The bottom line: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services provides a strong customized financial offering with guidance from human advisors, but lacks tax-loss harvesting.
Pros & Cons
- Low management fee and lower account minimum for an online planning service.
- Comprehensive management.
- Access to financial advisors.
- Solid investment selection.
- No tax-loss harvesting.
- Must move outside assets over to Vanguard.
- Website less user-friendly than some competitors.
Compare to Other Advisors
Varies by advisor
$100 and up
per month (free initial consultation)
no promotion available at this time
no promotion available at this time
one year of financial planning (requires annual payment upfront)
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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 under management with a $50,000 account minimum.
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. Clients must move money into a Vanguard account and may miss tax-loss harvesting (offered by competing planning services), though there are other tax strategies in place.
Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is best for:
Access to financial advisors.
Comprehensive financial planning.
Larger account balances.
Vanguard PAS at a glance
Account management, planning or subscription fee
Starts at 0.30% but tiered (drops at higher balances):
Setup or onboarding fee
Other account fees
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
Asset-weighted average is 0.06%.
Clients must move money to Vanguard but can keep outside investments if there are embedded gains or other reasons to do so.
Customizable on 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).
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 website transparency)
Customer service hours are Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time. Ability to schedule appointments with an advisor at any time.
Where Vanguard Personal Advisor Services shines
Low management fee and lower account minimum: Vanguard's account management fee starts out at 0.30% but is tiered so it decreases with increased assets. When looking across the list of online planners NerdWallet reviews, Vanguard’s low fees and relatively lower minimum stand out compared with similar hybrid services such as Betterment Premium and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium. Betterment charges 0.40% and 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).
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 $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%.
Compared with Personal Capital, Vanguard is much cheaper. Personal Capital has a $100,000 account minimum and 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 advisors.
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. They won’t be managed directly by Vanguard advisors, but the advice you get will be comprehensive.
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, 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 over the phone or videoconferencing, and advisors are also available for quick email questions.
Investments: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services builds portfolios on a client-by-client basis, using primarily 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.
Where Vanguard Personal Advisor Services falls short
Tax-loss harvesting: 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 one of them. Clients who want daily monitoring for tax-loss harvesting opportunities may not be happy with this approach.
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.
Custody of assets: 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.
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 sometimes be difficult to track down the information you need.
» Want to check out other providers? Here are our top picks for best robo-advisors.
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 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 or more) can receive even more personalized advice.
Anna-Louise Jackson also contributed to this review.
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