Best Robo Advisors in Canada of 2022

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Last updated on June 27, 2022 Comments: 8

If you’d like to put some money in the financial market—and prefer a less involved, ‘set it and forget it’ approach to your finances—then the wealth management industry has heard you loud and clear, and that’s where robo-advisors come in.

Perhaps you don’t have the time or inclination to obsessively follow and react to every rise and fall of your investments? Perhaps you have some cash saved up, but it’s not enough to invest with a private financial advisor? Or perhaps you know the amount of financial risk you can take and the return you’d like to see, but you’re overwhelmed by the number of different investment vehicles out there?

In these cases you might want to turn to a robo-advisor, and we’ve listed the best ones on the market for you.

Best Robo Advisors in Canada

 WealthsimpleQuestwealth PortfoliosCI Direct InvestingJustwealth
Special FeaturesPersonal financial planning for $100K+ investors.Hybrid approach w/ passive ETFs and smart beta ETFs.Financial advice available to all clients + access to Private Investment PortfoliosLarge number of ETF providers. Wide range of investment approaches including low to high risk, US and RESP portfolios.
Management Fees0.4 or 0.5%/year
0.2 or 0.25%/year 0.35–0.6%/year 0.4–0.5%/year; $4.99 monthly minimum
MERApprox. 0.2%Regular portfolios: 0.11%-0.23%; SRI portfolios: 0.21-0.35% ETF MERs = 0.18% to 0.25%
Private Investment Portfolios MERs: 1.00% to 1.55%
Average MER = 0.25%
Minimum Account BalanceNone$1,000. (see stipulations under 'Compare Robo Advisors').
$1,000. (see stipulations under 'Compare Robo Advisors').$5,000 for non-RESP accounts; no minimum for RESP accounts
Learn MoreWealthsimple ReviewQuestwealth Portfolios ReviewCI Direct Investing ReviewJustwealth Review
Start InvestingVisit WealthsimpleVisit QuestwealthVisit Justwealth

Wealthsimple

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Overview

Wealthsimple started the robo-advisory revolution in Canada and has maintained its leadership status even as more competitors emerge every year. It offers a straightforward approach to investing. It creates model portfolios based on your risk tolerance using eight to 10 broad-based ETFs held across various asset classes. It’s approach professes to be completely automated, including regular deposits, reinvested dividends, tax-loss harvesting and asset class rebalancing. Plus, its website and app are first-class in terms of user friendliness.

Apply through our link and get a $25 cash bonus when you make an initial deposit of at least $500.

Investing Approach

Like all robo-advisors, Wealthsimple’s main investing approach is to build wealth slowly and steadily over time while minimizing risk through diversification. They use an algorithm and ETFs to avoid the pitfalls common to active management, like stock-picking and trying to time the market.

At the same time, they do use humans to research, analyze and choose the ETFs that make up their portfolio. And when things change they aren’t above dipping a toe in active management. For example, in the third quarter of 2020, as interest rates plummeted, they removed shorter-term government bonds and replaced them with a mix of credit-bearing bonds, longer-term bonds, and gold to act as the fixed income portion of portfolios.

Portfolios

While they offer three main portfolios based on risk tolerance: Growth, Balanced and Conservative, they have two additional specialized portfolios for halal and socially responsible investing. The halal portfolio in particular is quite unique and makes it easy for observant Canadian Muslims to build wealth while adhering to their religious principles.

And although they mainly target young, newer investors, they do have perks for high-net worth clients through their Black and Generation tiers.

Fees

Wealthsimple fees are competitive and reasonable. They have three pricing tiers along with other features:

  • Basic (deposit up to $100,000) – 0.5% fee
  • Black (deposits of $100,000 to $500,000) – 0.4% fee
  • Generation ($500,000+ in deposits) – 0.4% fee with a bunch of additional perks
  • Reimburses transfer fees for accounts over $5000
  • No minimum investment
  • Management fees are tax-deductible in a non-registered account

Account Types

You can hold your portfolio in a single or joint non-registered cash account, or a variety of registered accounts like a  RRSP, TFSA, RESP, RRIF and LIRA.

Read our full Wealthsimple review

Key Features

  • Socially responsible portfolio
  • Halal portfolio
  • No minimum investment
  • Extremely innovative, always rolling out new features

Best For

  • Halal investors
  • New investors

Start investing with Wealthsimple and get a $25 cash bonus when you open and fund your first Wealthsimple Invest account with at least a $500 initial deposit.

Disclaimer: Greedyrates.ca has entered into a referral and advertising arrangement with Wealthsimple US, LTD and receives compensation when you open an account or for certain qualifying activity which may include clicking links. You will not be charged a fee for this referral and Wealthsimple and Greedyrates.ca are not related entities. It is a requirement to disclose that we earn these fees and also provide you with the latest Wealthsimple ADV brochure so you can learn more about them before opening an account.

Questwealth Portfolios

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Overview

Questwealth Portfolios is Questrade’s robo-advisor division, rebranded from Questrade IQ.  Unlike most robo-advisors they are not entirely automated — they use portfolio managers to make decisions about what ETFs to buy and sell and your portfolio is rebalanced according to market conditions — not just on a schedule or when assets deviate according to a certain percentage. Their fees are outstanding and are the most competitive on the market.

Investing Approach

Questwealth appears to believe in a hybrid model of investing. On one hand their portfolios are created based on the theory that passive management and diversification leads to long-term, slow and stable growth. On the other hand, they tout the benefits of active management and use humans to buy and sell securities and rebalance holdings, which is much more typical of mutual funds. While they sell this as a strong suit, and perhaps it is, research shows that passive management actually creates more wealth in the long term. At the same time, it’s unclear how active their management really is — it appears to be a fairly light touch, but they don’t go into details. Is it similar to what Wealthsimple is now doing or is it more extensive?

Portfolios

They offer five model portfolios based on your risk tolerance, holding ETFs across various asset classes.

Fees

  • First to $99,000 is 0.25%
  • Over $100,000 is 0.20%
  • ETF fees average 0.13%
  • Minimum investment of $1000
  • Special administrative fees
  • Management fees are tax-deductible in a non-registered account

Account Types

They offer single and joint non-registered cash and margin accounts plus the full range of registered accounts, such as RRSP, TFSA, Spousal RRSP, LIRA, LIFF and RIFF.

Read our full Questwealth Portfolios review.

Key Features

  • Lowest fees on the market — 50% cheaper than Wealthsimple
  • Hybrid passive/active model
  • Socially responsible portfolio

Best For

  • Saving on fees.

Start investing with Questwealth

CI Direct Investing

CI Direct Investing

WealthBar formally rebranded as CI Direct Investing on August 5, 2020. CI Direct Investing is part of CI Financial, one of the country’s largest investment companies. Under this new brand, clients continue to have access to professionally managed portfolios and financial advice at their fingertips.

A special hybrid investment model is practiced by CI Direct Investing, which combines the passive investing of a robo-advisor with unlimited financial advice for each investor, regardless of their account balance. Advice is available via chat or phone, and clients can opt to build a financial plan with CI Direct Investing from the ground up or can ask for their situational input as the need arises.

Another distinguishing feature of CI Direct Investing is that, aside from its regular ETF portfolios, it also offers access to Private Investment Portfolios. These portfolios allow investors greater asset class diversification (including private equity, real estate, mortgages, public equity and bonds), and are designed to reduce volatility and improve risk-adjusted returns over time.

While CI Direct Investing is very affordable for those with at least $150K to invest; its fee structure is less appealing to newer investors who have not yet reached that mark. Those with balances of $150K–$500K and $500K+ are charged 0.4% and 0.35% respectively; but the management fee is a relatively high 0.6% for balances of less than $150K. Their robo-advisor trades ETFs with an average MER between 0.18% and 0.25%, while private investment portfolios managed by CI Direct Investing have MERs between 1.00% and 1.55%. The cost of financial advice is included in their standard management fees rather than charged as an additional expense.

 

JustWealth

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Overview

Justwealth takes issue with being called a robo-advisor because they have humans who interact with clients — but that’s exactly what they are. (Plus, all robo-advisory firms have humans who you can talk to). They appear to be trying to make the experience more personal and less “internet”, which can appeal to investors who are nervous about making the switch to algorithms from mutual funds or an in-branch financial advisor.

Investing Approach

Justwealth, while taking the  classic passive-management, buy-and-hold, don’t-try-to-beat the-market approach,  appears to be trying to differentiate itself by creating not just four or five market model portfolios, but 60. They have six main categories: Global growth, Canadian growth, income, socially responsible, educational target dates and USD. Within each category they have around 10 options each. Do all these options actually result in better performance? Likely not, but some investors are likely to appreciate the effort.

The educational target date portfolios are the most interesting, as this kind of portfolio automatically lowers the risk as your child gets close to university or college. If you invest when your child is one, for example, it may have a 90%/10% equity/fixed income mix to maximize growth, but as your child ages the asset classes will slow rebalance to minimize any risk of loss and preserve the capital. So by the time your child is 18 and ready to spend on university it may have a 100% fixed-income balance — all done automatically for you.

Portfolios

They offer 60 (!) different model portfolios consisting of ETFs across various asset classes. They use 29 different ETFs and arrange them in different weightings to achieve various risk tolerances and appeal to investor types.

Fees

  • First $500,000 is 0.50%, with a minimum of $4.99/month
  • Over $500,000 is 0.40%
  • Average ETF fee is 0.20%
  • Minimum account size is $5000 for all non-RESP accounts
  • Transfer out is $50 to $150
  • Management fee for non-registered accounts is tax-deductible

 Account Types

They offer single and joint non-registered cash and margin accounts plus the full range of registered accounts, such as RRSP, TFSA, Spousal RRSP, LIRA, LIFF and RIFF.

Key Features

  • Personal portfolio manager (like CI Direct)
  • Educational Target Date funds
  • Pure USD funds
  • Several socially responsible investing funds
  • For more than $100,000 invested you can build a customized ETF portfolio to meet your financial objectives (although how could you not find one in the 60 they offer?)

Best For

  • Parents investing for their child’s education
  • Picky investors

Start investing with Justwealth.

Helpful Terms and Definitions

  • Asset Allocation – An investment strategy that distributes the investment among the assets in a portfolio according to the risk tolerance of the investor (e.g. the investor is 25 years old, nowhere near retirement and their risk tolerance is high). As a high risk tolerance investor, a portfolio manager may put 90% of that investor’s money into stocks (the more volatile investment) and 10% into bonds (the more stable investment). As market prices rise and fall, so too does the percentage allocation of the investor’s portfolio and it must be re-balanced every so often to reflect the age and/or the continued or changing risk tolerance specified by the investor.
  • Canadian Investment Protection Fund – A not-for-profit corporation created by the Canadian Investment Industry in 1969 that protects investor assets in the event that one of its investment firm members goes bankrupt.
  • ETFs – The abbreviation for Exchange Traded Funds. Most ETFs track an index of assets such as stocks, bonds, commodities or even currencies. When you buy shares in an ETF, you’re buying shares of a portfolio that tracks your selected index. ETFs don’t try to outperform their selected index, they just try to replicate its performance on the market. This yields moderate, conservative returns.
  • F-Class Funds – A share class of mutual funds that are ‘no-load.’ This means there are no commissions owed upon their purchase, but there are ongoing expenses for the investor, which vary for each fund and are usually paid to the brokerage firm and not the advisor who may have recommended the fund.
  • Hybrid Approach – An approach to investing that combines the automated algorithms of a typical robo-advisor with the practical advice of a traditional investment advisor. Many hybrids will also try to mix in other better-performing securities with ETFs in order to reflect higher returns and occasionally beat the market.
  • In-House Funds – A ‘homemade’ mutual fund or hedge fund offered by an investment firm and managed internally by its own asset managers.
  • MER – The abbreviation for Management Expense Ratio, which is the money that goes toward the cost of running the fund you are invested in. It is not charged directly to you the investor, but rather to the fund itself, and it is separate from the management fees you pay to the robo-advisor firm.
  • Smart Beta ETFs – Exchange Traded Funds designed to outperform traditional ETFs by also factoring in active, as well as passive investment strategies. A Smart Beta ETF can assess factors like the quality and value of a stock within a passive ETF portfolio framework. Ideally, this gives the investor greater returns, greater diversification and more consistent performance at the lower ETF price.
  • Tax-Loss Harvesting – The deliberate selling of securities in a portfolio in a bid to incur losses and offset capital gains tax or taxable income for the investor, so the investor can pay the lowest possible taxes on accounts that are not tax-sheltered. When a robo-advisor client chooses Tax-Loss Harvesting as an option, securities are automatically sold off from their portfolio by the algorithm for this purpose from time to time.
  • Timing Asset Allocation to the Market – Some portfolio managers will try to allocate assets in a portfolio according to market forecasts or what the market is doing. This is ill-advised for all but seasoned investors, since it’s difficult to predict when the market will move and by how much.

See more terms here.

How Do Robo Advisors Work?

These digital platforms ask you questions about your annual income and investment risk tolerance, and then customize your investment portfolio based on your responses. Pretty simple.

Investing may seem intimidating to some, but it’s based on the relationship between two concepts that we all understand: risk and return. Generally speaking, the riskier the investment, the higher the return. The safer the investment, the lower the return. Once you specify the level of financial risk you’re comfortable with, the robo-advisor begins an investment strategy known as asset allocation. Asset allocation splits percentages of your money into assets (investments) that match the risk profile you specified—the higher the risk you’re willing to bear, the higher the percentage of your money is invested into more volatile assets within your chosen risk-modeled portfolio.

Whenever your investments start performing too much outside your specified risk level, the humans monitoring your robo-advisor will program it to re-balance your portfolio so your assets go back to performing within your specified parameters.

But what exactly are these assets you’re ‘robo investing’ in?

Where Does a Robo-Advisor Invest Your Money?

Robo-advisors in Canada build their diversified portfolios out of ETFs—Exchange Traded Funds. They are the go-to option for robo-advisors because they carry lower fees than other investments like mutual funds. And since they can invest in whole markets or multiple indexes like oil and goldETFs offer greater diversification than picking a few stocks or bonds, which lessens your risk as an investor.

What’s Better, a Financial Advisor or a Robo-Advisor?

The answer to this million-dollar question comes down to a few factors:

  • The amount of money you have to invest
  • Your budget for managing that investment
  • How active you want to be in tracking and maintaining your investment
  • Your own personal preferences, such as your comfort with technology, the kind of returns you’re looking for and your need for human interaction.

Minimum Portfolio Value

The minimum investment is often much smaller with a robo-advisor than it would be with your standard financial advisor. For example, CI Direct Investing requires a minimum investment of only $1,000. Some bank-owned firms and smaller wealth management firms match that, but other high net worth wealth management firms start at $50,000. Meanwhile, other robo-advisors like Wealthsimple require no minimum investment, but fees might be prohibitive on smaller amounts.

WINNER: Robo-Advisors

Fees

Robo-advisors have human advisors beat here too. Account management fees for robo-advisors are usually comparatively low. For example, Questwealth Portfolios charges management fees as low as 0.2%. On top of these management fees to the robo-advisor, accountholders also pay the Management Expense Ratio (MER), which is charged by the ETF itself. It can be as low as about 0.1% or as high as 1.5% or so, depending on how much money you invest and whether you select a traditional ETF or a Private Investment Portfolio.

On the other hand, financial advisors often charge commissions on top of these fees and some are not very forthcoming with how they charge you. Obviously, this is case by case, but even if you’re dealing with a fee-only advisor and their fee structure is much more straightforward, their fees are generally higher than robo-advisors. A Business Insider report indicates that the average financial advisor charges about a 1.31% management fee; although this data is based on the US market, the general sentiment is likely applicable to Canada as well.

WINNER: Robo-Advisors

Customizability

There’s nothing more convenient than simply opening an app on your phone or logging into a website, rather than trekking out to your financial advisor’s office every few months. But some accept this inconvenience because they like the tailored goal setting provided by an advisor, as well as the comfort of person-to-person interaction. A good financial advisor will work with you to plan out the entire scope of your financial goals, whereas most robo-advisors simply assign portfolios to you based on the surface-level numbers and info you provide it. Some robo-advisors (e.g. CI Direct Investing) do provide a mix of traditional automated investing with financial advice, but nothing beats the hands-on attention of a dedicated financial advisor for those that can afford it.

WINNER: Human Advisors

Big Returns

If you want large returns, passive investing and ETFs aren’t going to get you there. Though most robo-advisors now offer a hybrid approach that pairs the convenience of a digital platform with the advice of a human advisor, robo-advisors are still designed to appeal to the most general of audiences. With a financial advisor you can get much more strategic in your investing, leading to a much larger, but hopefully more managed risk for a potentially bigger payout than robo-advisors can offer.

WINNER: Human Advisors

The Verdict

Go with robo-advisors if you:

  • Are looking to invest a small amount of money (i.e. less than $250,000)
  • Are comfortable navigating online platforms
  • Can’t afford the fees charged by a wealth management firm
  • Are satisfied with more conservative, consistent returns
  • Don’t have the time or desire to constantly monitor your investments

Go with human advisors if you:

  • Are looking to invest a large amount of money (i.e. over $250,000)
  • Prefer human interaction or are not computer savvy
  • Have no problem paying more for value
  • Are interested in strategic risk-taking for potentially higher returns
  • Want to take an active role in your investment strategy

 Robo AdvisorFinancial Advisor
Minimum Portfolio Value$0–$5,000$50,000
Fees0.2%–0.6%Approx. 1.31%
CustomazibilityAlgorithm-based goal setting; machine-operatedTailored goal setting; human interaction
ReturnsSteady but modestPotentially larger

How to Choose a Robo-Advisor

When looking for a robo-advisor to invest with, keep the following criteria in mind:

  • Fees and Minimum Investments – It’s safe to say that most robo-advisors are cheaper and require a lower minimum portfolio value than human advisors. But keep in mind that fees and minimum investments vary within the strata of robo-advisors in Canada. Robo-advisors don’t all charge in the same way, with variations depending on how much you’re investing and whether you’re looking for hybrid or algorithm-only service.
  • Account Types Supported – Canadians can invest their TFSAs, RRSPs, RESPs, Corporate/Personal/Joint savings accounts and more. Always look to see what’s available from the robo-advisor you’re considering and make sure it’s compatible with what you have to invest.
  • Investment Destinations – Do you prefer your money go into the industry-standard ETFs or in-house funds? Some robo-advisors also offer socially responsible investment options or F-class funds geared to those with more than $100,000 in investment assets.
  • Hybrid or Automated Only – More and more robo-advisors are pairing the industry standard of automated re-balancing and algorithms with human advice. So if you want a little human guidance with your automated portfolio, a hybrid option could be the best of both worlds and is absolutely worth looking into.
  • Promotional Offers – Every robo-advisor has its own promotional offers you should be aware of. Example: waiving fees for a year on the first $10,000 invested. There are many different offers out there that may sway you toward a particular robo-advisor.

After considering all these factors, it would still be a good idea to map out a thorough comparison of certain robo-advisors, so the information is all right in front of you, and then make the best decision for you!

Robo Advisors vs Mutual funds

Robo advisors are far superior than mutual funds in Canada .

The theory behind mutual funds was that if people pool their money together they can hire experts to make better financial decisions and have access to higher-performing securities. Mutual funds are actively managed — they hire expert humans who analyze the holdings and make daily decisions about what to sell, keep, buy and how to rebalance. Depending on which mutual fund you purchase, they usually either have a goal of beating the market or preserving your capital.

The lowest risk funds invest mainly in fixed-income assets, just like robo-advisors — the only issue is since interest rates have plunged over the last decade and a half the fees are often higher than the returns! Meanwhile, the higher risk funds try to beat the market — but that hasn’t panned out over time — after fees almost no mutual funds succeeded.

The mutual fund itself can hold individual companies, other mutual funds, or even ETFs. Unfortunately, the fees associated with mutual funds in Canada are numerous — there is often a sales commission, a regular management fee, plus the fees of the holdings itself (which, if they invest in other mutual funds usually means you’re paying another 2% fee).

Robo advisors charge a fraction of the price and use mostly passive management which research shows performs better than active management over the long run. They also only hold low-cost broad-based ETFs, which are themselves passively managed, and thus cheap.

Despite this, mutual funds continue their death grip on the Canadian market — Mutual fund assets totalled $1.75 trillion at the end of 2020, compared to just $8 billion assets under management for robo advisors

It’s easy to see why — Canadian are fiercely loyal and conservative and mutual funds have been around since the 1980s, while robo advisors have only been around since 2014. Older Canadians also tend to be far more comfortable walking into their bank branch, sitting down and having a salesperson (the bank calls them a financial adviser, but they earn commission and don’t have a fiduciary responsibility to clients) talk them through a mutual fund. And millennials and Gen Z, who are most likely to feel comfortable putting their money in an online-only financial institution simply don’t have much dough yet.

Still, here’s why you should consider investing in a robo advisor versus a mutual fund:

  • Fees average 0.5% compared to 2.2% — this makes a massive difference in your return over 30 years — tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars
  • Passive management beats active management over the long run — trying to beat the market doesn’t work
  • No sales or trailing commission with robo-advisors
  • Robo advisors tend to be more digitally friendly and innovative

Robo-Advisors: a Leap into the Future of Investing

With lower fees, the convenience of technology and an autopilot approach to investing, robo-advisors are perfect for people who want to get into the investment game but get confused and bored as soon as an investment advisor throws out terms like ETF and MER. They’re a great opportunity for those who have a little bit of money saved up but are (justifiably) intimidated by diving straight into DIY investing.

Author Bio

Aaron Broverman
Aaron Broverman is a freelance writer based in Toronto. When he’s not writing about money for publications like Yahoo Canada and GreedyRates, you’re likely to find his nose in a comic book. He likes comics so much, he hosts a podcast called Speech Bubble where he interviews those involved in the comic industry. You can follow him on Twitter: @broverman

Article comments

8 comments
Brian says:

Are human advisors really worth it? Isn’t it well known that the majority of actively managed funds (and portfolios?) under-perform the market? Why would paying higher fees for under-performance be better?

Daniel from GreedyRates says:

Hi Brian,
The numbers speak for themselves: the latest from SPIVA says that 98.6% of funds under performed the S&P/TSX Composite in the last 5 years. That said, there’s an incredibly intangible reassurance that a human advisor can give; that.. and not everyone is as inclined as you or I to dig into SP Dow Jones research to understand the implications. Thank goodness for the accessibility that robo-advisors bring consumers and the good it does for our financial landscape in Canada. Hope you continue to spread the good (financial literacy) word to all who will listen.

Walli says:

Hello,

thank you this is a great comparison.
Regarding Wealthsimple black you made the statement that Wealthsimple Black clients will benefit from complimentary lounge access and 12 month priority pass. Is this still the case? Their website doesnt show that.

Best Regards,
Wallie

Aaron Broverman says:

Hi Walli,
You are right. It appears from the website that WealthSimple is no longer offering complimentary lounge access and a free year with Priority Pass. What it does offer is lower fees on your WealthSimple Account and access to a money coach. You enter WealthSimple Black status if you deposit $100,000 or over with WealthSimple. If I had to guess, the lounge access offer has gone away due to the COVID-19 pandemic because flying isn’t advisable for containing the spread and many flights are grounded. Lounges are now closed at many airports to dissuade large gatherings that can spread the disease.

Pat says:

About the risk in investing: you say that you can get higher returns with a human advisor. But robots let you choose the degree of risk you want to take, isn’t it? Are returns higher in a higher risk investment with a financial advisor than a robot?

Aaron Broverman says:

Hi Pat,
Excellent question. I would say that it depends on the advisor, but overall, yes. I would say the returns are higher with a human advisor on a higher risk investment because human advisors generally have access to high-risk returns not available from robo-advisors. Robo-advisors are also designed to provide steady returns to inexperienced investors or investors who prefer to set it and forget it, so their investment portfolios aren’t populated with many high-risk investments and even if you have a high risk tolerance profile as an investor with a robo-advisor, those more volatile investments are likely relatively tame compared to what a human advisor at say a boutique firm for high net worth clients can provide.

S says:

Surely the fees are not .7 / month ! ( .7×12 = 8.4 %/annum )

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hey S!

Thanks for coming to us for clarification on our article. We think you may have misunderstood the section referencing the 0.70% yearly fee from BMO Smartfolio. We wrote “Monthly prices follow a tiered schedule based on the capital in your account, with a small percentage taken from your total assets yearly. It starts at 0.70% for under $100,000…” The 0.70% we quoted is the annual percentage rate, referencing the amount taken from your total assets each year—not the monthly percentage taken from your yearly salary total. Essentially, at 0.70% APR you’re looking at just under 0.06% monthly. We’ll make changes to make the language clearer and more understandable, and thanks again.

GreedyRates