Where Vanguard Personal Advisor shines
Low account advisory fee: Vanguard is famous for using its size to reduce fees for investors, and Vanguard Personal Advisor, one of the largest players in the hybrid robo-advisor/online planning space, continues that tradition: The advisor charges just 0.35% of assets under management, with a $50,000 account minimum.
Human and virtual assistance: Vanguard offers both virtual planning tools and guidance from human financial advisors. Most of these advisors are certified financial planners, and they’re all fiduciaries. These advisors personalize a financial plan and provide ongoing portfolio monitoring for investors.
Investment selection: Customers can take advantage of Vanguard’s time tested funds.
Where Vanguard Personal Advisor falls short
Lack of flexibility: Clients must move money into a Vanguard account and exclusively use Vanguard’s suite of products/funds.
Vanguard Personal Advisor is best for
Access to financial advisors.
Comprehensive financial planning.
Vanguard Personal Advisor at a glance
Period considered: Aug. – Oct. 2023
Account management, planning or subscription fee
0.35% for all-index investment options, or 0.4% if you choose a mix of actively managed and passive index fund strategies.
Advisor access and credentials
Financial planning services
Can advise and create a custom portfolio for a variety of situations, such as saving for retirement, college or a family vacation home.
Services include: Social Security optimization, dynamic spending, tax efficiency, long-term care and medical costs, high-level guidance on estate planning, charitable giving, Roth conversions and trust services.
Investment expense ratios on portfolios
Average expense ratio is 0.06%.
Vanguard PAS creates customizable portfolios on a client-by-client basis. It uses low-cost Vanguard index funds and ETFs, which are diversified with tight tracking. Vanguard PAS also offers three ESG funds (scored on environmental, social and governance factors for sustainable investing).
Clients must move money to Vanguard but can keep outside investments if there are embedded gains or other reasons to do so.
Note: Personal Advisor will consider and provide guidance for other accounts types (e.g. 529s, UGMA, UTMA, non-Vanguard record-kept 401(k)s), but does not directly manage them.
Customer support options (includes how easy it is to find key details on the website)
Customer support is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. Ability to schedule appointments with an advisor at any time.
More details about Vanguard Personal Advisor ratings
Account minimum: 4 out of 5 stars
When looking across the list of online planners NerdWallet reviews, Vanguard’s relatively lower minimum stands out compared with similar hybrid services such as Betterment Premium and Empower (formerly Personal Capital).
Betterment requires a $100,000 minimum balance for its Premium service, which, like Vanguard, offers access to a team of financial advisors (though in Betterment’s case, they’re all CFPs). Empower also has a $100,000 account minimum, clients get access to a dedicated financial advisor once account balances reach $500,000.
Vanguard also provides a dedicated advisor to clients with $500,000 or more. Clients with lower balances have access to a team of advisors.
Schwab’s hybrid robo, Intelligent Portfolios Premium, requires a $25,000 minimum balance, in return for which it offers unlimited access to a team of certified financial planners.
Account advisory, planning or subscription fee: 5 out of 5 stars
Vanguard’s low fees are notable compared with similar hybrid services such as Betterment Premium, Empower and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium.
The advisory fee at Vanguard starts at 0.35% but it drops with higher balances (for those with tens of millions of dollars managed by Vanguard). Vanguard also offers an option to include actively managed funds into your investment plan, which has an advisory fee of 0.40%.
For context, Betterment charges 0.40% for its Betterment Premium service and Empower charges 0.89% for accounts up to $1 million.
Schwab’s hybrid robo charges $30 a month, plus a $300 one-time onboarding fee. Figuring out whether Schwab’s Premium service or Vanguard’s PAS is a better deal for you will require running the numbers on your account balance. If you invest $50,000, Schwab’s $30-a-month fee works out to a 0.72% annual fee — far higher than Vanguard’s 0.35%. But once you reach an account balance of $125,000, the Schwab fee translates to an annual fee of 0.29%.
It’s common for investment accounts to incur other fees, such as closing costs, wire or other transfer fees. Vanguard PAS does not charge other account fees.
For the investor, the less you pay in fees, the better. This means you retain more money in your account to invest and grow for your future.
Setup or onboarding fee: 5 out of 5 stars
Some online financial planning platforms may charge for setting up an account or onboarding to their investment platform. Vanguard PAS does not charge any of these fees.
Advisor access and credentials: 3 out of 5 stars
Part of the value in hiring a financial advisor is that you have someone to turn to when life gets stormy, whether that means the markets are crashing, or you’re experiencing personal turbulence. An advisor will help adjust your plan, if needed, or be there to remind you that your plan is sound. Likewise, an advisor can help you plan and adjust for major milestones, such as marriage or the birth of a child.
Vanguard Personal Advisor does that, offering an ongoing advisory relationship service with the level of access increasing based on net worth. Irrespective of your assets, you’ll have unlimited access to advisors for free. You can schedule time to speak with an advisor by phone or videoconference, and advisors are also available for quick email questions.
Financial planning services: 5 out of 5 stars
Working with your Vanguard PAS advisor, you’ll discuss your goals, needs and dreams. Your advisor will personalize a financial plan to fit your situation, taking your feelings about risk, investing timeframe and other factors into consideration. After you give the go-ahead to implement your plan, PAS becomes your financial coach — helping to monitor your portfolio and make any necessary adjustments along the way.
Vanguard PAS offers a broad range of financial planning tools. Its proprietary financial simulation engine, Vanguard Capital Markets Model, runs 10,000 scenarios to determine the likelihood of meeting your financial goals. The Emergency Savings Estimator provides guidance on appropriate levels of cash or invested assets to protect against unexpected expenses. And Next Dollar Optimizer helps you prioritize competing objectives and deploy your savings effectively. Other tools include: Health Care Estimator, Medicare Match and Social Security Analyzer.
Investment expense ratios: 5 out of 5 stars
Funds used within your investment portfolio will have embedded fees or investment expense ratios. These fees go back to the fund manager to cover the advisory, administrative and custodial costs associated with managing the fund. Vanguard funds have low asset-weighted average investment expense ratios of 0.05%.
Portfolio construction: 4 out of 5 stars
Vanguard Personal Advisor builds portfolios on a client-by-client basis taking into account your goals, circumstances and preferences. Portfolio investment recommendations primarily use Vanguard exchange-traded funds, or ETFs. In many ways, that benefits investors. Vanguard funds are well-diversified, tightly track the underlying index, and carry some of the lowest expense ratios available. In fact, many competitor robo-advisors also use them as the base of their portfolios. However, it allows Vanguard to take a cut twice; once with the management fee and again with fund expense ratios.
PAS also offers all-index, ESG, active fixed income, and active equity funds. For qualified investors, a private equity fund is available. Vanguard intends for its active investment lineup to emphasize its focus on having global scale, a low-cost philosophy, rigorous oversight and adherence to time-tested investment principles.
Brokerage options: 2 out of 5 stars
Some competing online financial planners allow clients more flexibility with the custodian of their assets. For Vanguard PAS, clients must open a Vanguard brokerage account and move assets over. However, clients can hold onto outside investments if there are embedded gains or other reasons to do so.
Accounts supported: 4 out of 5 stars
When it comes to managing your overall investment portfolio, many investors don’t just have one investment account. You may want to consolidate your accounts with one provider, in which case it’s important to consider what account types that provider can support.
Vanguard Personal Advisor provides portfolio monitoring of brokerage and individual retirement accounts, as well as trusts. But the advisors will also take into account other aspects of a client’s portfolio, such as a 401(k), college savings plans or even accounts held at another firm, when developing a financial plan. It’s up to you to tell your advisor about those assets. While they won’t be advised directly by Vanguard advisors, the advice you get will be comprehensive.
Tax strategy: 4 out of 5 stars
Vanguard Personal Advisor offers tax minimization strategies, and rolled out tax-loss harvesting (offsetting capital gains from winning investments by selling securities at a loss) in 2022.
Additionally, tax-exempt municipal bonds are often employed in taxable accounts.
Customer support options: 4 out of 5 stars
Vanguard PAS revamped its website recently, providing an updated look and enhancing its ease-of-use.
Beyond the website and its many tools (simulators, calculators, retirement-planning guides and educational materials), you can reach out to customer service 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time Monday to Friday.
Is Vanguard Personal Advisor right for you?
Access to a human advisor is a differentiator and especially valuable for investors with complex situations. Vanguard Personal Advisor combines personalized financial planning, virtual planning tools and an enduring fund lineup.
Despite the requirement to move assets onto its platform, Vanguard provides a compelling offering. And those willing and able to deposit large balances (over $500,000) can receive even more personalized advice.
How do we review financial advisors?
NerdWallet’s comprehensive review process evaluates and ranks companies that provide financial planning services online or connect users to a financial advisor. Our aim is to provide an independent assessment of providers to help arm you with information to make sound, informed judgments on which ones will best meet your needs. We adhere to strict guidelines for editorial integrity.
We collect data directly from providers through detailed questionnaires, and conduct first-hand testing and observation through provider demonstrations. The questionnaire answers, combined with demonstrations, interviews of personnel at the providers and our specialists’ hands-on research, fuel our proprietary assessment process that scores each provider’s performance across 14 factors. The final output produces star ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars).
Vanguard Personal Advisor are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc., a registered investment advisor, or by Vanguard National Trust Company, a federally chartered, limited purpose trust company.
The services provided to clients who elect to receive ongoing advice will vary based upon the amount of assets in a portfolio. Please review the Form CRS and Vanguard Personal Advisor Brochure for important details about the service, including its asset based service levels and fee breakpoints.
VAI is a subsidiary of VGI and an affiliate of VMC. Neither VAI nor its affiliates guarantee profits or protection from losses.