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Guideline Review

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This review was produced by SmartAsset based on publicly available information. The named firm and its financial professionals have not reviewed, approved, or endorsed this review and are not responsible for its accuracy. Review content is produced by SmartAsset independently of any business relationships that might exist between SmartAsset and the named firm and its financial professionals, and firms and financial professionals having business relationships with SmartAsset receive no special treatment or consideration in SmartAsset’s reviews. This page contains links to SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool, which may or may not match you with the firm mentioned in this review or its financial professionals.

Guideline, Inc.

Guideline is an investment advisory firm headquartered in San Mateo, California. Most of the firm's clients are employer-sponsored retirement plans, with the rest being individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Guideline currently provides only 401(k) plan and IRA services, which means it does not offer financial planning services.

Guideline is a fee-only firm. This means that all of its earnings come from the advisory fees paid by clients. Conversely, a fee-based firm may earn income from additional sources, such as insurance or securities commissions.

Guideline Background

Guideline was founded in 2015 by CEO Kevin Busque, chief technology officer (CTO) Mike Nelson and chief procurement officer (CPO) Jeremy Caballero. It’s primarily a company that sponsors 401(k) retirement plans, providing employers with a full-stack product that handles plan administration, automated compliance and investment management. Only a handful of Guideline’s employees actually deal with investment management and advising, though.

Guideline Client Types and Minimum Account Sizes

Guideline typically works with employer-sponsored retirement plans and their participants. However, the firm has also added IRAs to its offerings, through which it works with some individuals.

There are no minimum account size requirements at Guideline.

Services Offered by Guideline

The hallmark offerings at Guideline are its plan administration, record-keeping and investment management services that it provides to employer-sponsored retirement plans. It can select and monitor investments and portfolios for these plans as well. Guideline has also created its own proprietary software that allows it to recommend investments to participants of the employer-sponsored retirement plans it works with.

Guideline also offers two other programs called "Guideline for Advisors" and "Guideline for Accountants." The former allows third-party advisors to assist with managing the accounts of mutual clients. Meanwhile, the latter program includes a turnkey 401(k) service that accounting businesses can offer their clients.

Guideline now offers IRA services, which allow clients to open an IRA account with the firm directly. Monthly fees range from $2 to $8 depending on your account's balance.

Guideline Investment Philosophy

Guideline subscribes to modern portfolio theory, a popular investment philosophy that emphasizes asset diversification to maximize returns for a given level of risk. MPT can also be used to minimize risk for an expected level of return. To implement this strategy effectively, Guideline offers plan participants “low-fee investments with different risk, covariance and return characteristics,” according to its Form ADV brochure.

As a 401(k)--centric company, it’s no surprise that Guideline heavily tailors its investment approach to optimize long-term results. In other words, the firm doesn’t worry about maximizing short-term earnings, focusing instead on consistent growth over longer periods of time.

Fees Under Guideline

Here’s a full breakdown of the fee schedules plan sponsors and participants will face:

Plan Sponsor Fees
Service Fees
Base fee (monthly) $49 or $129, depending on your plan
Plan participant fee (monthly) $8 per employee
Extraordinary services fee $300 per hour


Plan Participant Fees
Service Fees
Annual Account Fee 0.15% - 0.35%
Terminated 401(k) Plan Participant Monthly Base Fee $4


IRA and SEP IRA Plan Fees
Service Fees
IRA Monthly Base Fee (accounts with $10,000 or less in assets) $2/month
IRA Monthly Base Fee (accounts with more than $10,000 in assets) $4/month
SEP IRA Monthly Base Fee (all accounts) $8/month
Annual Account Fee 0.08%

What to Watch Out For

Guideline has no disclosures listed on its Form ADV, meaning it has a clean legal and regulatory record.

Guideline’s services for employer-sponsored retirement plans are not your standard set of individual investment management and financial planning offerings that you’ll find at most financial advisor firms. As a result, if you’re in need of either of these individual services, Guideline won’t be a good fit for you. Try using SmartAsset's free matching tool to find personal financial advisors in your area.

Opening an Account With Guideline

If you’re an employer looking for a 401(k) plan administrator, you can call Guideline over the phone or send an email. Guideline is headquartered in San Mateo, California. It also operates offices in Portland, Maine and Austin, Texas, so you can visit in person at one of those locations as well.

All information is accurate as of the writing of this article.  

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  • When searching for a financial advisor to work with, one of the most important things to pay attention to is whether or not the advisors you’re looking into abide by fiduciary duty. This is one of the most important qualifications an advisor can have, as fiduciaries are legally bound to act in clients’ best interests no matter what.

How Long $1mm Lasts in Retirement

SmartAsset's interactive map highlights places where $1 million will last the longest in retirement. Zoom between states and the national map to see the top spots in each region. Also, scroll over any city to learn about the cost of living in retirement for that location.

Rank City Housing Expenses Food Expenses Healthcare Expenses Utilities Expenses Transportation Expenses

Methodology We analyzed data on average expenditures for seniors, cost of living and investment returns to determine how many years of retirement a $1 million nest egg would cover in cities across America.

First, we looked at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on the average annual expenditures of seniors. We then applied cost of living data from the Council for Community and Economic Research to adjust those national average spending levels based on the costs of each expense category (housing, food, healthcare, utilities, transportation and other) in each city. Using this data, SmartAsset calculated the average cost of living for retirees in the largest U.S. cities.

We assumed the $1 million would grow at a real return (interest minus inflation) of 2%. Then, we divided $1 million by the sum of each of those annual numbers to determine how long $1 million would cover retirement expenses in each of the cities in our study. Cities where $1 million lasted the longest ranked the highest in the study.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Council for Community and Economic Research