Review of: LearnVest
Reviewed by: Miranda Marquit
Last modified: December 13, 2017
LearnVest is a financial planning platform that combines budgeting with investing. It’s a one-stop shop if you’re looking for an all-in-one financial platform. However, the investment side of the platform is limited only to providing investment allocation advice. It does not manage your investment portfolio the way robo advisors do.
As Millennials become more financially savvy and start wanting to save for retirement, they’re turning to online services to help them fulfill their needs. LearnVest’s goal is to help younger people — and anyone, for that matter — receive trustworthy financial planning services online without paying an arm and a leg.
LearnVest’s motto is: “We’re on a mission to change the way people feel about money.” In that spirit, the service has helped hundreds of thousands of people become financially secure and save money for their most important goals.
But how does it stack up? We took a look at this platform, and this is what we found.
|Price||$0.00 - $19.00/month|
|Access||Website, iOS App|
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|Import QFX, QIF Files|
What Is LearnVest?
LearnVest was founded in 2009 and was acquired by Northwestern Mutual in 2015. The platform provides budgeting tools, financial information and investment services, as well as access to an online financial planner.
The service is not too dissimilar from Mint.com or Personal Capital. All three services sync up to a lot of your banking, investment and financial accounts and create detailed pictures of your budget. However, LearnVest has a few unique features.
fExactly how the platform will work for you and how far it will go will depend on whether you decide on the free version or the premium version.
How LearnVest Works
When you sign up for LearnVest, you’ll be prompted to enter your various accounts into the dashboard. And since it’s a financial planning platform, you must enter information from all of your financial accounts. This includes not just income and expenses, but also credit cards, car loans, mortgages, checking and savings accounts, investment accounts and retirement accounts.
Let’s go over some of the differences between the free and premium accounts.
LearnVest Free Version
LearnVest’s Money Center and Knowledge Center resources are free. You’ll also have access to the LearnVest dashboard and online budgeting tools. The free version doesn’t automatically aggregate all of your financial accounts, but you can add balances and transactions manually.
The Knowledge Center is a valuable resource all by itself. It has hundreds of articles and tutorials on virtually every aspect of financial management. This includes debts, budgeting, investing, mortgages, saving for goals, insurance and retirement planning, among other topics.
You can also get a free assessment. That’s a 15-minute phone conversation with a LearnVest advisor. You’ll input basic information about your finances, then a phone call will be scheduled. Based on the information that you provide, the advisor will explain to you what programs LearnVest has available to help you achieve your goals.
The premium version is where you’ll get personalized financial advice. You’ll pay both a startup fee and a monthly fee for being part of LearnVest Premium, but that will entitle you to access to a virtual laundry list of advanced services, including:
- A dedicated financial planner who customizes your program
- A detailed financial Action Plan that breaks down your goals and next steps
- A Commitment Calendar with how much to put toward your goals each month
- Custom Challenges that break down your action items into bite-sized pieces
- Support, accountability and unlimited email access to your planner, all year round
- A custom Money Center to help you track your spending, saving and progress
- Access to exclusive content and events for premium members
LearnVest Financial Planner
LearnVest Premium provides you with a personal financial planner. All LearnVest financial planners are certified financial planners (CFPs) or FINRA Series 65 Investment Advisor Representatives.
You start by completing your financial profile. This is necessary to set up your first call with your financial planner. The idea is to provide the planner with the necessary information regarding your financial situation.
Once you’ve done that, a phone call will be set up. It will be a getting-to-know-you call that will last about an hour. The planner will review your information and get additional information.
You will work consistently with the same financial planner. This will give you and the planner an opportunity to get to know each other and to develop a long-term relationship. You will have unlimited access to your planner and be able to update your goals and your finances as necessary.
The LearnVest Action Plan. You will be provided with a professionally prepared Action Plan, which looks strikingly similar to the kind that are prepared by financial planners who charge many thousands of dollars for the same service.
The Action Plan will provide detailed information about your financial situation. This will include your finances as they currently stand, as well as recommendations and projections for how to move them in a way that will enable you to attain your financial goals.
Ongoing monthly support. Under the premium plan, you can count on continuing support. You can email your financial planner anytime you like. The platform also provides tools, articles, classes and online events to help explain the advice provided. You’ll be provided with workable to-dos to help you advance toward your goals.
Setting Up Your Goals
The LearnVest Money Center was designed to help you reach your financial goals. You can create virtually any goal you can imagine. These can include:
- Funding retirement savings
- Building an emergency fund
- Paying down credit card debt
- Paying off student loans
- Saving for an important event, such as a vacation or wedding
Once you create a goal, you connect an account to it from which to contribute. This can be a checking account, savings account or credit card. You enter the total amount that you need to save toward the goal and then set monthly contributions that will enable you to achieve the goal in the desired amount of time.
LearnVest doesn’t actually manage your investments, make specific investment recommendations or place trades in your accounts. Instead, it helps you determine your investment goals, such as retirement or saving for college for your children, by providing asset allocation recommendations. The allocations are based on your time horizon, investment objectives and risk tolerance.
LearnVest uses a combination of proprietary software and discussions with your personal financial planner to provide you with a personalized plan, as well as provide ongoing support. What’s more, LearnVest can support robo advisor platforms, such as Wealthfront and Betterment. You can use one of those accounts to support a priority goal.
LearnVest budgeting uses a six-step process:
- Setting up your income
- Setting up your fixed costs (housing, debt payments, utilities, etc.)
- Setting up your goals (see above)
- Setting up your flex spending (shopping, eating out, entertainment, groceries, etc.)
- Organizing your transactions (enable you to categorize expenses into dedicated folders)
- Accounting for non-monthly expenses (creating monthly funding for annual expenses)
As part of the Action Program, every client gets a custom budget from their LearnVest Planner.
LearnVest charges two fees — an initial setup fee and a monthly fee. The initial setup fee is $299, and the monthly is $19.
The initial setup fee can be paid upfront or in installments:
- Two payments of $149, or
- Three payments of $99
There’s actually a very slight savings by making the payment in installments. Two payments of $149 comes to $298, saving you $1. Three payments of $99 comes to $297, which saves you $2. It’s certainly not much of a savings, but most services that offer installment plans charge a premium for multiple payments. That’s not the case with LearnVest.
Canceling your LearnVest subscription. You’re free to cancel your subscription at any time. Once you do, you’ll have access to the account until the end of the 30-day period covered by your most recent monthly payment. You will not be charged during the next billing period. Be aware that LearnVest does not offer partial month refunds.
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Pros and Cons
- Low Fee Structure — The fee structure is much lower than what you will pay to a typical financial advisor.
- Goal Setting — The goal-setting feature is an excellent way to help non-savers focus on saving money for very specific purposes.
- Financial Planning Available — LearnVest offers low-cost financial planning with a live financial advisor.
- Great Access to Advisor — Access to your personal financial advisor is live and unlimited.
- Free Knowledge Center — The LearnVest Knowledge Center has a wealth of information that can provide a deep content resource for people new to money management
- No Auto Pay — The platform doesn't have an automatic bill payment function.
- No Direct Management — LearnVest doesn't directly manage your investments, as a robo advisor would do.
- Expensive Budgeting — It's more expensive than popular budgeting competitors, such as Mint and YNAB.
- No Access to Credit Report — LearnVest doesn't offer access to your credit report or credit score monitoring. This would be a natural add-on for a financial management platform.
- No Android App — Although LearnVest has an iPhone app, there's nothing mobile for non-Apple users yet.
LearnVest can be an excellent starter financial planning platform for those who are new to personal financial management. The major benefit is that the planning and tools offered provide complete financial management assistance. The added benefit of a dedicated financial advisor is also a major plus. In a world where financial platforms are increasingly providing only minimal human interaction, access to a live planner is a huge advantage.
Purely as a budgeting platform however, LearnVest is more expensive than other budgeting platforms, such as Mint.com and YNAB, especially considering that both offer more comprehensive tools, such as automatic bill payments.
If your primary purpose in working with a financial planning service is investing, LearnVest is limited in this regard. It will provide investment guidance, including recommending portfolio and investment allocations. But it will not directly manage your investments for you. In this way, it’s like MarketRiders.
Robo advisors will provide comprehensive professional management of your investments and do so at a much lower price. For example, both Wealthfront and Betterment charge a fee of 0.25% a year. This means that an account of $100,000 can be managed for an annual fee of $250, with no setup fee. That’s only slightly higher than the $19 per month charged by LearnVest, which also charges a $299 setup fee.
Like Mint.com, LearnVest is all about budgeting with investing a secondary focus. If you are looking for investing reporting tools, we recommend Personal Capital instead.