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Vanguard® review 2024

Updated June 13, 2024
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Vanguard: Best for

Vanguard is well known for being a leader in low-cost funds, but its brokerage offering may also be a good fit for long-term investors. You’ll have access to thousands of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee mutual funds, allowing more of the return to end up in your pocket. Vanguard clients can also use the Portfolio Watch tool to assess their overall portfolio and see what could be adjusted to improve diversification. 

Active traders will likely need to look elsewhere for their brokerage needs, however, due to Vanguard’s basic trading platform and above-average options commissions. Schwab’s thinkorswim platform or Interactive Brokers are likely to be better suited for frequent traders.

Investors looking for help in building a portfolio will appreciate Vanguard Digital Advisor, the broker’s robo-advisor offering that will construct a portfolio for them based on their goals and risk tolerance.

We want to know what you think about Vanguard

Do you have experience with Vanguard? Let us know your thoughts.

Vanguard: In the details

Broker logo
3.5
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Bankrate Score
Cost
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Accounts & Trading
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Research and Education
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Mobile
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Customer Experience
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
About Bankrate Score
Summary
Vanguard remains a low-cost leader for buy-and-hold investors looking to build wealth over time rather than trading their way to riches.
Best For
  • Fee-free fund investing
  • Passive investing
  • Long-term investing
Minimum Balance
$0
Cost per stock trade
$0
Cost per options trade
$1 per contract for accounts below $1 million, 25 free trades for those with Vanguard funds > $1 million
Trading platform
Basic trade interface
Fractional shares
Available for purchases of ETFs and mutual funds, and dividend reinvestment on stocks and funds.
No-transaction-fee mutual funds
3,100+ NTF mutual funds
Securities tradable
Stocks, ETFs, options, bonds, mutual funds
Customer service
Phone Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-8 p.m. ET, email support
Account fees
$25 account fee for accounts with less than $1 million in Vanguard funds. Can waive fee if signed up for e-delivery of documents.
Mobile app
The Vanguard mobile app on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store

Pros: Where Vanguard stands out

Vanguard Portfolio Watch

Vanguard Portfolio Watch is a tool that automatically examines your portfolio to see how it compares to the criteria that you and Vanguard have set. The goal is to make sure your assets are diversified and minimize risks where possible. You can include not only your Vanguard assets, but all holdings so that you can get a comprehensive picture of your financial life and where you might have unidentified risks.

Once you’ve loaded your holdings into the tool, Portfolio Watch will give you a breakdown of what kinds of funds you own by a number of factors, for example, company size or investing style (value vs. growth). Then if there’s a place where you need more exposure – say, you own too many funds invested in small companies – it can recommend the funds you need to purchase to even out your portfolio. It’s a neat tool to get a broad perspective on what you own and what you might like to own.

Low-cost funds

Vanguard has long been synonymous with low-cost funds, and that tradition continues. In addition to its own ETFs, Vanguard’s mutual funds number more than 260.

Whether you choose one of its mutual funds or ETFs, you can be sure you’re getting a good deal. Besides not charging any sales load, Vanguard’s funds have among the lowest expense ratios in the industry, fees that could otherwise really eat into your returns over time.

Vanguard says that its average mutual fund has an expense ratio of a razor-thin 0.09 percent. That means you’ll pay just $9 annually on average for every $10,000 you have invested in its funds. That compares to 0.50 percent across the rest of the industry, based on 2023 data from Morningstar and Vanguard. That’s a huge advantage for Vanguard, and increases your average annual return by nearly one-half of a percent annually. 

The average ETF expense ratio was even cheaper on Vanguard’s ETFs, at just 0.05 percent, compared to 0.25 percent for the industry as a whole in 2022. 

Of course, you won’t have to be a Vanguard customer to buy its funds, but its no-fee commission structure makes it easier and cheaper to do so.

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Bankrate staff insight

“It’s immediately clear that Vanguard does things differently, and it really doesn’t matter to them if they compete with brokers that try to encourage you to trade,” says one Bankrate staff member with a brokerage account here. “It’s all arranged for long-term investors, especially those who want to buy Vanguard’s house funds. The basic trade interface works, but it’s not for traders, and the price for options commissions shows that active traders should go elsewhere.”

Vanguard dashboard


No-transaction-fee mutual funds

Vanguard’s mutual fund offering is among the best in the industry and you won’t have to worry about excessive fees. More than 160 Vanguard funds and about 3,000 funds from other firms are available without transaction fees. That compares nicely to some of the top players in the industry, such as Charles Schwab, which has more than 4,000 no-transaction-fee funds. If mutual funds are likely to be your main investment vehicle, Vanguard is a solid broker choice.

Vanguard users seem to appreciate the platform’s simplicity and focus on long-term investing. “No issues with Vanguard here,” wrote a Reddit user who says they’re a Vanguard client. “Perfect for low cost mutual fund investing, not a platform for day trading. Had no issues with their customer service, the app, or the website.” 

Commission-free stocks and ETFs

Vanguard is among the major online brokerages that offer commissions on stocks and ETFs at $0. This simple pricing structure is in line with all the major online players. 

A nice perk that could be overlooked is that Vanguard does not charge you to place an order of its own funds (either mutual funds or ETFs) by phone, unlike many other brokers. However, it may charge you $25 to order ETFs from other fund companies via phone, depending on how much you have invested in Vanguard funds. Stock orders by phone will run you $25, as well, though customers with more than $1 million in Vanguard funds will receive this service for free.

Cons: Where Vanguard could improve

Account-opening process

Incredibly, opening an account at Vanguard may require you to phone in to a representative after you fill in your personal and financial details online. Even then, it may take up to a week to receive – by postal letter – confirmation that your account has been approved and opened. This approach feels unbelievable in a world where virtually all online brokers can get you up and running in about 15 minutes. 

For many potential customers, this process could be a dealbreaker, especially when they have so many good alternatives available. At least the Vanguard phone reps were incredibly helpful and polite. 

Options trading commissions

Vanguard’s commission structure for options is somewhat complex, because it has several tiers depending on how much you have invested in Vanguard’s ETFs and mutual funds. While the broker removed this tiered system for stocks and ETFs, it’s maintained some of it for options commissions. 

It’s a crucial point to note: it’s not just how much you have in the brokerage, but rather how much you have invested in its funds that determine your cost to trade options.

  • If you have less than $1 million in Vanguard funds, options trades cost $1 per contract.
  • From $1 million to $5 million, the first 25 options trades in a year are free and subsequent trades cost $1 per contract. 
  • From $5 million and up, the first 100 options trades are free, and $1 per contract thereafter.

The options commissions sit at the high end of the industry, where the standard price is $0.65 per contract. You can find options even cheaper at TradeStation ($0.60 a contract) or completely free at Firstrade, Robinhood or Webull.

High minimums for mutual funds

Mutual funds typically require an initial investment of several thousand dollars, and Vanguard is no different. The minimum investment for target date funds is $1,000, and it moves to $3,000 for most index funds and actively managed mutual funds. That’s quite a threshold for new investors looking to get started, especially for a fund company that touts its investor-friendly cred.

After you make that initial purchase, you won’t face a minimum ongoing purchase amount, however. 

Account fees

Vanguard charges a $25 account fee annually for accounts. That’s a pesky charge when virtually every other brokerage has eliminated account or inactivity fees. However, the good news is that customers can easily eliminate this fee by agreeing to receive all communications electronically or you’ll receive this waiver if you maintain more than $5 million in Vanguard assets. There are also fees for each Vanguard fund held in certain retirement accounts, but many can be waived if you have at least $50,000 in qualifying Vanguard assets.

Trading platform

Vanguard is not a broker for active traders, so the broker does not offer anything more than a basic order interface. For the right kind of investor, the lack of a trading platform is not detrimental in the least, but it certainly doesn’t help the company in the eyes of active investors. If you’re looking to trade just a few times per year or mostly buy funds, Vanguard should still work adequately for you.

“The primary advantage of Vanguard is low costs,” says a post on the investing forum Bogleheads. “You're not going to get a lot of extras for that. I keep an eye on my investments but I don't have to do much, so for me Vanguard works fine.”

Fractional shares

If you’re buying a mutual fund or ETF on Vanguard, you’ll be able to buy fractional shares. Vanguard introduced fractional shares trading in its own ETFs recently, but fractional shares trading in stocks and non-Vanguard ETFs is still not available. This may change at some point in the future, but until then small-money investors will miss out on this popular feature. Dividends from stocks, ETFs and mutual funds can be reinvested into fractional shares, however.

Review methodology

Bankrate evaluates brokers and robo-advisors on factors that matter to individual investors, including commissions, account fees, available securities, trading platforms, research and many more. After weighting these objective measures according to their importance, we then systematically score the brokers and robo-advisors and scale the data to ensure that you are seeing the top options among a field of high-quality companies. Read our full methodology.