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Charles Schwab, the creator of the popular discount stock broker, originally rocked the investment world by offering stock trades at a fraction of what traditional brokers were charging. Competition is good.

Robo advisors — or as Schwab likes to call them, automated investing services — have become popular in the past few years.


Commissions & Fees – 10


Customer Service – 10


Ease of Use – 8.5


Tools & Resources – 8.5


Investment Options – 5


Asset Allocation – 8

8

Charles Schwab’s fee-free Intelligent Portfolios is competent and offers a wide range of its own ETFs. The service also offers tax-loss harvesting, which is a big plus. However, it might be a bit too pricey for new and small investors.

Schwab of course has an edge in that it’s part of the larger Charles Schwab family. This gives you the opportunity for all-inclusive investing. But how does it work? I took it for a test-drive to find out.

Pros & Cons

pros

  • Schwab has more than 300 branches in and around cities across the U.S
  • The regular Intelligent Portfolios plan doesn’t have any management fees
  • You can upgrade to Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium if you invest at least $25,000 and work with a human financial planner as well
  • Charles Schwab is also a comprehensive broker with a range of account types and investable assets
  • Funds have fairly low expense ratios and are diverse

cons

  • There’s a $5,000 minimum investment requirement
  • Tax-loss harvesting is only available for accounts with at least $50,000
  • Doesn’t offer ESG-focused portfolios like some competitors

What Is Schwab Intelligent Portfolios?

Similar to other popular robo advisors, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is a professionally managed, fully automated investment portfolio.

Your portfolio selects investments depending on your risk tolerance, ranging from conservative to moderate, to aggressive. The portfolio also rebalances daily as necessary. Tax-loss harvesting is available on accounts with a minimum balance of $50,000.

In addition to Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, you can take advantage of all the investment options that are available through Charles Schwab. The company is a full-service discount brokerage firm and one of the largest in the world. It has almost $3 trillion in client assets under management.

It offers a virtually unlimited selection of investments, including exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, bonds and other fixed-income investments, options, real estate investment trusts (REITs) and commodity-based investments.

It’s possible to have Schwab Intelligent Portfolios managed for you while also maintaining a self-directed portfolio with the same broker.

Charles Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Features

Minimum Investment $5,000
Fees None
Accounts
  • Taxable
  • Joint
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Rollover IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA
  • 401(k)
  • Solo 401(k)
  • Trusts
  • Limited Partnerships
  • Partnerships
  • Coverdell
  • 529
  • Custodial
  • Non-Profit
  • 401(k) Guidance
401(k) Assistance
Tax Loss Harvesting
Portfolio Rebalancing
Automatic Deposits

Monthly, Bimonthly and Quarterly

Advice Automated
Smart Beta
Socially Responsible
Fractional Shares
Customer Service Phone: 24/7; Live Chat: 24/7; Email

How Does Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Work?

You can open an account with as little as $5,000. You begin by completing a questionnaire that includes 12 questions that help to establish your investment risk profile, time horizon and investing goals.

Your portfolio is built of as many as 20 individual ETFs. These include stocks and fixed-income investments. But Schwab also adds a few investment allocations that are not typical of robo advisors. These include real estate, precious metals, bank loans and even master limited partnerships (MLPs). Schwab Intelligent Portfolios also includes a cash component, which will be based on your investment profile.

Since Charles Schwab has its own line of ETFs, some will be included in your portfolio, along with the funds of other fund families.

And as one of the largest investment brokerages, Schwab offers everything you need to invest. The customer service is among the best in the industry. And it provides you with full access to investment professionals, round the clock. The platform also has a wealth of educational resources and investment tools.

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Model Portfolio

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios has a very different composition than that of typical robo investing portfolios. Most allocate your portfolio across no more than a dozen ETFs. The funds are primarily in stocks and bonds, with the stock funds representing the broadest indices. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios uses very specific stock allocations, then adds a few twists to the mix.

Schwab evaluates hundreds of different ETFs, reducing the number that it uses to construct portfolios down to just 53. Each individual portfolio holds approximately 20 of those ETFs. And there’s two ETFs in each asset allocation, a primary and secondary. This is done to facilitate tax-loss harvesting. The process involves buying and selling similar funds within the same asset class.

The general asset class mix includes the following broad categories:

  • Stocks
  • Fixed income
  • Commodities
  • Cash

The cash position is held in the Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Sweep Program, where it will earn money market rates of interest. It’s FDIC insured for up to $250,000 per depositor. The cash allocation is determined by your risk profile, with the largest position being held by the most risk-averse investors.

Stock Portfolio Makeup

The stock allocation is made up of several sub allocations, including the following:

  • US Large Company Stock
  • US Small Company Stock
  • International Developed Large Company Stock
  • International Developed Small Company Stock
  • International Emerging Markets

What’s more, there are two allocations within each stock allocation. One is the general market index weighted by market capitalization. The second is the “fundamental” allocation of the same stock class. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios believes the combination of the two allocations to be preferred investing methodology.

The fundamental allocations invest in ETFs that screen and weight companies based on fundamental factors like sales, cash flow and dividends. This is also referred to as “smart beta” or “strategic beta.” But in practical terms, it’s value investing — investing in stocks with strong fundamentals but out of favor with current investment strategies.

Fundamental index strategies tend to lag market cap indexes in general booms in the market or during times when large companies outperform smaller ones. But research has indicated that fundamental index strategies outperform market cap indexes over the long haul. That’s because they overweight companies that are relatively cheap based on financial metrics. As well, they do well in markets that reward value stocks.

The ETFs that are included in Schwab Intelligent Portfolios include:

Category Primary ETF Secondary ETF
US Large Company SCHX — Schwab U.S. Large-Cap VOO — Vanguard S&P 500
US Large Company — Fundamental FNDX — Schwab Fundamental U.S. Large Company PRF — PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1000
US Small Company SCHA — Schwab U.S. Small-Cap VB — Vanguard Small-Cap
US Small Company — Fundamental FNDA — Schwab Fundamental U.S. Small Company PRFZ — PowerShares FTSE RAFI US 1500 Small-Mid
International Developed Large Company SCHF — Schwab International Equity VEA — Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets
International Developed Large Company — Fundamental FNDF — Schwab Fundamental International Large Company PXF — PowerShares FTSE RAFI Developed Markets ex-U.S
International Developed — Small Company SCHC — Schwab International Small-Cap Equity VSS — Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US Small Cap
International Developed Small Company — Fundamental FNDC — Schwab Fundamental International Small Company PDN — PowerShares FTSE RAFI Developed Markets ex-U.S. Small-Mid
International Emerging Markets SCHE — Schwab Emerging Markets Equity IEMG — iShares Core MSCI Emerging Markets
International Emerging Markets — Fundamental FNDE — Schwab Fundamental Emerging Markets Large Company PXH — PowerShares FTSE RAFI Emerging Markets
US Exchange-Traded REITS SCHH — Schwab U. S. REIT USRT- iShares Core U.S. REIT
International Exchange-Traded REITS VNQI — Vanguard Global ex-U.S. Real Estate IFGL — iShares International Developed Real Estate
US High Dividend SCHD — Schwab US Dividend Equity VYM — Vanguard High Dividend Yield
International High Dividend VYMI — Vanguard International High Dividend Yield DWX — SPDR® S&P International Dividend
Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) MLPA — Global X MLP ZMLP — Direxion Zacks MLP High Income

Unusual Stock Allocations

In addition to the general stock allocations, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios adds a few sectors to the stock portion that you don’t typically see with other robo advisors.

Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) — These are funds that invest in commercial real estate and large apartment complexes. They can invest in the properties themselves or in the mortgages that are secured by those properties. The funds trade on exchanges and must pay out 90% of their taxable income to their shareholders. REITs have a history of paying out high dividends, as well as being a hedge against inflation. They represent a solid diversification away from an all-stock portfolio and tend to do well in times of inflation.

High Dividend Stocks — Schwab Intelligent Portfolios includes these in the stock allocation in order to add income. High dividend stocks function as a growth-income component, providing both predictable income and stock price appreciation. As well, dividend paying stocks tend to have more stable prices and can reduce volatility in a portfolio.

Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) — This is an allocation that you never find in other robo advisor portfolios. MLPs typically invest in real estate or the production, processing or transportation of oil, natural gas, coal and other commodities. This is another way that Schwab Intelligent Portfolios adds a commodity diversification to your portfolio.

Fixed Income Portfolio Makeup

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios’ fixed income allocation includes the following general categories:

  • US Treasurys
  • US Investment Grade Corporate Bonds
  • US Securitized Bonds
  • US Inflation Protected Bonds
  • US Corporate High Yield
  • International Developed Corporate Bonds
  • International Emerging Markets Bonds
  • Investment Grade Municipal Bonds
  • Investment Grade California Municipal Bonds (for California residents)

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios departs from the usual allocation by adding two unique categories to its fixed income portfolio:

Preferred Securities — These are the preferred stock of major companies. These shares provide high dividends and the potential for price appreciation.

Bank Loans — Being tied to short-term interest rates, bank loans would likely be unaffected if long-term interest rates were to rise. They can be attractive in environments where short-term interest rates are rising.

The fixed income portfolio includes the following allocations:

Category Primary ETF Secondary ETF
US Treasurys SCHR — Schwab Intermediate-Term U.S. Treasury VGIT — Vanguard Intermediate-Term Government Bond
US Investment Grade Corporate Bonds SPIB — SPDR® Portfolio Intermediate Term Corporate Bond VCIT — Vanguard Intermediate-Term Corporate Bond
US Securitized Bonds VMBS — Vanguard Mortgage-Backed Securities MBB — iShares MBS
US Inflation Protected Bonds SCHP — Schwab U.S. TIPS STIP — iShares 0-5 Year TIPS Bond
US Corporate High Yield Bonds HYLB — Deutsche X-trackers USD High Yield Corporate Bond SHYG — iShares 0-5 Year High Yield Corporate Bond
International Developed Country Bonds BNDX — Vanguard Total International Bond IGOV — iShares International Treasury Bond
International Emerging Markets Bonds EBND — SPDR® Bloomberg Barclays Emerging Markets Local Bond EMLC — VanEck Vectors JP Morgan EM Local Currency Bond
Preferred Securities PSK — SPDR Wells Fargo Preferred Stock PFF — iShares U.S. Preferred Stock
Bank Loans BKLN — PowerShares Senior Loan N/A
Investment Grade Municipal Bonds VTEB — Vanguard Tax-Exempt Bond SHM — – SPDR® Nuveen Bloomberg Barclays Short Term Muni Bond
Investment Grade California Municipal Bonds PWZ — PowerShares California AMT-Free Muni Bond CMF — iShares California AMT-Free Muni Bond

Commodity Fund Addition

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios also includes a commodity fund, or more specifically gold and other precious metals. This allocation uses one of two funds:

  1. IAU — iShares Gold Trust (primary EFT)
  2. GLTR — ETFS Physical Precious Metals Basket (secondary ETF)

The precious metals allocation increases overall portfolio diversification and is considered to be a defensive strategy and good inflation hedge. That’s because precious metals tend to perform well when financial assets decline.

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium

If you want to avoid account management fees and don’t need a human advisor for backup, you can stick with Schwab’s core robo advisor. But customers with at least $25,000 to invest can upgrade to the Premium version which provides perks like:

  • Unlimited, one-on-one chatting with a certified financial planner
  • A more customized digital financial plan
  • Premium digital planning tools to help you stay on track with your various financial goals

There’s a $300 one-time planning fee plus a $30 monthly fee for Schwab Intelligent Portfolio Premium. At $30 per month on a $25,000 portfolio, you’re looking at a 1.44% annual management fee; almost six times higher than leading robo advisors like Betterment and Wealthfront. But if working with a human advisor is a must, this could be a selling point.

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Fees

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios doesn’t charge any account management fees or setup fees for its regular robo advisor. However, the Premium version charges a $300 setup fee and $30 monthly management fee. All customers also pay operating expense ratio (OER) on the ETFs held in your portfolio. This fee is typical of all robo advisors and is paid through the funds themselves.

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios’ operating expense ratios (OERs) range from 0.3% to 0.65%. The weighted average annual OER varies by portfolio type and looks like this:

  • Conservative portfolio, 0.06%
  • Moderate portfolio, 0.15%
  • Aggressive portfolio, 0.20%

Overall, Schwab is a very competitive robo advisor due to the lack of management fees. In contrast, many competitors charge 0.25% in annual fees. Options like M1 and SoFi don’t have management fees either, but it’s not a given, even for such a competitive space as robo advisors

Is Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Safe?

All accounts are protected by SIPC. SIPC insures the value of your account for up to $500,000, including $250,000 in cash. There is also FDIC coverage, also up to $250,000, for cash held in the Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Sweep Program.

Best Alternatives

One of the main reasons Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is so popular is because of the name behind the robo advisor and lack of fees.

However, a $5,000 minimum investment requirement isn’t ideal if you’re investing with little money. And there are some other great alternatives you can consider:

Betterment and Wealthfront are two industry leaders, and the low fees and minimum investment requirements are draws. Betterment also has some excellent ESG portfolios, and Wealthfront gives you more control over the specific ETFs in your portfolio.

As for Personal Capital, it requires $100,000 to invest with its advisory service, which is human-managed. But it has many free, useful tools like budgeting planners, an investment fee analyzer, and a net worth tracker.

Summary

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios looks to be one of the best overall robo advisors available. The fact that Schwab Intelligent Portfolios comes with no fees is an obvious benefit. The typical fee range for robo advisors is 0.25% to 0.50%. This can significantly reduce a portfolio’s performance over the long term.

But even more important is the very broad diversification offered. The portfolio seems to be oriented toward advancing in all types of markets. This is reflected by the inclusion of fundamental stock allocations, real estate investment trusts and precious metals, all of which have the potential to run counter to the investment mainstream. This can be an important advantage in a different type of market than the perpetual bull market we’re experiencing right now.

The lone disadvantage is the relatively high initial investment requirement. At $5,000, new and small investors would be better served by opening an account with either Betterment, which has no minimum initial investment requirement, or Wealthfront, which requires only $500 up front.

But if you meet the minimum investment, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is an excellent robo advisor choice.




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