Empower controls more than $1 trillion in assets under administration and serves over 17 million customers in partnership with Empower. In this Empower review, I’ll share my experiences being one of those customers using the app for a few months, some of its primary pros and cons, how it compares to other apps and services like it, and more.
Read on to see if Empower’s commitment to growth and innovation is a fit for you.
Empower is a hybrid digital wealth management company and finance app. In addition to paid investment management and advisory services, it offers a number of useful free tools to help with everything from net worth tracking to saving and retirement planning.
- Easy-to-use app
- Great security, including two-factor authentication
- App is completely free to use
- Wealth management fees can be hefty
- May be subject to upsells
What is Empower?
Empower was founded in 2009 by Bill Harris, a fintech expert with past experience working for PayPal, Intuit, and more. He created Empower to offer everyday investors a modern and affordable way to manage their investments and get advice.
In 2020, Empower Retirement acquired Personal Capital, and the two platforms combined strengths to deliver a more comprehensive and personalized investment management and retirement planning solution.
Today it’s one of the biggest retirement plan providers in the nation.
Pros & cons
- Easy-to-use app — The Empower app is user-friendly and intuitive, with helpful visuals to represent the “big picture” of your money.
- Great security — Empower has two-factor authentication. So whenever you log in from an unknown device, you’ll get a text message or phone call with a PIN that you must enter along with your password.
- The app is free — While you do have to pay some fees if you have Empower financial advisors manage your money, the app itself is completely free to use.
- Wealth management fees — Empower requires some hefty fees for its wealth management services. But in our opinion, they’re worth it. Plus, their regular budgeting tools are completely free.
- Upsells — Empower may reach out to its users to try and sell its wealth management service, which can be annoying. This is more common after users reach balances of $100,000.
Empower offers a variety of features to help you better manage your investments, track your portfolio’s performance, understand your cash flow, avoid hidden fees, and more.
You can use it to meet your investing goals by taking advantage of the many retirement planning tools and portfolio optimization features and calculators. But although Empower stands out as an investment app, it can also help you save and budget.
Here are some of the financial tools available to all users.
In the allocation tool, the colored rectangles show the percentage of your portfolio in each asset class: Cash, international stocks and bonds, US individual stocks or bonds, and alternatives.
Empower lets you explore your entire investment portfolio visually, regardless of where you hold the investment assets (Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, your 401k, etc.). I’ve found this valuable for managing my own overall asset allocation.
For example, in the recent stock market rally, the percentage of stocks I own compared to bonds has ballooned. Empower lets me see just how much and identify the accounts in which I should sell some stocks and pick up alternative assets. Of course, that’s a basic example – Empower can break down your portfolio by industry, market cap, and a host of other variables.
Net worth and cash flow tracking
What good is a financial app if it doesn’t provide a clear summary of your financial position?
The Empower net worth report puts your balances, cash flow, and investment holdings in one place. It also integrates with the real estate website Zillow to provide daily updates on your property values.
Empower also includes a full-featured “personal finance manager” (similar to Mint) that automatically aggregates your income and expenses, then displays your cash flow data in easy-to-read charts.
Both of these features combine to give you a deeper understanding of where your money is going and what you’re working toward.
There are many different calculators that all users can use for free. To name just a few:
- Emergency Fund Calculator
- College Savings Calculator
- Life Insurance Calculator
- Debt Payoff Calculator
- Roth Conversion Calculator
- Monthly Budget Calculator
The Monthly Budget Calculator is great for creating a monthly budget and checking your progress. It can help you calculate your fixed and variable expenses, track your spending, and set goals for how you want to use your money. The more accounts you link, the clearer your spending habits will be.
With Empower Retirement Planner, you can see if you’re on track to retire when you plan to. You can also try out different incomes and expenses to see how changes to your cash flow may impact your retirement date and your total cost to retire. For example, putting a child through college or collecting Social Security.
This dashboard is pretty comprehensive and you’ll get the most out of it if you revisit it often.
The free Savings Planner covers four key areas:
- Retirement Savings – tells you what you need to save for a 70% chance of meeting your retirement goals
- Emergency Fund Saving – calculates how much money you need to cover three to six months’ living expenses
- Debt Paydown – shows all the money you owe in one place
- Account Level Savings – only for paid clients, this provides personalized recommendations to maximize all of your saving
You may find you want more help with a large savings goal such as saving for college. For additional support, financial advisors are available to discuss the methods you can use to fund education expenses. Their goal is to help make sure you’re saving and paying for college in the most tax-efficient way.
With Empower’s retirement planner tool, the fee analyzer, you can see how your retirement account fees are impacting your retirement date. They’ll also show you any hidden fees in your mutual funds and point out opportunities to save on fees.
Empower Personal Cash™ is a fee-free cash management account that earns a competitive interest rate. It doesn’t require a minimum balance and currently pays a notable APY. Empower Personal Cash™ is covered with aggregate FDIC insurance up to $5 million/up to $10 million for joint accounts through their partner banks ($250K including principal & interest per depositor per program bank).
You can think of cash management accounts, including this one, as an alternative to traditional checking. It’s a safe place to store your cash until you’re ready to use it elsewhere and you can make withdrawals like a checking account. There’s no limit to the number of withdrawals or transfers you can make and you can direct deposit your paycheck for easy funding. This account lacks bill pay features found in many checking accounts but is otherwise a good option whether you have an account with Empower or not.
Empower is very open about its investment strategy.
Its strategy is based on years of research and its goal is to “establish and maintain a strategic investment account portfolio which gives every client the best chance to achieve their financial goals.”
Personalized asset allocation
Here’s a graph to represent Empower’s methodology.
Increasing diversification for better returns
While asset allocation is important, it’s also important to pick the right securities within each asset class.
While it may seem counterintuitive, sometimes picking the hottest stocks isn’t a great idea in the long run. As you can see from the graph, having a portfolio based mostly on one asset class – let’s stick with stocks – can hurt if the stock market crashes. Empower aims to reduce this risk.
Tax optimization is a big part of Empower’s investment strategy. It involves utilizing credits or deductions that can be used to reduce taxes. Their “tax optimization process focuses on three key areas: tax allocation, tax-loss harvesting, and tax efficiency.”
- Tax-Sensitive Asset Location: According to Empower, “a general rule is to place higher-yield investments in tax-deferred or exempt accounts and low-yield investments in taxable accounts.”
- Tax-loss harvesting: This allows you to potentially pay fewer taxes and increase long-term returns by selling off losing investments.
- Tax efficiency: When it comes to investing, there are a lot of investment vehicles to choose from. Each choice can have different tax implications, so understanding which are the most efficient for you can help reduce your taxes.
Since Empowers service is made up of a variety of different tools and features, let’s go over pricing information for these individually.
Using the Empower app is free because the company hopes to connect at least a small percentage of users with paid financial advisors. If you have over $100,000 in assets, you’ll likely get a call from an advisor offering some friendly advice, but make no mistake, it’s a sales pitch.
Paid wealth management
As far as financial advice goes, Empower is taking the right approach. Their financial planning services are fee-only, meaning they won’t try to sell you expensive investments hidden with commissions and fees.
Rather, you pay an annual fee based on the size of your investment portfolio to have access to a team of financial advisors who will provide investment management and other financial planning services.
Investors pay 0.89% a year on their $1 million of assets under management (AOM), then it slides down. Here’s the full schedule:
- 0.89% on the first $1 million
For investors who invest $1 million or more:
- 0.79% on the first $3 million
- 0.69% on the next $2 million
- 0.59% on the next $5 million
- 0.49% over $10 million
Empower’s fee schedule is in line with industry norms, if a little less, but you can find lower fees elsewhere.
How to get started
To sign up for Empower, you’ll need to link one or more of your bank and investment accounts (for example, your checking account, IRA, and 401(k) accounts). This process takes 10 minutes or so, and you’ll need to have the logins to those accounts handy.
With your account set up, you can access all of the free financial tools.
My experience using Empower
For the most part, the Empower user experience is good. I’ve done most of my exploring on my laptop because the richness of their graphical reports lends itself to a bigger than four-inch screen. As a result, their iPad app is also slick.
Like any app that has access to sensitive financial information, security is important. Empower has two-factor authentication, meaning that whenever you log in from an unknown device (or clear your cookies), you’ll be required to get a text message or phone call with a PIN that you must enter along with your password.
That can be an inconvenient extra step at times but provides peace of mind that somebody who happens to swipe your login can’t view your entire financial picture.
Empower vs. competitors
Empower is unique, but it’s not the only wealth management platform with financial advisors and planning tools.
See how Empower, Wealthfront, and Betterment compare below.
Wealthfront is designed for young professionals, anyone from passive investors who want expert digital guidance, to people who want to be smarter with money. Investment management is automated with tried-and-true algorithms but strategic—and tuned in to your individual risk level.
Low fees, free planning guides, and multiple tax perks make Wealthfront worth a look.
- Automated management
- Tax-loss harvesting
- Ability to customize portfolios
- No fractional shares of ETFs in automated accounts
- No human advisors
Wealthfront is a robo advisor that uses technology instead of humans to help you invest. Wealthfront charges an annual advisory fee of just 0.25% compared to Empower’s 0.89% for wealth management services. A $500 deposit is required.
To get started, you’ll choose from a handful of curated portfolios and customize one for your desired asset allocation and risk tolerance. Then Wealthfront will automatically rebalance your portfolio and use tax-loss harvesting strategies to help you save.
If you prefer a more hands-off investing style, Wealthfront is probably going to be a better fit for your needs. This is also a good alternative to Empower if you don’t want to pay Empower’s higher fees or don’t have as much cash to deposit. But Empower offers more comprehensive money management features and financial tools while Wealthfront is primarily a robo advisor.
Like Wealthfront, Betterment is a robo advisor. But like Empower, it’s also a financial advisory firm.
Betterment is an all-in-one money management tool that can help you track your net worth, analyze your cash flow, check your investments, and even plan for retirement. In addition to these free features, Betterment also offers paid robo-advisory services that will build and manage a portfolio of ETFs or crypto for you.
The advisory fee is lower than Empower’s at 0.40% for Betterment Premium, but both platforms require a minimum investment of $100,000 to access advising (financial advisors for Empower and Certified Financial Planners™ for Betterment).
Betterment falls somewhere in between Empower and Wealthfront in terms of what is offered and how active you need to be as an investor/user. So if you’re looking for a moderate amount of involvement and you’d like some automated investing features and some hands-on wealth management and planning tools, check out Betterment.
Empower’s free portfolio analysis tool is a must-try for anyone looking to better understand your holdings, especially if you have more than one financial account at more than one broker.
Over the years, I’ve used and tested dozens of different money apps, but most lose their novelty after a while. I keep coming back to Empower because it’s the one program I’ve found that gives me insight into my entire investment portfolio, which is spread across several different brokers. The net worth dashboard makes it easy to see how your wealth is changing and if you’re meeting your investing goals.
Paired with the many other features Empower offers, they truly are the financial tool for many young and experienced investors alike.