Vanguard vs. Fidelity: Which Is Best For You?

Choosing the right investment platform can be difficult, especially if you’re new to the world of investing and don’t even know what you should be looking for.

Investing is a huge decision, and many different providers are competing for attention in the market.

If you’ve started to research into which service to use, you’ve probably come across Vanguard and Fidelity: they’re two of the most established and trusted names in the business. Vanguard was established back in 1975 and Fidelity in 1946. Put together; they manage combined assets worth almost $10 trillion.

But which should you trust your assets with? The short answer is that it depends. All potential investors have slightly different needs and would benefit from various features. Let’s look at a more detailed breakdown of how these two investment giants compare.

What are Vanguard and Fidelity?

fidelity vs vanguardAs you probably already know, Vanguard and Fidelity are both huge global investment providers. They share many similarities: they’re focused primarily on long-term planning such as retirement, and they offer both funds and brokerage.

However, their specializations and delivery are slightly different.

Vanguard focuses more on the funds side, although it does offer brokerage too. It’s the world’s largest provider of mutual funds and the second-largest provider of exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Fidelity centers around brokerage, although it does offer funds. It’s the second-largest trading provider in the world (after Charles Schwab).

It’s true that Vanguard manages more assets than Fidelity: the former has $5.3 trillion assets under management, while the latter has $2.46 trillion assets under management.

However, Fidelity has a more significant physical presence: it has more than double the number of employees that Vanguard has and more offices. Fidelity has also been around for longer.

The size of the company is a fairly arbitrary measure: both are extremely reputable and established investment providers.

Vanguard vs. Fidelity Features

As you’d expect, there are lots of similarities in terms of the basic offerings. Both platforms allow you to trade in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, options, and foreign exchange currencies. They both offer margin trading, which lets you purchase securities using the value of the securities you already own.

Additionally, both firms boast robo-advisors, an essential point for anyone who wants a managed portfolio: Vanguard offers the Vanguard Personal Advisor while Fidelity has Fidelity Go.

However, beyond the superficial, there are lots of intrinsic differences in how the platform operates.

Fidelity Features

Fidelity lets you create a variety of accounts: individual and joint taxable; traditional; Roth, SEP, SIMPLE, and rollover IRAs; 401(k)s; trusts, and 529 plans. However, as mentioned previously, it’s primarily geared towards retirement. You can also purchase both Fidelity funds and non-Fidelity funds.

The special Fidelity features you’ll be able to access will depend on the type of account you have.

Fidelity Cash Management Account

The Fidelity Cash Management Account is their basic account, which gives you the most basic features, such as automatic investments and withdrawals.

Active Trader Pro

Active Trader Pro is its fully customizable trading platform with more advanced features like real-time information streaming and analytics.

This has the edge over Vanguard, where you’ll need to refresh the page to get the latest information, but the Active Trader Pro account is only available for customers who trade 36 times or more in a year.

In terms of advisory, Fidelity offers both a robo-advisor and more traditional options.

Fidelity Go

Fidelity Go (the robo-advisor) invests in a range of funds, including US and foreign bonds and stocks, and short-term investments.

The advisor will periodically rebalance your portfolio, but you can also make manual adjustments.

The Annual Strategic Review

This reviews your investment profile each year and changes your allocation, while Target Tracking lets you create target balances to strive to meet within a specified period.

If you have a large enough balance, there are more advanced options available such as:

  • The Fidelity Portfolio Advisory Service: for those investing at least $50,000
  • The Fidelity Personalized Portfolio: for an investment of $200,000
  • Fidelity Separately Managed Accounts: to focus on different asset classes (for investing between $200,000-$500,000 depending on portfolio allocation)
  • Fidelity Wealth Management Advisory: if you’re investing $2 million

The more sophisticated options let you discuss your goals and preferences to formulate a comprehensive strategy with qualified advisors.

Fidelity Tools

Regardless of which account type and balance you opt for, Fidelity has some great features which are available for all its customers.

  • The Security & Stock Screeners: allows you to list the stocks you want to follow, using more than 40 criteria. This includes mutual funds, ETFs, fixed income, and stock screeners. You can also opt to follow pre-built strategies from independent research experts, which you can use for stocks, preferred securities, ETFs, and closed-end funds.
  • The Stock Research Center: gives you information about any stock or fund you want to invest in to help you reach an informed decision. You’ll be able to see the top-rated sectors and the latest industry news.
  • Dedicated Learning Center: this is full of articles, videos, and webinars, and covers both basic and more advanced topics, from retirement planning to fixed income selection, so you’re bound to find something of interest.

Vanguard Features

As with Fidelity, the standard accounts are on offer: individual and joint taxable accounts; traditional, Roth, SEP, SIMPLE and rollover IRAs; solo 401(k)s, trusts, and 529 plans.

You can also purchase Vanguard funds and non-Vanguard funds. One significant difference is that Vanguard gives you checking account access.
Vanguard has a customer classification system based on the size of assets, which affects which features you can access:

  • Voyager: $50,000 to $500,000
  • Voyager Select: $500,000 to $1 million
  • Flagship Clients: $1 million to $5 million
  • Flagship Select: over $5 million

Having a larger balance gives you more access to financial advisors and lower fees on trades. For those with a balance below $50,000, you can’t even access their robo-advisor.

The Vanguard robo-advisor, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, is the largest robo advisor in the world; it manages more than ten times as many assets as Betterment, one of the robo-advisory pioneers.

However, it’s important to note that Vanguard’s robo-advisor is a hybrid; it includes human input too. This means that clients with a large balance get tailored, high-value advice.

Vanguard Tools

As well as just investing, you’ll be able to access a wide range of advisory services, including social security or health insurance. This allows you to plan for your future comprehensively.

Vanguard has screeners for mutual funds, stocks, and ETFs. However, the mutual fund screener is very basic and focuses on Vanguard funds over those from other firms. Options and charting are quite limited compared to Fidelity.

Special features include a portfolio analysis (to compare current asset allocation with target asset allocation), the Vanguard Tax Center (to track taxable dividends and capital gains distributions), and target-date funds, specifically for retirement and based on age.

In terms of opportunities for learning, Vanguard focuses on long-term investors and doesn’t offer much in the way of resources for new investors. There are occasional webinars that focus on long-term trading strategies, and there are also some useful calculators to help you formulate your investment plan.

However, it isn’t the place to learn about the basics.

Compare Pricing

Fidelity Price and Fees

Fidelity has no annual fee for having an account, and it requires no minimum investment to begin using the platform, but you’ll need to have $2,500 in your account before you can start investing.

However, if you want to access its advisory services, you’ll have to pay. Fees for advisory depend on the type you choose. The robo-advisor is the most economical option:

  • Fidelity Go: 0.35%
  • Fidelity Portfolio Advisory Service: 0.60-1.70%
  • Fidelity Personalized Portfolio: 0.55%-1.50%
  • Fidelity Separately Managed Accounts: 0.20%-1.10%
  • Fidelity Wealth Management Advisory: 0.40%-1.15%

The pricing structure is quite transparent for trading. All stocks have a fee of $4.95, and options cost $4.95 plus a $0.65 fee per contract. ETFs are free if you choose one of four Fidelity zero index funds or one of 92 commission-free ETFs; for everything else, the price is $4.95 each again.

For mutual funds, Fidelity Funds are all free, and there are also some No Transaction Fee non-fidelity funds but, other non-Fidelity funds are $49.95.

Fidelity offers some of the most affordable fees available, especially for new investors who may not have substantial balances. It also carries no minimum fees.

Vanguard Price and Fees

Unlike Fidelity, Vanguard charges an annual fee of $30, unless you have a balance of $20,000 or more. Vanguard also requires a minimum of $3,000 in balances before you can start investing.

The cost of their advisory services are as follows:

  • Target Retirement Funds: 12% on average (need a minimum of $1,000)
  • Vanguard STAR Fund: 31% (need a minimum of $1,000)
  • Actively managed funds: 12% on average (need a minimum of $50,000)
  • Personal Advisor Services (hybrid robo-advisor): 30% annual advisory fee (need a minimum of $50,000)

Trading fees are much more variable and confusing with Vanguard compared to Fidelity. For stocks, prices range from $0 to $20 depending on the value and the number of the trades:

  • Under $50,000: $7 for the first 25 trades, then $20
  • $50k to $500k: $7
  • $500k to $1 million: $2
  • $1 million to $5 million: $0 on first 25 trades, then $2
  • Over $5 million: $0 on first 100 trades, then $2

This clearly favors those who have a larger balance.

The fees for options carry the same base prices, but you’ll have to pay a $1 fee extra per trade, and there are no $20 trades.

Most mutual funds are commission-free, including 140 Vanguard mutual funds and over 3,000 non-Vanguard mutual funds. As for the rest of the mutual funds, these are the prices:

  • $6,000 to $500k: $20 per trade
  • $500k to $1 million: $8 per trade
  • $1 million to $5 million: $0 for the first 25 trades (then $8 per trade)
  • >$5 million: $0 for the first 100 trades (then $8 per trade)

Once again, you can see that the prices favor those who are prepared to invest large amounts of money. New investors with a low balance may not find that Vanguard works well for them.

However, there are no fees for ETFs, which is a huge advantage of the platform.

Signing Up and Getting Started

It’s quick and easy to set up an account on both Vanguard and Fidelity. The process should only take about ten minutes.

First, you’ll need to decide what kind of account you’d like to open, what type of funds you’d like to invest in, and how you’re going to fund your account. The first thing the service will ask is what type of account you want and what your goals are.

To go ahead with setting up the account, you’ll need your social security number and employer’s name and address. If you intend to fund your investments with a different bank account, you’ll also need the information for that account.

You’ll then need some money to get started properly. As already established, Fidelity has no minimum balance required to start an account, but you will need $2,500 to start investing. For Vanguard, you’ll need $3,000 just to open the account.

Security

Both platforms are established investment firms managing trillions of dollars’ worth of assets; naturally, they take their security very seriously.

Fidelity conducts a risk assessment when a client logs in, and they may challenge you if the log-in is deemed insecure. Vanguard’s website is well-encrypted and will also challenge you if you log in from an unrecognized device.

For Mobile

Both platforms have apps available to download for Android, Apple, and Kindle Fire devices. The Vanguard platform is more basic than Fidelity on both mobile and web.

Fidelity Mobile App

The number of features on Fidelity’s web app can be overwhelming, so the mobile can be simpler to use.

Half of their recent trades have been through the mobile app, which speaks volumes about its usability. All offerings are available to trade on mobile, as well as watch lists.

fidelity mobile app

 

Vanguard Mobile App

Vanguard’s mobile app layout is easier to navigate than the web version in some ways: the user interface is well-designed. However, it’s not possible to talk to customer service via the app, and quotes often get delayed.

This makes it inadvisable to make trades through the app, although you can still use it to check balances.

vanguard mobile app

Customer Service and Support

Fidelity has customer service 24/7 by phone and the option to use live chat. Since there are 140 physical establishments in the USA alone, it’s easy to go and get advice with real humans if you prefer. They also display order tickets and contextual help to guide you through the process of trading.

Vanguard offers customer support from Monday to Friday between 8 am-10 pm, but there’s no option to talk to staff in a physical establishment. Fidelity is the clear winner on this front.

Pros and Cons of Fidelity

Pros

  • Low trading fees
  • No minimum investment needed
  • No annual fee
  • More access to customer service
  • Best for funds investing
  • Superior platform and tools
  • Real-time streaming and data (on Active Trader Pro)
  • High rate of price improvement on trade execution engine
  • Better technology

Cons

  • No checking account access
  • Robo-advisor isn’t as good
  • Can be difficult to find the feature you need
  • No futures trading

 

Pros and Cons of Vanguard

Pros

  • Checking account access
  • ETFs have some of the lowest expense ratios in the industry
  • No trading fees on thousands of mutual funds
  • One of the lowest trading fees in the industry for high balances ($2 for a balance of $500,000)
  • Advisors cater more to individual needs
  • More help with financial planning
  • Boasts impressive past performance
  • Actively managed funds
  • Offers futures trading

Cons

  • The minimum investment to get started is $3,000
  • Annual fee of $20 (but waived for those with a balance of $20,000)
  • More expensive trading fees
  • More basic platform and tools

Vanguard vs. Fidelity FAQs

Is Vanguard The Best Place To Invest or Is Fidelity Better?

Deciding which company to use for your investments depends on your personal situation. The most important factors to consider are the size of your balances, whether you want to trade actively, and the type of portfolio you want to have.

Vanguard is the best option for long-term investors and high net-worth individuals. The more money you’re investing, the less you’ll have to pay for trades and advisory services, to the point where percentages drop close to zero for those with millions.

The main focus of Vanguard is helping high-wealth clients to prepare for retirement and long-term goals.

A further strength is the variety of ETFs and mutual funds available for a low cost, so Vanguard could be worth considering for anyone who wants to trade in these.

However, it’s possible to buy Vanguard shares through any brokerage website, so it may not be worth it, especially since Vanguard doesn’t offer much in the way of other trading options.

For example, there are no streaming quotes or complex options strategies.

On the other hand, Fidelity is best for active investors and low net-worth individuals due to their low trading fees. Fidelity offers more mutual funds with no transaction fees than Vanguard, and they offer all ETFs with no transaction fees.

Also, Fidelity offers better learning resources and more access to customer support, which suits new investors well.

Vanguard is best for people who only want to trade occasionally or who want their funds to be managed for them. Fidelity is better suited for active investors and those with lower- or medium-sized balances.

If you want a retirement account, want to trade mutual funds, or wish to receive financial planning assistance, it’s a close tie between the two platforms providing you have a relatively large balance.

Can You Buy Vanguard Funds Through Fidelity?

An important point to note is that, although Vanguard’s primary advantage is their wide variety of funds, you don’t actually need a Vanguard account to be able to access these funds.

Vanguard funds are available to buy through many investment firms, and these include Fidelity. However, in 2018, Fidelity started to charge a surcharge when retirement savers opt for Vanguard funds.

This followed in the footsteps of other investment giants, Morgan Stanley and Ameritrade, and was done to make it more expensive for clients to purchase from its competitor. Nonetheless, it can still be done.

Are Fidelity and Vanguard the same?

Fidelity and Vanguard are similar firms, but they aren’t the same. As already established, they have different specializations: Fidelity is more geared towards those who want to trade and Vanguard towards those who want more intermediation.

In addition to this key distinction, there are lots of minor differences between the platforms. Their fee structures are quite distinct, the platforms have a different feel, and the features offered aren’t exactly the same.

To examine these differences in more detail, it’s helpful to see a breakdown of the features both platforms offer.

Is Vanguard A Reputable Company?

Vanguard has been around for almost half a century and manages trillions of dollars’ worth of assets. It’s trusted by lots of very high net worth individuals, so you can rest assured that Vanguard is a reputable company.

Of course, there’s always a certain amount of risk involved in investment, so even using a reputable company like Vanguard won’t guarantee you high returns.

Alternatives

Although Fidelity and Vanguard are both great platforms, they’re not the only wealth investment services available. There are a few other options which may suit your needs better.

TDAmeritrade

TDAmeritrade is another great option for new investors who don’t want to invest a large amount of money. There’s a $0 minimum to start investing, and there are lots of useful resources for new investors to learn more about trading.

You can also test the waters using a feature called paperMoney – a virtual trading account – before you start investing your hard-owned cash. However, this comes at a price: the fees for TDAmeritrade are slightly higher than average.

Wealthfront and Betterment

Wealthfront and Betterment are two much newer firms that were formed with a focus on robo-advisory. Betterment has no minimum deposit, while Wealthfront has a minimum deposit of only $500, meaning that both firms are great options for less confident investors.

They also both have some special features; Betterment will automatically invest balances for you, while Wealthfront helps you to reach specific goals.

Charles Schwab

A further option is Charles Schwab, an established investment management firm. They claim to offer a ‘more modern’ approach to investing as there are many options for managing your money.

You can choose between a robo-advisor, to receive a personalized plan from a financial consultant, and managing your own investments. There are stock and ETF trades with $0 fees, and you’ll be able to access 24/7 support, making this a good choice for active investors.

Investing With Vanguard or Fidelity

On the surface, Vanguard and Fidelity appear to have many similarities: they’re two of the biggest players in the investment management business and focus on helping their clients reach long-term financial goals such as retirement.

However, once you dive a little deeper, it’s clear to see that there are many differences.

Vanguard is a great platform for specific purposes. The higher your balance is, the lower your fees will be, and the more special services you’ll be able to access, so if you have a large portfolio, then using Vanguard makes sense. It’s also great for anyone who prefers having a managed portfolio over being an active trader.

However, for most people, Fidelity is the most suitable option. Its fees are lower for making trades, especially if you have a low- or medium-sized balance, so it’s a much better choice for active traders.

Fidelity also has a much more friendly user interface and offers more learning resources, so it can be a good choice for new investors.

Before you make your decision about which investing platform to use, it’s important to outline your goals and strategy.

Grant Sabatier

Creator of Millennial Money and Author of Financial Freedom (Penguin Random House). Dubbed "The Millennial Millionaire" by CNBC, Grant went from $2.26 to over $1 million in 5 years, reaching financial independence at age 30. Grant has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC, NPR, Money Magazine and many others. He uses Personal Capital to manage his money in 10 minutes a month.

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