Eric Stauffer is a former insurance agent and banker turned consumer advocate. His priority is to help educate individuals and families about the different types of insurance they need, and assist them in finding the best place to get it.

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Dec 21, 2020

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Vanguard

Fees
Trading Platform
Research Tools
Investment Choices



Vanguard is NOT a full-service brokerage firm with cutting-edge trading tools. It is, however, an industry leader for long-term investors.

Are the company’s fees competitive?

Vanguard’s brokerage cost system is based upon the number of dollars invested. For example, a trader with less than $50,000 pays $7 per stock trade on non-Vanguard ETFs for the first 25 trades, at which point each subsequent trade jumps to $20.

If you invest between $50,000 & $100,000 your trade commissions stay constant at $7 (considered Voyager status) and drop to $2 with investments between $500,000 and a million dollars (Voyager Select status).

If you invest more than a million, you will be considered Flagship status and therefore receive the first 25 trades at no commission and subsequently are charged only $2 a trade thereafter.

The trade commissions for the Voyager and Flagship investor seem low when compared against the market, however, those individuals investing less than $50,000 experience about “normal” fees on the first 25 trades and then experience extremely high $20/trade costs. In a nutshell, trading with the company is beneficial if you have a high account balance, but costly with lower balances.

My point is not to bash the company as their assets and returns are amongst the best in the industry, I am simply pointing out that for someone looking to trade on a relatively frequent basis, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services can be very expensive if the account balance is modest.

Where Vanguard Brokerage Services earns its keep is with the ongoing costs of managing their mutual funds and ETFs. They are constantly some of the lowest in the industry, so long-term investors benefit greatly over time.

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Is the trading platform adequate?

Aside from the different “tiers” of service and investment opportunities, the Vanguard platform offers users depending on their asset-pool size, the business’s trading tools and brokerage practices lag behind its competitors.

In an age where anyone can access live market analytics and news at their fingertips, the need for an aggressive, user-friendly trading interface should be priority number one. Unless your goal is not to foster brokerage activity, but rather subtly direct investors to long-term mutual fund holdings. This company seems to operate under the latter.

Their Vanguard Flagship Services promises to help those with a large investment portfolio.

I want to be clear, I am not downplaying the company’s model of investing, as it is undoubtedly considered a fine institution. Since this part of the review is about their brokerage service, it is important to note it is lagging far behind the criteria that are used by other full service and discount brokerage firms.

Trades and account management can be done online, by phone or email with a licensed brokerage associate, or on a mobile device.

The theme here is that Vanguard is geared for long-term investors and not really the active trader, unlike E*Trade and other full-service brokers.

What retirement plans are available?

This is Vanguard’s bread and butter.

With the company’s approach to long-term investment and compounded wealth accumulation via their house-owned mutual funds, it is no surprise that these types of investment products make for good retirement opportunities.

Vanguard offers:

  • Vanguard IRA
  • 401(k) rollovers
  • Target Retirement Funds
  • Annuities for Savings
  • Employer-sponsored retirement plans

Vanguard is notorious for having some of the lowest management fees when it comes to their own index funds, with many getting down into the single-digit basis point range once a reasonable sum has been reached.

As mentioned previously, Vanguard’s funds historically rank among the best over long periods of time for one main reason: they cost less than other funds.

For the most part, an S&P 500 index fund will be almost identical no matter what company is providing it, so the only factor that will determine performance compared to its peers is cost. Vanguard nearly always wins.

What banking features are offered?

Banking services offered by Vanguard are essentially non-existent.

While they do not have a complete banking solution like some other firms, they do allow for some check writing against certain accounts ($250 minimum per check).

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How do I contact customer service?

According to Vanguard.com, customer service is available for assistance via phone, U.S. mail, and secured email.

These are the listed customer service numbers for help from financial advisors with their retirement accounts and other services. If you have questions, give them a call.

877-662-7447 – Vanguard investor & client information
800-523-1188 – Vanguard participant services
800-992-8327 – Vanguard brokerage services

Is Vanguard a good company overall?

Vanguard has been around since the early ’70s and their success is undeniable as their mutual funds alone are valued in the multiple trillions of dollars. However, their online brokerage services are lagging behind what Vanguard may describe as their “in-direct” competitors such as E*Trade, TD Ameritrade and Scottrade.

The difference I see between Vanguard and the other big players in the online brokerage game is it does not distinguish itself as the cutting-edged, technological, day trading experience the other brokerage houses do.

At the end of the day, if you are looking for some nice retirement options or access to industry-leading mutual funds, Vanguard is a great choice. However, if your financial plan is to throw a few dollars into a brokerage account and get active on the open market, stay away from Vanguard as their initial account requirements and high commission structure could quickly rid you of your dollars.

*Waived if balance is over $10,000 (each fund)