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Guideline Review

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Guideline, Inc

Guideline is an investment advisory firm headquartered in San Mateo, California with more than $1 billion in assets under management (AUM). The firm has more than 5,800 clients, all of whom are employer-sponsored retirement plans. Guideline currently provides only 401(k) plan services, which means it does not offer individual investment advice or financial planning services. However, the company indicates on its website that is soon adding individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to its repertoire.

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

Guideline Background

Guideline was founded in 2015 by CEO Kevin Busque, chief technology officer (CTO) Mike Nelson and chief designer 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 two of Guideline’s more than 100 employees actually deal with investment management and advising, though.

What Types of Clients Does Guideline Accept?

Guideline works exclusively with employer-sponsored retirement plans. While Guideline does not maintain advisory relationships with any individuals, it does work indirectly with participants of the plans it manages.

Guideline Minimum Account Sizes

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 a program called “Guideline for Advisors.” This allows third-party advisors to assist with managing the accounts of mutual clients. While Guideline doesn’t receive any income from this program, its clients may encounter fees from the aforementioned third-party advisors.

Based on information from the firm’s website, the company is looking to offer IRA plan services in the near future.

Guideline Investment Philosophy

Guideline subscribes to modern portfolio theory (MPT), 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.

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

Guideline charges employers a base fee of between $39 and $99 each month. Additionally, each plan participant adds an additional $8 in monthly fees. The firm doesn’t charge plan participants a monthly fee for maintaining a 401(k) account. However, certain services like a distribution, refund or loan application may come with a one-time fee.

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

Plan Sponsor Fees
Service Fees
Base fee (monthly) $39 or $99, depending on your plan
Plan participant fee (monthly) $8 per employee
Service wind-down fee $250
ACH chargeback/reversal fee $50
Extraordinary services fee $300 per hour
Termination fee $250
Plan Participant Fees
Service Fees
Distribution or refund $50
Loan application $75 per year
Loan maintenance $250
Qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) $500
Check/Stop payment $50
Overnight mail (within U.S.) $50

What to Watch Out For

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.


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

Opening an Account With Guideline

If you’re an employer looking for a 401(k) plan administrator, you can call Guideline at (888) 228-3491 or email the firm at hello@guideline.com.

Where Is Guideline Located?

Guideline is headquartered in San Mateo, California. It also operates offices in Portland, Maine and Austin, Texas.

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

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How Many Years $1 Million 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 To determine how long a $1 million nest egg would cover retirement costs in cities across America, we analyzed data on average expenditures for seniors, cost of living and investment returns.

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%. This reflects the typical return on a conservative investment portfolio. 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