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Vanguard Digital Advisor review 2024

Updated January 2, 2024
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Vanguard Digital Advisor: Best for

  • Newer investors
  • Vanguard investors
  • Investors focused on low costs

Vanguard made some significant changes to its Digital Advisor robo-advisor, adding key features and portfolio options while maintaining its credentials for being investor-friendly and low cost. Now the robo offers three portfolio options instead of one before, and has expanded the range of funds available in its portfolios, too. As before, clients receive access to tons of investing tools and educational components, and the all-in cost – including its low-expense funds – may well be half of what you could find at other rivals. On top of the other new features, Digital Advisor has also upped its game with the addition of tax-loss harvesting, typically a more premium offering. But some downsides remain, such as a limited range of account types and a $3,000 account minimum. 

Compare Vanguard Digital Advisor against some of the best-scoring robo-advisors in Wealthfront and Betterment, both of which offer key premium features and attractive cash management accounts. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is another strong contender.

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Vanguard Digital Advisor: In the details

Broker logo
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Bankrate Score
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Investments and Portfolios
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Account Types
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Features and Tools
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Customer Experience
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
About Bankrate Score
Account Minimum
Management Fee
0.15-0.20% of assets annually
Portfolio Mix
Built from among 13 Vanguard ETFs and mutual funds
Fund Expense Ratio
All-index portfolio: 0.03% - 0.07%; Active portfolio: 0.03% - 0.45%; ESG portfolio: 0.07% - 0.12%
Account Types
Individual taxable, Roth IRA, traditional IRA, rollover IRAs and eligible 401(k) plans
Cash Management Account
Customer service
Phone Monday to Friday 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. ET; email support
Tax Strategy
Tax-loss harvesting, optimizing asset location, minimizing taxes on sale
Yes, if drifting more than 5%
Vanguard calculators, videos and articles, debt payoff tool, screeners
No advisory fee for first 90 days

Pros: Where Vanguard Digital Advisor stands out

Expanded portfolio options

Vanguard Digital Advisor shook up its investment options in 2023, moving from a basic but workable four-fund portfolio to multiple options: an all-index portfolio, an active/index portfolio and an ESG portfolio. 

  • All-index portfolio: This portfolio looks like the classic Digital Advisor option: four extraordinarily low-cost ETFs that cover domestic and international stocks and bonds. 
  • Active/Index portfolio: This option includes ETFs from the all-index portfolio and then adds up to six actively managed mutual funds into the mix, depending on your needs.
  • ESG portfolio: This option uses low-cost ESG funds to provide exposure to companies that score well on environmental, social and governance criteria.

You can pick the type of portfolio you’d like, and then Vanguard will adjust the weightings in the portfolio based on your risk tolerance and when you need the money. 

The expanded range is a notable improvement for Vanguard, giving customers more choice and the ability to select a strategy they may feel is better-suited to their temperament. But in its all-index and ESG portfolios, Vanguard drastically simplifies the portfolio management process to just four funds, which may not be the worst thing, given so much unnecessary complexity and deliberate misdirection in the financial world. But it’s hard not to think that the portfolio could be more diversified across asset classes to give it more resilience during tough times. 

If you’re looking for a wide selection of investments, then be sure to look at Wealthfront as well as M1 Finance, where you can buy pre-made funds or virtually construct your own funds. Interactive Advisors also offers an above-average selection of investments. 

Low costs

You’ve come to expect low costs from Vanguard, and the company delivers on that promise with its robo-advisor, whether it’s the management fee or the costs of the ETFs it invests in. 

Vanguard uses a bit of a different pricing structure from most robo-advisors, which add a management fee on top of the ETFs’ fees. For all-index and ESG portfolios, Vanguard estimates a net advisory cost of 0.15 percent, or $15 annually for every $10,000 invested. For the active/index option, costs are estimated at 0.20 percent, or $20 annually for every $10,000 invested. The gross advisory fees are a bit higher (0.20 - 0.25 percent), but Vanguard reduces them by a credit on its revenues from the account.

Naturally, Vanguard Digital Advisor uses its in-house ETFs. That’s not surprising since a huge portion of the robo-advisor industry turns to the company’s low-cost funds as primary ETFs for their services. Here’s the fee range for funds in each portfolio option:

  • All-index portfolio: 0.03 to 0.08 percent
  • Active/index portfolio: 0.03 to 0.45 percent
  • ESG portfolio: 0.07 to 0.12 percent

The all-index and ESG portfolios use passively managed funds, some of the cheapest on the market, while the active/index portfolio uses some more expensive but still reasonably priced active funds in addition to low-cost ETFs. 

The exact fee you’d pay for each portfolio depends on the weighting of the various individual funds. For example, in the all-index portfolio, you might pay around 0.05 percent annually. Combined with the advisory fee for that option, you’d pay an all-in cost of about 0.20 percent (a net 0.15 for the advisory fee and 0.05 for the funds).

Vanguard’s pricing remains highly competitive with rivals’, if not beating them. For example, robo-advisors Betterment and Wealthfront charge 0.25 percent as a management fee and then have another 0.08 to 0.10 percent in ETF fees (and potentially more, depending on exactly which funds and allocations you select). To be fair, those ETF fees don’t go to the robo-advisor but to the fund company itself (which often is actually Vanguard.) 

That said, recommending its own funds is an inherent conflict of interest, though Vanguard’s consistently low expenses make this a less pressing concern than it could otherwise be.

Education and tools

Vanguard was built on the ethos of helping individual investors, and you see that across the site — from educational videos, articles and more — to help you make smart long-term decisions.

In practical terms, that means you’ll have access to all of Vanguard’s retirement-planning tools and calculators. You can import your accounts into your profile so that the robo-advisor can have a more comprehensive view of your finances. Then you can develop a more accurate plan, for example, through Vanguard’s debt-payoff tool, which helps you build a payoff plan for liabilities. You’ll also have access to fund screeners, allowing you to scour the fund universe for what you want, even if you can’t buy those funds in your Digital Advisor account. 

Smooth sign-up process

Vanguard’s sign-up process feels among the most developed and sophisticated. The automated process is smooth and asks detailed financial questions such as your current spending, so you may want to come prepared with at least some of your info. This process may take longer than the sign-up at other robos, but it’s capturing important data to better shape your portfolio.

Vanguard’s sign-up also takes you through detailed financial scenarios where it assesses your risk tolerance. It asks questions such as “Would you risk $1 to make $4 in the next year?” Based on this analysis, it comes up with your risk tolerance and then builds a glide path for you, showing your allocation to stocks and bonds as you age. 

The robo-advisor works from a Vanguard brokerage account, so you’ll need to have one to use Digital Advisor. When you’ve completed your assessment, you’re automatically taken to the brokerage to sign up for an account there, if you don’t already have one.

Tax strategies

Vanguard has also upped its game when it comes to tax strategies, introducing tax-loss harvesting to its other tax minimization strategies in late 2023. The automated feature scans your accounts for where you may be able to realize a valuable tax loss, and it tends to be more of a premium feature in the robo-advisor world.

Vanguard also optimizes your taxes and considers the tax impact of all portfolio decisions. The robo-advisor factors your cost basis in any decisions to sell or rebalance your portfolio and sells off pieces that create the least negative impact on your taxes – similar to what Ellevest offers.

And if you have both taxable and tax-advantaged accounts with Vanguard, the robo-advisor will try to optimize the placement of assets within those portfolios to minimize taxes. For example, more highly taxable assets could go into tax-advantaged accounts such as an IRA, while those with a lower potential tax impact would go into a taxable account.

Cons: Where Vanguard Digital Advisor could improve

Limited portfolio mix

Unlike many robo-advisors, which may construct portfolios with ETFs representing more than 20 different asset classes, Vanguard constructs all its portfolios with just four ETFs:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market
  • Vanguard Total International Stock 
  • Vanguard Total Bond Market 
  • Vanguard Total International Bond

Vanguard drastically simplifies the portfolio management process, which may not be the worst thing, given so much unnecessary complexity and deliberate misdirection in the financial world. But it’s hard not to think that the portfolio could be more diversified across asset classes such as real estate, commodities or others. That kind of balance could give a portfolio more resilience in tough times and even out a portfolio’s performance through the ups and downs of the market. 

If you’re looking for a wide selection of investments, then be sure to look at Wealthfront as well as M1 Finance, where you can buy pre-made funds or virtually construct your own funds. Interactive Advisors also offers an above-average selection of investments. 

Account minimum

Digital Advisor requires a higher upfront commitment than most rivals (Schwab Intelligent Portfolios and Empower are exceptions). In contrast, you’ll need at least $3,000 in the Vanguard account to use Digital Advisor. That’s not a lot in the big picture, but much more than the zero that many robo-advisors allow you to start off with.

No cash management account

A cash management account is a standard feature on a robo-advisor account these days, and the best of them – those by Betterment and Wealthfront – offer all the convenience of a checking and savings account and other added features, too. Unfortunately, Vanguard’s robo offering doesn’t provide a cash management account, though idle cash is swept into an interest-bearing fund containing U.S. government bonds. So your cash will be safe but will likely earn very little while it waits for investment.

You can’t purchase fractional shares

Vanguard doesn’t purchase shares in its funds in fractions, so you’ll end up with only whole shares in your account. That won’t mean much as your account really grows, but as you get started, it could mean that your portfolio is not as diversified as your target allocation says it should be. In addition, it means less of your money is being put to work where it should be. 

Limited account types

For now, Vanguard has a limited selection of account types that are available on its Digital Advisor account: individual and joint taxable accounts, as well as IRAs (Roth, traditional and rollover). That’s less than typical robo-advisors offer, though Vanguard may expand this selection. 

However, Vanguard offers something that other robo-advisors really don’t touch: You may be able to have your employer-sponsored 401(k) managed if it’s held at Vanguard. Not all 401(k) accounts will be eligible, and your company must have authorized the program. A 401(k) account may also be invested in a wider variety of ETFs not offered in the standard account.

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.