Editorial Review

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Review 2020: Pros, Cons and How It Compares

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services combines human advisors with robo-advising at a reasonable cost, but requires a relatively high balance.

Andrea CoombesMarch 25, 2020

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Our Take

4.5

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is a strong hybrid advisor, but carries a hefty $50,000 account minimum.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Fees

0.30%

management fee

Account Minimum

$50,000

Promotion

None

no promotion currently offered

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Low management fee for an online planning service

  • Large investment selection.

  • Comprehensive management.

  • Access to financial advisors.

Cons

  • High account minimum.

  • Website offers less of a guiding hand than some competitors.

Compare to Other Advisors

Betterment Premium
Facet Wealth
Personal Capital
Fees

0.40%

management fee

Fees

$1,200 and up

per year

Fees

0.49% - 0.89%

management fee

Account Minimum

$100,000

Account Minimum

$0

Account Minimum

$100,000

Promotion

Up to 1 year

of free management with a qualifying deposit

Promotion

No-cost

No-cost financial evaluation with a CFP®

Promotion

2 Free Months

of financial advisory services for NerdWallet users

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Full Review

Vanguard is famous for using its size to reduce fees for investors, and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, one of the largest players in the robo-advisor space, continues that tradition: The advisor charges just 0.3% of assets under management, but requires a $50,000 account minimum.

That account minimum is on the high end for a robo-advisor. Still, account minimums span a wide range among hybrid services that, like Vanguard, combine human financial advisors with automated portfolio management. Vanguard clients get unlimited access to a team of financial advisors (most of these advisors are certified financial planners, and they're all fiduciaries), so that minimum does earn you access to some personalized advice.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is best for:

  • Large account balances.

  • Access to financial advisors.

  • Comprehensive financial planning.

Vanguard PAS at a glance

Account minimum

$50,000

Account management, planning or subscription fee

The management fee drops at higher account balances:

  • On account balances of less than $5 million: 0.30%.

  • On the portion of an account balance from $5 million to $10 million: 0.20%.

  • On the portion of an account balance from $10 million to $25 million: 0.10%.

  • On the portion of an account balance over $25 million: 0.05%.

Setup or onboarding fee

None.

Account fees

None.

Advisor access and credentials

  • Unlimited appointments via phone, email or videoconference.

  • Most advisors are certified financial planners; all are fiduciaries.

  • Investors with account balances of $50,000 to $500,000 get a team of advisors; investors with balances of $500,000 or more get a dedicated advisor.

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, and high-level guidance on estate planning, charitable giving, Roth conversions, and trust services.

Investment expense ratios

Average 0.08%.

Brokerage options

Clients must move money to Vanguard.

Portfolio construction

Customizable on client-by-client basis.

Accounts supported

  • Individual and joint brokerage accounts.

  • Roth, traditional, rollover, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs.

  • Trusts.

Tax strategy

Assets are allocated strategically among taxable and tax-advantaged accounts to optimize for taxes. Tax-loss harvesting done on client-by-client basis.

Customer support options (includes website transparency)

Customer service hours are Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm Eastern time.

Promotion

None.

Where Vanguard Personal Advisor Services shines

Low management fee: In the grand scheme of things, is a 0.30% management fee that low for a robo-advisor? Not really. Wealthfront charges a flat 0.25%, while other services, like Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, are free of management costs altogether — though, as with all robo-advisors, the investments carry expense ratios paid by the investor.

But it makes more sense to compare Vanguard’s fees with similar hybrid services like Betterment Premium and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium. Vanguard's in good competition here: Betterment charges 0.40% and requires a $100,000 minimum balance for its Premium service, which, like Vanguard, offers unlimited access to a team of financial advisors (though in Betterment's case, they're all CFPs).

Schwab's hybrid robo charges $30 a month, plus a $300 onboarding fee, and requires a $25,000 minimum balance, in return for which it offers unlimited access to a team of certified financial planners. 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 $25,000, Schwab's $30 a month fee works out to a 1.44% annual fee — far higher than Vanguard's 0.3%. But once you get to an account balance of $125,000, the Schwab fee adds up to an annual fee of 0.29%.

Compared with Personal Capital, Vanguard is much cheaper. Personal Capital charges 0.89% for accounts up to $1 million, though clients get access to one or two dedicated financial advisors, depending on their account balance. Vanguard provides a dedicated advisor only to clients with $500,000 or more. Clients with lower balances have access to a team of more than 100 advisors.

Investments: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services builds portfolios on a client-by-client basis, using primarily Vanguard exchange traded funds (ETFs). In many ways, that benefits investors. Vanguard funds carry some of the lowest expense ratios available, and 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.

Comprehensive management: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services provides direct portfolio management 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, and they won’t be managed directly by Vanguard advisors. But the advice you get will be comprehensive and fit your full financial picture.

Financial advisors: 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 take a dive 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 for and adjust to major milestones, like a marriage or the birth of a child.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services does that, too, offering an ongoing advisory relationship service with the level of access increasing based on net worth. At lower account balances, you’ll work with Vanguard’s band of planners rather than one person assigned to your account. If you have at least $500,000 in assets, you'll have access to a dedicated advisor.

Irrespective of your assets, you'll have unlimited access to advisors for free. The advisors will help you adjust your investments as needed and send you quarterly progress reports. You can schedule time to speak with an advisor via phone or video conferencing, and advisors are also available for quick questions via email.

Where Vanguard Personal Advisor Services falls short

Account minimum: There’s no way around this: $50,000 is a high account minimum. It’s clear Vanguard is limiting its service to balances that, given the low management fee, will make a significant impact on its bottom line. The minimum puts the service out of reach for beginner investors, though that minimum can be spread among multiple Vanguard accounts. The company adds another layer with the $500,000 minimum to access a dedicated financial advisor.

Tax-loss harvesting: The service is available here, but it isn’t automatic. Rather, tax-loss harvesting opportunities are approached on a client-by-client basis, which the company says is by design. Vanguard’s investment research shows that while tax-loss harvesting can be beneficial, it also carries risk. Clients who want daily monitoring for tax-loss harvesting opportunities may not be happy with this approach.

Vanguard does allocate assets across account types, optimizing for taxes. For example, tax-efficient investments will be placed in taxable accounts, and those that generate a tax burden will go into tax-sheltered retirement accounts, when the client has both types of account.

Customer experience: Vanguard has a no-frills website, and while there are a lot of tools for investors (including simulators, calculators, retirement-planning guides and educational materials), it can be difficult to track down the information you need. Customers who want a robo in their pocket may be disappointed by Vanguard's app, which racks up a lot of complaints for its usability, especially among Android users.

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

Is Vanguard Personal Advisor Services right for you?

While Vanguard Personal Advisor Services charges a bit more than the cheapest players, it offers more, too. Vanguard's advisors combine the strengths of a robo-advisor with personalized financial planning. Of course, to get in Vanguard's game, you have to put up $50,000, a high ante for some investors, making Vanguard more suitable for those who've already been investing for a while.

For those who can put up that minimum bankroll, Vanguard provides a compelling offering. And those willing and able to deposit $500,000 or more can receive even more personalized advice.

Anna-Louise Jackson also contributed to this review.