Author Topic: Betterment  (Read 7440 times)

jbrown1992

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Betterment
« on: July 21, 2016, 08:32:43 PM »
Hello all. Josh here. Looking for a bit of advice.  I emailed Mr Money Moustache but I know he probably gets thousands of emails a day and he says to try posting on the forums. I recently read Mr Money Moustache review on Betterment and I am glad that he liked it and I enjoyed reading it.
I am a newbie investor/trader with some funds in a personal account that I trade personally while I learn.  When I first found out about Betterment I thought about making it a "set it and forget it" sort of savings that is professionally managed with small weekly contributions and let it grow over the years and see where it is at down the road.  However, I have 3 months worth of expenses stashed away already in a savings account with my bank for emergencies and now I plan on saving for bigger purchases like rental properties, other business ventures, a car, etc now. When I gave it some more thought I figured it would be a waste just letting funds sit in my bank account as I grow it to $10k, $15k, $20k, etc while I save for my bigger purchases and other investments. So I was curious if it would be a wiser choice to open up a taxable Build Wealth account with Betterment and just send my money from my paychecks to that account essentially like a savings account and withdraw the funds as needed for my purchases in the future that way my money has greater growth opportunity than sitting in a bank.  I believe this is a correct choice but I wanted to get your opinion on it.  Thank you I hope to hear from you all.
P.S. I do have an IRA I contribute to so I have that covered in case anybody says I should save for retirement as well.

Fireball

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2016, 08:49:05 PM »
My two cents - Avoid Betterment. Do it yourself with Vanguard.  It's not rocket science and you'll get better returns on your own.

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2016, 09:20:53 PM »
Strictly my opinion: Betterment is a company that invests your money for you and takes a small fee for doing so. They also will be doing the investing and tax loss harvesting, the only thing that is of any real value at all, and likely only for the first few years as most of their portfolio rebalancing will end up eliminating the opportunities for tax loss harvesting within a year or so anyway, and it is honestly a very small return for paying someone else to automate what is super easy to learn how to do on your own.

While they are recommended by MMM, it still isn't the best idea, but better than doing nothing or investing with a horrible company that charges you much higher fees, loaded funds, and lots of active management that means a higher churn rate - more money in their pockets, less in yours (Edward Jones, American Funds, any "investment" group that also springs from insurance origins come to mind for me anyway).

What is a MUCH better idea would be for you to learn the basics of investing - not just so you can do it yourself, but also because you are the best manager of your money possible. No one else cares as much about your money and future than YOU. And better to pay yourself (saving the management fees) than hand over complete control of your investments to someone else. If you truly want to be successful, taking a little bit of time to figure out how something basically works is a real investment that will pay off immeasurably for you in the end.

Index investing (which is what I believe Betterment would be doing for you anyway) is really, really easy for anyone to pick up. It can be set up with a simple handful of funds, rebalanced easily once a year (if that) and will require a minimum of effort on your part (they call many of the portfolio setups "lazy" or "couch potato" for goodness sake!).



http://jlcollinsnh.com/stock-series/
^read the series and you don't need to have anyone else invest for you

https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Main_Page
^the manifesto for any and all index fund investing (the easiest way to invest for decent returns with low fees, and requires minimal managing from you or anyone).


Dicey

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2016, 09:22:14 PM »
I second Fireball. The premise of Betterment is investing in such a way as to minimize tax liability. If you're making $400k a year, it's worth paying for. If you're an average Jane or Joe, Betterment is not to your advantage. You are paying for a service you do not need, which is actually quite facepunch worthy.  Works for Pete, not so much for the rest of us.
And to clarify,  when Pete said he put his "last" 100k into Betterment, it implied that he was down to his last 100k. In actuality, it was referencing "last" in a series of investments after receiving a large sum of money.(Sale of a property, perhaps?).
If it's true that MMM retired with 600k and he has been earning as much as 400k per year since starting the blog, let's just guess conservatively that he has assets in the 2 million range. $100k is comparatively nothing to him. Big difference.  Hop on over to jlcollinsnh.com or buy his new book and read his investment series.

Edit: typo
« Last Edit: July 21, 2016, 10:17:22 PM by Diane C »

jbrown1992

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2016, 09:43:52 PM »
Thanks for the feedback it is appreciated. I will get right onto reading the jlcollinsnh.com series. Thanks again.

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2016, 02:57:43 PM »
I personally use betterment since the beginning of this year.  I transferred my money from high price american funds bought through an investment advisor.  So I think that alone was a positive for me.  I have two accounts on there right now.  A build wealth account which is split 90/10 and an emergency fund that is split 40/60.  I do agree with people that it could be done on your own as far has rebalancing and tax loss harvesting.  It harvested money once for me this year, about $500 if I remember correctly.  I personally love learning about finances but I don't feel like doing these like TLH on my own for now. I do like their simple interface and ease of investing on their platform.  I think you are not making a huge mistake either way.  I think it's basically about how much you want to be DIY. 

DrF

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2016, 11:37:43 AM »
If you are a nervous investor, and would pull money out or stop contributing in a downturn, then Betterment does offer a good service for a reasonable price. Especially if you are currently with a retail investment services company like Edward Jones, etc, where you pay fees of ~0.5+%.

TheStachery

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2016, 09:40:53 AM »
if you end up using betterment, be sure that you use the automatic investment to keep the betterment fees low.  you need a minimum of $100 in automatic deposits to get lower fees.

Choices

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2016, 10:07:35 AM »
My two cents - Avoid Betterment. Do it yourself with Vanguard.  It's not rocket science and you'll get better returns on your own.
+1
I'm not sure about Vanguard, but if you have a local Fidelity office you can sit down with someone for free who can talk you through the website. Just make it very clear that you're only interested in index funds, not funds with high expense ratios.

Our office has a guy who says he gets paid for retaining Fidelity's clients, not on commission for sales. He's been super-helpful with paperwork for 401k rollovers, etc.

wienerdog

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2016, 06:08:14 PM »
I used Betterment at first but the more I learned I moved everything to Vanguard after 6-7 months.  I had a build wealth 90/10 and 40/60 emergency fund.  I also keep some money in a savings account for emergency.  I really couldn't use the tax loss harvesting because I had VTI in a rollover IRA TD Ameritrade account and some other vanguard funds in a 401k that it made me nervous enough that the funds were close enough to trigger wash rules so I kept it off.  The dashboard and ease of use was nice but wasn't worth the fees.

I decided on a little different AA than what Betterment uses and ended up moving all my accounts to Vanguard except my 401k.   If you really wanted essentially the same thing without the tax loss harvesting and no fees open a free Future Advisor account and also a Vanguard account.  Link the Vanguard account to Future Advisor and it will tell you what to buy according to the information you give it (risk, retirement age, etc).  Sometimes Future Advisor will suggest a different fund than what Vanguard has but just pick the similar one at Vanguard and it will usually give in.  It's AA is about the same as Betterment.  I like getting the emails every so often and I usually beat their AA (target portfolio) with mine.

One other thing about Future Advisor and I have thought about emailing them on this is their savings rate input box only lets you go to 33% of your income.  I ended up adjusting my income so that 33% comes out to about what I am saving every year.  That made their predictions much closer to what was actually happening.

Jeremy E.

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #10 on: July 27, 2016, 10:39:22 AM »
My biggest issue with Betterment and Fidelity, are that they are for profit companies. Vangard is client-owned and it is operated at-cost. I also feel my money is safer with Vanguard, than it would be with any other investment company.

http://jlcollinsnh.com/2012/09/07/stocks-part-x-what-if-vanguard-gets-nuked/

neo von retorch

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #11 on: July 27, 2016, 11:46:06 AM »
...ended up moving all my accounts to Vanguard except my 401k

Did you do an "in kind" transfer? Did you have to get a Medallion signature guarantee?

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #12 on: July 27, 2016, 11:50:05 AM »
My biggest issue with Betterment and Fidelity, are that they are for profit companies. Vangard is client-owned and it is operated at-cost. I also feel my money is safer with Vanguard, than it would be with any other investment company.

http://jlcollinsnh.com/2012/09/07/stocks-part-x-what-if-vanguard-gets-nuked/
A related, perhaps paranoid, issue I have with betterment is that it's only a few years old, and reportedly not making money. Who knows how long they'll exist? Sure, you'd get the ETFs out (hopefully..) but after a decade or two that would be a horrible mess! I'm not confident betterment will be around in 30 years, but I'm betting Vanguard will..

And personally I think their portfolios are too complicated. Obviously so you won't think you can do it yourself.

wienerdog

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #13 on: July 27, 2016, 04:34:37 PM »
...ended up moving all my accounts to Vanguard except my 401k

Did you do an "in kind" transfer? Did you have to get a Medallion signature guarantee?

On my TD Ameritrade account I did as it was tax advantaged and mainly Vanguard ETFs.  It was an easy process and my credit union took care of the Medallion signature for me.  (Never heard of it before so I asked a financial lady at work).  For Betterment I setup an in kind transfer but it didn't make sense.  They had several non Vanguard ETFs and I was wanting to change my AA anyway.  Since it was in a taxable account I just sold out so I wouldn't have these small portions of odd ETFs that I would have to pay $7 at Vanguard to sell at a later date. 

I ate some on a loss but did tax loss harvest some ETFs also as I didn't have those in other accounts.  In the end I lost money at Betterment but I considered it a "cheap" learning experience and haven't looked back as I know I will be better off in the long run.

neo von retorch

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #14 on: July 28, 2016, 07:17:37 AM »
OK - thanks for the update. I was really confused by the Medallion thing. It said "read the page about it to determine if you need it" but there wasn't any more information on that page, so I just signed the transfer and sent it in. Not seeing any progress so I assume it's not going through. Just checked and if I cash out my Betterment right now, I've got nearly $2700 in short-term capital gains, so that's not a great move as far as tax is concerned.

Dicey

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #15 on: July 28, 2016, 08:00:43 AM »
Just checked and if I cash out my Betterment right now, I've got nearly $2700 in short-term capital gains, so that's not a great move as far as tax is concerned.
Why cash it out? Can't you just roll it into a Vanguard account?

neo von retorch

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #16 on: July 28, 2016, 08:30:28 AM »
Right - I already (attempted) to initiate an "in kind" transfer to Vanguard. Was just responding to weinerdog about the process he took. In his case, it was a loss anyway, so it was easier to just sell and buy what he wanted to Vanguard. In my case, I might as well transfer, and down the line, I hope to consolidate the big list of funds, which I can do during rebalancing, once they have been held long enough to be considered long-term.

wienerdog

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #17 on: July 28, 2016, 06:53:11 PM »
In my case, I might as well transfer, and down the line, I hope to consolidate the big list of funds, which I can do during rebalancing, once they have been held long enough to be considered long-term.

Yup you did the right move on the in kind transfer since you have short term gains.  Mine were all losses.  I think I put in $25000 and took out $24480. As I mentioned some of it I couldn't claim as a wash as VTI and one other were in another account.  The only costs to you will be when you sell the iShare ETFs that they use.  If you have less than $50,000 at Vanguard it will cost you $20 but you should get 25 discounted trades of $7 when you open the account.  If you have more than $50,000 and less than $500,000 stock and etf trades from a different company are $7.  Price goes down from there the more money you have with them.

neo von retorch

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #18 on: July 29, 2016, 08:10:01 AM »
Yup - I had rolled IRA funds into there, as well as some individual investments. I just got an email this morning from Betterment that they received the transfer request, and I checked, and the IRA is showing an updated status as of 7/27! The individual funds shouldn't be far behind. Interestingly enough, Betterment says that with an IRA, they liquidate and send the funds to Vanguard, so it'll be easy to slot that into my AA once it's there.

Kevin K.

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #19 on: July 29, 2016, 05:18:00 PM »
My two cents:

For someone relatively early in their investing career whose time is highly remunerative and thus valuable I can see a lot of advantages to what Betterment is offering. The portfolios are sophisticated, MPT-informed allocations and they will automatically keep you on track with rebalancing. I personally wouldn't consider doing it without 100K to invest because the .15% ER is at the upper end of what the service is worth.

Comparing what they offer to DIY at Vanguard is wrong, because you can't buy an internationally diversified, value and small-cap tilted, tax loss harvested, automatically rebalanced portfolio at Vanguard. Yes they have a newly-launched FA service, but the cost is .30% a year. Choosing Betterment gets you a complex slice-and-dice portfolio that would be very costly to get into and to rebalance on your own. Now whether you think that kind of allocation will outperform plain vanilla total stock/bond index portfolios is another question and there's endless discussion about it, but even among hard core Vanguard types on the Bogleheads forums most people do slice and dice.

J. Collins and Go Curry Cracker are great for inspiration but their recommended stock allocations and funds are vastly less diversified than what Betterment is using and also don't reflect factors like size, value and momentum upon which Modern Portfolio Theory is based. All TSM and maybe a bit of Total Bond is dead simple to manage, but at the expense of high volatility, strong home country bias and no exposure to the size, value and international tilts of more sophisticated portfolios.

MMM's own most recent post, while it admittedly only offers a snapshot of a brief period of returns, highlights the difference between kindergarten and postgraduate approaches to allocation:

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/betterment-vs-vanguard/
« Last Edit: July 29, 2016, 05:27:47 PM by Kevin K. »

TheStachery

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #20 on: July 29, 2016, 05:26:38 PM »
My biggest issue with Betterment and Fidelity, are that they are for profit companies. Vangard is client-owned and it is operated at-cost. I also feel my money is safer with Vanguard, than it would be with any other investment company.

http://jlcollinsnh.com/2012/09/07/stocks-part-x-what-if-vanguard-gets-nuked/
A related, perhaps paranoid, issue I have with betterment is that it's only a few years old, and reportedly not making money. Who knows how long they'll exist? Sure, you'd get the ETFs out (hopefully..) but after a decade or two that would be a horrible mess! I'm not confident betterment will be around in 30 years, but I'm betting Vanguard will..

And personally I think their portfolios are too complicated. Obviously so you won't think you can do it yourself.

Betterment launched in 2008, more then a "few" years old, but whatever.  Can you provide a source on the "not making money" piece?  I've searched everywhere and can only find where they are getting more investment money, I can't find anything about not making money.
Thanks!

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #21 on: July 29, 2016, 05:39:44 PM »
My biggest issue with Betterment and Fidelity, are that they are for profit companies. Vangard is client-owned and it is operated at-cost. I also feel my money is safer with Vanguard, than it would be with any other investment company.

http://jlcollinsnh.com/2012/09/07/stocks-part-x-what-if-vanguard-gets-nuked/
A related, perhaps paranoid, issue I have with betterment is that it's only a few years old, and reportedly not making money. Who knows how long they'll exist? Sure, you'd get the ETFs out (hopefully..) but after a decade or two that would be a horrible mess! I'm not confident betterment will be around in 30 years, but I'm betting Vanguard will..

And personally I think their portfolios are too complicated. Obviously so you won't think you can do it yourself.

Betterment launched in 2008, more then a "few" years old, but whatever.  Can you provide a source on the "not making money" piece?  I've searched everywhere and can only find where they are getting more investment money, I can't find anything about not making money.
Thanks!
I'll look for the article. I posted it here before, from the economist about capital inflow to "fintech" companies is slowing, and how they need very large amounts to be profitable. But yes they don't publish numbers so it's just assessments/speculation (they have $x, AUM, charge y%, expenses assumed to be $z etc)

Kevin K.

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #22 on: July 29, 2016, 05:43:46 PM »
Quote
Can you provide a source on the "not making money" piece?  I've searched everywhere and can only find where they are getting more investment money, I can't find anything about not making money.
Thanks!

This article by the well-known "advisor to advisors" Mike Kitces tells the tale:

https://www.kitces.com/blog/robo-advisor-growth-rates-and-valuations-crashing-from-high-client-acquisition-costs/

It speaks to a lot of issues others have discussed on this thread (and an even more substantive one on Betterment over on Bogleheads). Vanguard and Schwab are putting most of these folks out of business. Kitces thinks Betterment will likely be the last Robo standing, buty looking at their average account size I have to think they are a target for acquisition. The only thing of value they have, at the end of the day, are their algorithms.

On an unrelated note, the thing I really object to about all of these models is they charge a % of assets rather than a fixed fee. It doesn't cost them anything more to manage $1M than it does 10K. Nothing stopping you from registering with Betterment to have a look see at their recommended allocation and then doing it yourself at Vanguard with ETFs, but with an average portfolio containing ~15+ different funds rebalancing won't be simple or free (trading costs).

wienerdog

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #23 on: July 30, 2016, 09:14:14 AM »
but with an average portfolio containing ~15+ different funds rebalancing won't be simple or free (trading costs).

If you can run a spreadsheet then you can balance "~+15 funds" (Betterment only uses 12 depending on portfolio.  6 if 100% stock).  In accumulation phase it is dead simple and if you use all Vanguard funds it is free (save the 0.15% fee).  But you more than likely will always be buying in accumulation unless there is a big crash.  Vanguard also has Portfolio Analysis that will help you look over your shoulder.



Scandium

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #24 on: July 30, 2016, 01:07:06 PM »
but with an average portfolio containing ~15+ different funds rebalancing won't be simple or free (trading costs).

If you can run a spreadsheet then you can balance "~+15 funds" (Betterment only uses 12 depending on portfolio.  6 if 100% stock).  In accumulation phase it is dead simple and if you use all Vanguard funds it is free (save the 0.15% fee).  But you more than likely will always be buying in accumulation unless there is a big crash.  Vanguard also has Portfolio Analysis that will help you look over your shoulder.
Yes, I "can" also pay only with pennies at the grocery store, but doesn't mean I would want to..

Kevin K.

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #25 on: July 30, 2016, 04:53:58 PM »
but with an average portfolio containing ~15+ different funds rebalancing won't be simple or free (trading costs).

If you can run a spreadsheet then you can balance "~+15 funds" (Betterment only uses 12 depending on portfolio.  6 if 100% stock).  In accumulation phase it is dead simple and if you use all Vanguard funds it is free (save the 0.15% fee).  But you more than likely will always be buying in accumulation unless there is a big crash.  Vanguard also has Portfolio Analysis that will help you look over your shoulder.

The conservative allocation Betterment showed me had 14 funds, and while you're right buying taking care of most rebalancing during accumulation, but I was looking at DIY vs. Betterment during retirement when each rebalance would involve ETF trading fees.

FWIW MMM reports the tax loss harvesting alone has saved him a great deal more than Bettement's .15%. Now if Vanguard or someone else with staying power would just offer these services for a realistic fixed fee rather than a percentage of assets.

wienerdog

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #26 on: July 31, 2016, 04:47:15 PM »
but with an average portfolio containing ~15+ different funds rebalancing won't be simple or free (trading costs).

If you can run a spreadsheet then you can balance "~+15 funds" (Betterment only uses 12 depending on portfolio.  6 if 100% stock).  In accumulation phase it is dead simple and if you use all Vanguard funds it is free (save the 0.15% fee).  But you more than likely will always be buying in accumulation unless there is a big crash.  Vanguard also has Portfolio Analysis that will help you look over your shoulder.

The conservative allocation Betterment showed me had 14 funds, and while you're right buying taking care of most rebalancing during accumulation, but I was looking at DIY vs. Betterment during retirement when each rebalance would involve ETF trading fees.

FWIW MMM reports the tax loss harvesting alone has saved him a great deal more than Bettement's .15%. Now if Vanguard or someone else with staying power would just offer these services for a realistic fixed fee rather than a percentage of assets.

Just wondering if you are in a taxable account?  I think the taxed advantaged adds the domestic and international REITS.

The only problem I saw with Tax Harvesting is you can't have similar funds in another account unless you turn off reinvesting dividends but I agree it could make up the fee.  Wondering how MMM does it as I am sure he has other accounts?

tj

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #27 on: July 31, 2016, 07:13:58 PM »
The tax loss harvesting is not a benefit unless you are in a very high tax bracket. Even then it is debatable. You'll have larger gains in the future and not much opportunity to TLH barring a huge collapse.

tj

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #28 on: August 01, 2016, 08:47:30 AM »
A good read re: Betterment and the like.


http://www.obliviousinvestor.com/be-wary-of-online-reviews/

arebelspy

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Re: Betterment
« Reply #29 on: August 01, 2016, 03:42:19 PM »
A good read re: Betterment and the like.


http://www.obliviousinvestor.com/be-wary-of-online-reviews/

Absolutely. 

That's true of all of these affiliate ones.

Here's an article specific to why one may not want to use Betterment:
http://www.gocurrycracker.com/why-betterment-has-zero-of-our-dollars/
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Re: Betterment
« Reply #30 on: August 03, 2016, 12:09:39 PM »
I am a do it yourself guy, but I wanted to point out two things to the OP:

1) If the funds you are investing into betterment are for big purchase in the next few years make sure to pick a very conservative strategy

2) If you look around at some of the robot-advisors you can find offers to manage the first 10-15k FREE(you still play the underlying fund or ETF fee).  So you might be able to put 10k with wealthfront, 10K with sigfig, 10k with betterment.....