Vanguard Digital Advisor Review 2021: Pros, Cons and How It Compares

Vanguard Digital Advisor® provides an affordable, convenient and personalized way to invest for retirement. Investors benefit from Vanguard’s years of investment experience and a portfolio built from its low-cost and well-diversified ETFs.

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Our Take

4.0

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line:

Vanguard Digital Advisor is an affordable robo-advisory service using several of Vanguard's key exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, to create a personalized retirement plan and portfolio for investors.

Vanguard Digital Advisor

on Vanguard's website

Fees

0.15%

per year (approximately)

Account Minimum

$0

Promotion

No advisory fees

your first 90 days of Vanguard Digital Advisor investment management (Enrollment requires a Vanguard account with a minimum of $3,000)

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Access to Vanguard’s investing expertise and ETFs.
  • Low management fee relative to competitors.
  • Low investment expense ratios and no additional account fees.

Cons

  • Limited portfolio options and customization.
  • No tax-loss harvesting for tax minimization.

Compare to Other Advisors

Vanguard Digital Advisor
SoFi Automated Investing
Betterment
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Fees

0.15%

per year (approximately)

Fees

0%

management fee

Fees

0.25%

management fee

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$0

Promotion

No advisory fees

your first 90 days of Vanguard Digital Advisor investment management (Enrollment requires a Vanguard account with a minimum of $3,000)

Promotion

Free

career counseling plus loan discounts with qualifying deposit

Promotion

Up to 1 year

of free management with a qualifying deposit

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Full Review

Where Vanguard Digital Advisor shines

Lower fees: As one of the oldest and largest investment firms in the world, Vanguard capitalizes on its investment expertise and global scale, using its size to reduce fees for investors.

Low-cost ETFs: Vanguard Digital Advisor, an all-digital robo-advisor service, gives investors the ability to create a personalized retirement plan and corresponding portfolio for a mere 0.15% advisory fee, using four low-cost Vanguard ETFs with an average expense ratio of 0.05%.

Hands-off investing: For investors who prefer to learn and aren’t fazed by a do-it-yourself approach, Vanguard Digital Advisor provides an affordable, personalized portfolio with ongoing, automated investment management. For those who prefer guidance from human financial advisors, consider Vanguard’s flagship offering, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.

Free trial: Try it without paying any advisory fees for your first 90 days.

Where Vanguard Digital Advisor falls short

Limited ETFs: Vanguard Digital Advisor uses four of its own proprietary ETFs within its portfolios. While these ETFs are well-diversified, some clients may desire additional investment choices and the ability to customize their portfolios.

No tax-loss harvesting: Vanguard Digital Advisor does not offer tax-loss harvesting to offset capital gains for customers with taxable brokerage accounts.

Vanguard Digital Advisor is best for:

  • Those who value low-cost offerings.

  • Investors desiring a personalized plan to reach retirement goals.

  • Investors who are comfortable leveraging technology instead of receiving guidance from a human advisor.

Vanguard Digital Advisor at a glance

Account minimum

$3,000 for retail brokerage accounts, $5 for eligible 401(k) plan participant accounts.

Account management fee

Net advisory fee is approximately 0.15%, although actual fee will vary depending on the specific holdings in each enrolled account.

The net advisory fee is waived for new clients' first 90 days enrolled in the service.

Investment expense ratios

0.05% for retail clients with Vanguard brokerage accounts; fees vary for 401(k) plan participant accounts.

Account fees (annual, transfer, closing)

None.

Portfolio mix

For retail accounts, portfolios will be constructed with varying contributions of four Vanguard ETFs: Total Stock Market ETF, Total International Stock ETF, Total Bond Market ETF and Total International Bond ETF. Portfolio is well-diversified but lacks exposure to non-market-correlated assets such as real estate investment trusts and commodities.

Socially responsible portfolio options

None.

Accounts supported

  • Individual and joint brokerage accounts.

  • IRAs (traditional, Roth and rollover).

  • 401(k)s (Digital Advisor is available to eligible 401(k) plans on its full-service record-keeping platform).

Tax strategy

No tax-loss harvesting.

Portfolios constructed with low-turnover, tax-efficient ETFs. For portfolios including both taxable and tax-advantaged accounts, DA optimizes for tax efficiency by allocating investments strategically with an "asset location" approach. DA uses the minimum tax cost basis method, which is generally designed to minimize tax impact and lower an individual's tax burden by identifying selective units or quantities of securities to sell in any sale transaction (including rebalancing) based on specific ordering rules.

Automatic rebalancing

Portfolios evaluated daily to compare against target asset allocation, and rebalanced as necessary when portfolio found to deviate by more than 5% in any asset class. Monitoring in place to rebalance if cash balance is more than $300.

Human advisor option

None. Vanguard does offer access to advisors through its Personal Advisor Services platform, which has additional fees.

Bank account/cash management account

Cash can be put in a Vanguard money market fund. There is no other short-term savings option, but no gross advisory fee is assessed on any cash equivalent balances.

Customer support options (includes how easy it is to find key details on the website)

Customer support is available Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time by phone.

» Want to check out other providers? See our top picks for robo-advisors.

More details about Vanguard Digital Advisor's ratings

Account minimum: 3 out of 5 stars

A robo-advisor’s account minimum refers to how much money or securities you must deposit to open an account on its investment platform. Higher account minimums could be a barrier for people just getting started with investing.

Although Vanguard Digital Advisor’s low costs are compelling, its account minimum of $3,000 for retail brokerage accounts is higher than some of its peers. There are other robo-advisor platforms with no minimums or minimums less than Vanguard Digital Advisor.

For eligible 401(k) accounts, the account minimum is $5.

Account management fee: 5 out of 5 stars

Considering the range of robo-advisors we review, Vanguard Digital Advisor’s 0.15% management fee is on the lower end. However, some of these robos provide access to human advisors, so it makes more sense to compare Vanguard’s fees with other similar offerings without human guidance.

Both Wealthfront's and Betterment's entry-level tiers charge a 0.25% management fee. Fidelity Go has a tiered fee structure in which all balances above $50,000 carry a 0.35% advisory fee. Ally Invest Managed Portfolios also has a tiering component, but its clients who want full market exposure pay a 0.30% management fee.

In comparison, Vanguard's low, flat fee is attractive.

Note that Vanguard Digital Advisor charges a 0.20% annual gross advisory fee but clients are credited for the portion of expense ratios going to The Vanguard Group or its affiliates, which makes the annual net advisory fee approximately 0.15% across accounts. Your actual net fee may vary depending on the specific holdings within your account.

Investment expense ratios: 5 out of 5 stars

Investment expense ratios are internal annual fees baked into the cost of almost every mutual fund, index fund or exchange-traded fund to cover the fund manager’s costs. Vanguard’s investment expense ratios are lower than the competition with the exception of Fidelity Go, which has zero expense ratios in its Fidelity Flex funds.

Vanguard Digital Advisor creates personalized portfolios based on a client’s situation, preferences and retirement goal. These portfolios are built from four popular Vanguard exchange-traded funds — Total Stock Market ETF (VTI), Total International Stock ETF (VXUS), Total Bond Market ETF (BND) and Total International Bond Market ETF (BNDX) — with a low average investment expense ratio of 0.05%.

Account fees: 5 out of 5 stars

Vanguard Digital Advisor charges no annual fees, no transfer or closing fees, and no setup or onboarding fees. Low fees benefit investors as the less you pay in fees, the more money you can keep working for you.

Portfolio mix: 3 out of 5 stars

Clients complete Vanguard Digital Advisor's online financial profile to create their personalized retirement plan. The service asks for details about household income and tax-filing status, with the option to link outside accounts.

Next, Vanguard’s risk-tolerance tool figures out a client's attitude toward risk by posing various scenarios. Then, the client moves on to establish their retirement goal, taking into consideration contributions to retirement accounts, time horizon, Social Security benefits and more to produce their retirement outlook.

Based upon the client’s plan, Vanguard Digital Advisor customizes a portfolio aligned with their retirement goals and provides ongoing management.

Vanguard’s Digital Advisor uses the four Vanguard ETFs mentioned above to construct personalized portfolios. While these ETFs do provide investors with a well-diversified and tax-efficient portfolio, some investors may feel constrained without access to any socially responsible investment options or smart-beta portfolios provided by other robo-advisors.

Also, using Digital Advisor limits the investor to only these four Vanguard ETFs instead of being able to use ETFs from various investment management companies, or mixing ETFs with mutual funds or individual stocks.

Socially responsible portfolio options: 1 out of 5 stars

Increasingly, investors have wanted to put their dollars toward investments that produce both social change as well as good financial returns. Socially responsible investments might include companies making positive and sustainable impact or exclude those making negative impact.

Investors with their heart set on socially responsible investments will need to look elsewhere as Vanguard Digital Advisor does not offer SRI options on its platform.

Accounts supported: 3.5

Investors often have more than one type of investment account. If you’d like to keep everything under one umbrella, it’s important to know what account types can be supported on your robo-advisor’s platform.

Vanguard Digital Advisor is able to manage individual and joint taxable brokerage accounts, IRAs (traditional, Roth and rollover) and 401(k)s for those eligible defined-contribution plans on Vanguard’s full-service record-keeping platform.

Tax strategy: 2 out of 5 stars

Vanguard Digital Advisor does not offer any automatic tax-loss harvesting service for its accounts. Tax-loss harvesting is a tax minimization strategy where loss-making investments are sold to offset gains made within your portfolio.

Instead, Vanguard Digital Advisor uses its minimum tax cost basis method, which sells units or quantities (lots) of securities with the greatest loss during every sale transaction. Vanguard also optimizes for tax efficiency using asset location, placing more tax-efficient investments in taxable accounts, and those investments with the greater tax burden into tax-sheltered retirement accounts, when the client has both types of accounts.

Clients who want daily monitoring for tax-loss harvesting opportunities may not be happy with this approach.

Automatic rebalancing: 5 out of 5 stars

When the market moves, the allocation of your investment portfolio will shift. This means that over time, your portfolio allocation may adjust away from its target allocation. Rebalancing your account will bring your allocation back to where it was meant to be by buying and selling investments.

Once a portfolio is active, Vanguard Digital Advisor monitors accounts daily and rebalances if any asset class deviates more than 5% from the target asset allocation.

Human advisor option: 1 out of 5 stars

Vanguard’s Digital Advisor platform doesn't provide investors with access to a human advisor for questions or planning purposes. While this is not uncommon among robo-advisors, competitors such as Betterment and Ellevest offer the ability from within their digitally minded offerings to purchase one-off or a la carte access to a human advisor.

Those who want a human’s help can check out Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Services platform, which provides unlimited access to advisors. However, do-it-yourselfers may gravitate toward Digital Advisor to work things out on their own using Vanguard’s various tools (including a tool on debt-payment strategies) and other investor education.

Savings account/cash management options: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Investors can choose to put cash in Vanguard’s money market fund, which is where any excess cash will be automatically transferred. While there is no other short-term savings option available to investors, there is also no gross advisory fee assessed on any cash equivalent balances.

A forthcoming emergency savings estimator will guide investors on how much cash cushion or invested assets may be needed to protect against unexpected expenses and maintain their long-term investment strategy.

Customer support options: 3 out of 5 stars

If you have a question about your investment account, Vanguard Digital Advisor offers customer support via phone from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday, so customers can call outside of typical business hours.

Is Vanguard Digital Advisor right for you?

If you’re comfortable leveraging technology and online tools to create your retirement plan, Vanguard Digital Advisor provides you with the means to do so. And in 2021, Digital Advisor incorporated additional features, including the ability to plan for multiple, non-retirement goals — such as saving for a child’s college education or new home — to help with a more holistic approach to financial planning. Combined with its low-cost ETFs, Vanguard’s platform guides investors with a personalized, diversified portfolio aligned with their goals, along with ongoing management.

How do we review robo-advisors?

NerdWallet’s comprehensive review process evaluates and ranks the largest U.S. robo-advisors by assets under management, along with emerging industry players, using a multifaceted and iterative approach. Our aim is to provide an independent assessment of providers to help arm you with information to make sound, informed judgements on which ones will best meet your needs.

DATA COLLECTION AND REVIEW PROCESS

We collect data directly from providers, and conduct first-hand testing and observation through provider demonstrations. Our process starts by sending detailed questionnaires to providers to complete. The questionnaires are structured to equally elicit both favorable and unfavorable responses from providers. They are not designed or prepared to produce any predetermined results. The questionnaire answers, combined with product 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 more than 20 factors. The final output produces star ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.

RATING FACTORS

Evaluations vary by provider type, but in each case are based upon the weighted averages of factors that include but are not limited to: advisory and account fees, account minimums and types, investment selection, investment expense ratios, trading costs, access to human financial advisors, educational resources and tools, rebalancing and tax minimization options, and customer support including branch access, user-facing technology and mobile platforms.

Each factor can involve evaluating various sub-factors. For instance, when gauging the investment selections offered by robo-advisors, 80% of the score is based on the potential for diversification (how well-diversified a resulting portfolio of investments could be) combined with the availability of specialty portfolios and level of customization for investors. Expense ratios form an additional 10% of the score, and low or no management fee the remaining 10%.

FACTOR WEIGHTINGS

The weighting of each factor is based on our team’s assessment of which features are the most important to consumers and which ones impact the consumer experience in the most meaningful way. The factors considered, and how those factors are weighted, change depending upon the category of providers reviewed.

INFORMATION UPDATES

Writers and editors conduct our broker reviews on an annual basis but continually make updates throughout the year. We maintain frequent contact with providers and highlight any changes in offerings.

THE REVIEW TEAM

The review team comprises seasoned writers, researchers and editors who cover stocks, bonds, mutual funds, index funds, exchange-traded funds, alternative investments, socially responsible investing, financial advisors, retirement and investment strategy on a daily basis. In addition to NerdWallet, the work of our team members has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, USA Today, Bloomberg News, Nasdaq, MSN, MarketWatch, Yahoo! Finance and other national and regional media outlets.

The combined expertise of our Investing team is infused into our review process to ensure thoughtful evaluations of provider products and services from the customer perspective. Our writers and editors combine to have more than 70 years of deep experience in finance, ranging from a former Wall Street Journal reporter to a former senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

While NerdWallet does have partnerships with many of the reviewed providers, we manage potential conflicts of interest by maintaining a wall between our content and business operations. This wall is designed to prevent our writers and the review process from being influenced or impacted by our business partnerships. This way, all reviews can provide an unbiased review that serves the interests of our users. For more information, see NerdWallet’s editorial guidelines.

Read Vanguard disclosures below:

Vanguard Digital Advisor is an all-digital service. Digital Advisor's annual net advisory fee is approximately 0.15% across your enrolled accounts for a typical investment portfolio, although your actual net fee will vary depending on the specific holdings in each enrolled account. Vanguard Digital Advisor charges a 0.20% annual gross advisory fee to manage Vanguard Brokerage Accounts. However, we'll credit you for the revenues that The Vanguard Group, Inc. ("VGI"), or its affiliates receive from the securities in your Digital Advisor managed portfolio (i.e., at least that portion of the expense ratios of the Vanguard funds held in your portfolio that VGI or its affiliates receive). Your net advisory fee can also vary by enrolled account type. The combined annual cost of Vanguard Digital Advisor's annual net advisory fee plus the expense ratios charged by the Vanguard funds in your managed portfolio will be 0.20% for Vanguard Brokerage Accounts. For more information, please review Form CRS and the Vanguard Digital Advisor brochure.

Enrollments in Vanguard Digital Advisor require at least $3,000 in each Vanguard Brokerage Account. For each taxable account you wish to enroll, the entire balance must be in the brokerage account's settlement fund (which is Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund). For each traditional, Roth, or rollover IRA you wish to enroll, the entire balance must be in certain allowable investment types (based on eligibility screening by Digital Advisor at the time of enrollment) and/or the brokerage account's settlement fund. We'll invest your assets in a portfolio of Vanguard ETFs, all of which are commission-free through a Vanguard Brokerage Account. Vanguard Brokerage Accounts are offered through and maintained by Vanguard Marketing Corporation ("VMC"), a registered broker-dealer and member FINRA and SIPC.  If you decide to manage your investments on your own, you can buy and sell Vanguard ETF Shares through Vanguard Brokerage Services® or another broker (which may charge commissions).

Vanguard Digital Advisor's services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc. ("VAI"), a federally registered investment advisor. VAI is a subsidiary of VGI and an affiliate of VMC. Neither VAI, Digital Advisor, VGI, nor VMC guarantees profits or protection from losses.

on Vanguard's website