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

For a reasonable cost, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services provides unlimited access to fiduciary advisors. It pairs Vanguard's solid fund lineup with technology to design customized financial plans.

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.


The investing information provided on this page is for educational purposes only. NerdWallet does not offer advisory or brokerage services, nor does it recommend or advise investors to buy or sell particular stocks or securities.

Our Take

5.0

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services provides a strong customized financial offering with guidance from human advisors, but lacks tax-loss harvesting.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

on Vanguard's website

Fees

0.30%

management fee

Account Minimum

$50,000

Promotion

None

no promotion available at this time

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Low management fee and lower account minimum for an online planning service.
  • Comprehensive management with goals-based planning.
  • Unlimited access to financial advisors.
  • Solid investment selection with Vanguard’s suite of funds.

Cons

  • No tax-loss harvesting.
  • Must move outside assets over to Vanguard.

Compare to Other Advisors

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
Zoe Financial
Facet Wealth
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Fees

0.30%

management fee

Fees

Varies by advisor

Fees

$150 and up

per month (free initial consultation)

Account Minimum

$50,000

Account Minimum

$100,000

Account Minimum

$500

Promotion

None

no promotion available at this time

Promotion

None

no promotion available at this time

Promotion

15% off

one year of financial planning (requires annual payment upfront)

Get more smart money moves — straight to your inbox

Become a NerdWallet member, and we’ll send you tailored articles we think you’ll love.

Full Review

Where Vanguard PAS shines

Low account management fee: Vanguard is famous for using its size to reduce fees for investors, and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, one of the largest players in the hybrid robo-advisor/online planning space, continues that tradition: The advisor charges just 0.30% of assets (or less, depending on account balances) 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 customize a financial plan and provide ongoing portfolio management for investors.

Investment selection: Customers can take advantage of Vanguard’s time tested funds.

Where Vanguard PAS falls short

Lack of flexibility: Clients must move money into a Vanguard account and exclusively use Vanguard’s suite of products/funds.

No tax-loss harvesting: Those with taxable brokerage accounts may miss tax-loss harvesting (offered by competing planning services), though there are other tax strategies in place.

Vanguard PAS is best for

  • Access to financial advisors.

  • Comprehensive financial planning.

  • Larger account balances.

Vanguard PAS at a glance

Account minimum

$50,000

Account management, planning or subscription fee

Starts at 0.30% but tiered (drops at higher balances):

  • 0.30% on account balances less than $5 million.

  • 0.20% on account balances from $5 million to $10 million.

  • 0.10% on account balances from $10 million to $25 million.

  • 0.05% on account balances over $25 million.

Other account fees

None.

Setup or onboarding fee

None.

Advisor access and credentials

  • Unlimited appointments over phone, email or videoconference.

  • Most advisors are certified financial planners; all are fiduciaries and compensated with salary instead of commissions.

  • 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, long-term care and medical costs, high-level guidance on estate planning, charitable giving, Roth conversions and trust services.

Investment expense ratios on portfolios

Asset-weighted average is 0.06%.

Portfolio construction

PAS creates customizable portfolios on a client-by-client basis to fit their goals, circumstances and preferences. Uses Vanguard index funds and ETFs, which are low-cost and diversified with tight tracking. As potential alternatives to core index options, offers three ESG funds (scored on environmental, social and governance factors for sustainable investing).

Brokerage options

Clients must move money to Vanguard but can keep outside investments if there are embedded gains or other reasons to do so.

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-exempt municipal bonds used to reduce taxes for taxable accounts.

  • Minimum tax cost basis method minimizes tax impact by identifying select units or quantities (lots) of securities to sell based on ordering rules.

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.

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

More details about Vanguard PAS's 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 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). Personal Capital 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 management, planning or subscription fee: 5 out of 5 stars

Vanguard’s low fees are notable compared with similar hybrid services such as Betterment Premium, Personal Capital and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium.

The account management fee at Vanguard starts at 0.30% for account balances less than $5 million, but it drops with higher balances. It’s 0.20% on account balances between $5 million to $10 million, 0.10% for balances between $10 million to $25 million, and 0.05% for balances over $25 million.

Betterment charges 0.40% for its Premium service and Personal Capital charges 0.89% for accounts up to $1 million.

Schwab's hybrid robo charges $30 a month, plus a $300 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 0.30%. But once you reach an account balance of $125,000, the Schwab fee translates to an annual fee of 0.29%.

Other account fees: 5 out of 5 stars

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 Services 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. 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 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 customize 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. You can enroll in its Dynamic Spending tool to forecast your spending behavior in retirement. 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 0.06%.

Portfolio construction: 4 out of 5 stars

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services 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 is also working on enhancing the actively managed options in its investment lineup. Three new active equity mutual funds should launch toward the end of 2021: Vanguard Advice Select Dividend Growth Fund, Vanguard Advice Select Global Value Fund and Vanguard Advice Select International Growth Fund. For qualified investors, PAS is working to add private equity as well. 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: 3 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 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. While they won’t be managed directly by Vanguard advisors, the advice you get will be comprehensive.

Tax strategy: 3 out of 5 stars

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services offers tax minimization strategies, but tax-loss harvesting (offsetting capital gains from winning investments by selling securities at a loss) is not available right now. Clients who want daily monitoring for tax-loss harvesting opportunities may not be satisfied with this approach. But, Vanguard PAS does have plans to roll out a new automated tax-loss harvesting service for clients.

In lieu of tax-loss harvesting, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services reduces an investor’s tax burden using its minimum-tax cost basis method, which sells the units or quantities (known as “lots”) of securities with the greatest loss during every sale transaction. PAS also optimizes for tax efficiency with an asset location strategy, placing more tax-efficient investments in taxable accounts and less tax-efficient investments into tax-sheltered retirement accounts. 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 Services right for you?

Access to a human advisor is a differentiator and especially valuable for investors with complex situations. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services combines personalized financial planning, virtual planning tools and an enduring fund lineup.

Despite the limitations of no tax-loss harvesting for the time being, and 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 online financial advisors?

NerdWallet's comprehensive review process evaluates and ranks U.S. firms that either provide financial planning services online or connect users with a financial advisor, using a multifaceted and iterative approach. This process does not cover wealth management services offered by brokerages or banks. It does include several robo-advisors that offer clients access to human advisors as a premium upgrade. 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.

Anna-Louise Jackson also contributed to this review.

Disclosure: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services 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 Services 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.

 

on Vanguard's website