercest competitors. If you want to see how the rivalry between the two most popular robo-advisors today looks like, check out our Betterment vs Wealthfront comparison.
The range of asset types you can trade on Robinhood’s platform is limited to products best-suited for short and mid-term profits. These include:
Long-term investors and clients looking for money preservation above else might feel left out with Robinhood. There are no mutual funds and bonds, so the safest bet are ETFs and very stable stocks if you have long-term goals.
However, traders looking for quick results, have enough tools to work with.
There are about 5000 stocks and ETFs on Robinhood, most of which are from the US market. Some of the 250 international stocks might incur high fees, unlike US stocks which are commission-free, but it’s good to have both at your disposal. There’s also a rich selection of penny stocks, which make for risky, but potentially very profitable investments.
Robinhood is well-known among crypto investors because the platform enables trading a whopping 17 different digital coins. These include Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dash, Ripple, etc. The live cryptocurrency chart on Robinhood’s website shows prices in real-time, so it’s a nice tool to keep an eye out for buying and selling opportunities.
Winner: Wealthfront. Robinhood is limited as it mostly deals in stocks, options, and cryptocurrencies. Wealthfront, on the other hand, has a huge selection of products suitable for long-term investors who make up the majority of its clientele. Robinhood’s biggest advantage is that you can make whatever portfolio you want, while Wealthfront limits your individual input. However, Wealthfront does what it says on the tin, which is providing an outstanding selection of ETFs, mutual funds, and stocks.
The desktop platform is first and foremost made for ease-of-use and simplicity. Most features you’ll use are directly accessible through the menu on the main screen, so it’s not very easy to get lost while looking at the dashboard. The main screen also displays the basic data about your portfolio’s historical performance, asset allocation, and how close you are to reaching your goals.
The withdrawal and deposit buttons are in plain sight and you can easily set up automatic deposits. There’s even the option to immediately turn features like direct indexing on and off, all from the main screen. The workflow is logical and all data is clearly visible, which makes the desktop platform great for investors who don’t want any hassle on their automated investing journey.
The mobile experience is what this investing software was originally designed for. The mobile platform completely mirrors the functionality of its desktop version, with the only exception being the limited real estate. Fortunately for mobile users, you don’t need much space to work on this platform and there is almost no typing necessary to navigate it.
You only need to type when you’re logging in or linking external financial accounts to your Wealthfront app. Aside from that, the platform is mostly controlled by swiping and pressing on big buttons. All in all, the workflow is logical and leaves little room for mistakes and confusion.
In the online investing world, Robinhood’s platform is regarded as one of the most well-designed and user friendly. Especially praiseworthy is Robinhood’s mobile app which mirrors the functionality of its web counterpart without making its user interface complicated.
The main dashboard will give you a quick overview of your portfolio, and you can click on individual stocks to see their historical performance, fundamental data, and analyst opinions. Buying more stocks and selling them on the spot is quick and simple, and you can use all other functions straight from the main screen.
An extensive news feed and charts can be accessed easily, and if you’re looking for a specific product, there’s a search bar at the top of the main screen. Downloading isn’t needed, as the app is browser-based, so you can log in wherever you are.
Although it has less real estate to work with, the mobile platform offers the same functionality and is just as accessible. You can also easily place market, limit, stop loss, stop limit, and trailing stop orders. These order types are good to have on a mobile app since they can automatize trading to a certain extent, reducing the amount of attention you need to devote to your portfolio.
The app can also alert you whenever something important is happening. The alerts are customizable and can be set for dividend payments, price movements, transfers, etc. You can easily make a portfolio and fee reports using the app, which is great since making reports can often be very complicated for new investors.
All in all, Robinhood’s platform is the company’s most laudable feature. The software lacks advanced functions that some pro-oriented brokers have, but it’s packed with handy tools, and it’s very easy to use and understand.
There are, however, a few platforms that arguably outshine Robinhood’s great software. Check out our list of top stock trading apps to see if you find one of the alternatives more interesting.
Draw. Both platforms do what they’re supposed to very well and are considered as some of the best in their respective fields. Both mobile apps are full of handy features, yet very easy to use, which is a great combination. Robinhood is good for trading stocks, ETFs, and cryptos, while Wealthfront makes it easy for clients to manage their robo-advisor portfolio.
Wealthfront can be contacted by phone and email 5 days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. The average waiting time for a phone agent is about 2 minutes, which is quick compared to many other robo-advisors and brokers.
If you decide to write Wealthfront an email, you won’t be disappointed or get bored from waiting. We sent out a generic inquiry about Wealthfront’s features to see how long it would take for the customer support agent to respond. It took just 3 hours, which is really fast, and the answer was professional and gave us the info we were looking for.
Wealthfront’s representatives are licensed professionals and can help with all sorts of problems from a lost password to relevant legal questions. You can also get help through the company’s Twitter but that takes much longer than reaching the reps via phone or email.
Robinhood also has a phone and email service, but they don’t seem to be as reliable as Wealthfront’s support team. We tried looking for the customer support phone number on Robinhood’s website, but it was nowhere to be found. Eventually, we found the number on a Reddit thread, but the whole ordeal took quite a while.
When you enter the support section on the broker’s website, you will be shown some FAQs that might provide useful info. If you don’t find what you want, you can send an email through the website and expect a quick reply. We sent an email asking a question about Robinhood’s expansion to the European market, and this is the reply we got:
The reply came in under 24 hours, which is laudable as your average online broker usually takes longer. Some customers have gotten quick help when contacting Robinhood via Twitter, but this is hardly a reliable method in general.
Winner: Wealthfront. Simply put, Wealthfront’s customer support is quicker, more reliable, and better organized than Robinhood’s. It’s not like there’s something fundamentally lacking in Robinhood’s service, but its representatives are much harder to reach.
Wealthfront has a very good track record when it comes to user safety. The robo-advisor’s apps are protected with 256-bit encryption and have two-step authentication. This is considered very safe, which is why most brokers and robos, including Robinhood, have this level of security.
All Wealthfront clients’ accounts are protected with up to $500,000 by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and the company is also regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Like Robinhood, Wealthfront is regulated by two top regulators and has government-level encryption, which is the current industry standard. What’s more, Wealthfront Cash account holders are insured with up to $1 million by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in case something goes wrong.
Robinhood has a less-impressive track record than most top brokers and robos when it comes to reliability. On March 1st this year, Robinhood’s platform shut down for two days following the biggest market jump in history. This left users unable to make trades and sell their options in a very bullish environment, resulting in complaints and even lawsuits against the brokerage.
The company claims this shutdown was caused due to an overload of Robinhood’s infrastructure — basically, too many users signing in at the same time. However, the same crash occurred exactly 4 years before in 2016, which made the public suspect this was caused by a coding error in Robinhood’s software. Moreover, another sudden shutdown happened very recently, making customers doubt their broker’s reliability even more.
Aside from these unfortunate events, as a member of FINRA, Robinhood seems like a safe broker. Clients’ money is insured up to $500,000 by the SIPC, $250,000 of which is cash.
However, this doesn’t stand for cryptocurrencies, which aren’t protected. What’s more, there’s no negative balance protection, meaning you can get in debt by making bad trades or margin investing in Robinhood.
Keep in mind that the money protection only applies in case the brokerage goes bust or breaks its terms of the agreement. If you lose money due to your assets’ drop in value, it’s considered your loss and won’t be refunded.
Winner: Wealthfront. Both companies have the same industry-standard level of account security and money protection, but Wealthfront is much more reliable. Unlike Robinhood, Wealthfront has not had any major server failures or any other mishaps with its platform.
Robinhood gives out loans and makes money from the interest. Also, the Gold account has a maintenance fee and enables users to take out larger margin interests, both of which are very profitable for the company.
A large portion of Robinhood’s profits also comes from high frequency trading and paid order flow. Basically, the company uses third-party services to send orders to some customers before the data is public, giving these traders a timing advantage. This is a controversial practice, but is used by numerous stock brokers.
Fees don’t matter per se – The most important thing is how high your annual returns are. According to Wealthfront’s historical performance data, its portfolios grow from 3% to 6% annually on average.
However, this is before tax-loss harvesting kicks in. Also keep in mind that the recent market crash has affected portfolio growth very negatively, which is why the returns for this year range from 0% to negative 13% per year.
Wealthfront and Robinhood are services for different kinds of investors. If you’re playing the long game and want a cheap, easy-to-use automated investing platform, Wealthfront is a solid choice. Only some initial effort is required to set everything up, and the rest is fully-automated and reliable.
Taking investing into your own hands can be intimidating when you’re a beginner. However, Robinhood has made successful efforts to make it easy and accessible. The platform lacks some advanced features that pro traders look for, but it is free and quite handy, especially on a mobile device.
Essentially, Robinhood is a great tool for young investors who want to manage their money independently, using one of the most well-received investing apps in the brokerage industry. However, Robinhood is also a very good-looking way to lose your money by trading risky options and margin investing, so it’s best to exercise caution when using these services.
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