Vanguard versus Fidelity: The Challenge
Fidelity and Vanguard are two large brokerage firms with trillions of dollars in client assets. Nevertheless, there are some significant differences between them, especially in terms of pricing. Let's find out which broker delivers the best value.
Commissions and Account Minimums
Fidelity’s standard fee for ETF and stock trades is $7.95, while Vanguard has a sliding scale ranging between $20 and $0. Clients with less than $50,000 in Vanguard mutual funds and ETF's pay $7 for the first 25 trades per year and $20 thereafter. Most Vanguard clients will probably fall in this category. This schedule averages to just over 2 trades per month at $7.
For options, Fidelity customers pay an extra $0.75 per contract. Vanguard charges $1 per contract plus a base charge of $20, $7, or $1, depending on the size of the customer's account. Traders with less than $50,000 in Vanguard assets pay the $20 base charge.
Using a living, breathing broker at Fidelity to make a trade is $32.95. Once again, Vanguard's charge is based on the size of the account, and ranges between $25 and $0.
Brokerage accounts at Fidelity and Vanguard come with no inactivity fees or maintenance fees (at Vanguard, clients with less than $50,000 in assets must sign up for electronic
delivery of account documents). Fidelity requires new accounts to deposit at least $2,500, while Vanguard has no minimum. No-fee IRA's are available at both brokers
(again, Vanguard requires enrollment for electronic delivery). List of Vanguard fees is here, while Fidelity needs a multipage
PDF document to list all its fees:
Due to its simpler fee schedule, Fidelity wins this category.
Fidelity vs Vanguard: Mutual Funds and ETF's
Fidelity has more than 10,000 mutual funds. Of these, fewer than a thousand come with no transaction fee and no load. Customers who trade a mutual fund with a transaction fee will be charged $19.99.
Vanguard provides over 16,000 mutual funds, some of which have no transaction fee and no load. Funds that do have a transaction fee are $35 in an account with less than $50,000. Larger accounts pay either $20 or $8.
Fidelity offers its clients 84 ETF's with no trading fees, while Vanguard has 55. The average expense ratio for Vanguard ETF's is 0.12%. The expense ratios of the Fidelity offerings, which include Fidelity and iShares ETF's, range between 0.07% and 0.93%.
Too close to call here.
Research and Education
There are lots of research and educational resources on Fidelity's website. The broker provides reports at no charge from many third-party researchers, such as Thomson Reuters, Morningstar, S&P Capital IQ, and others. Fidelity offers articles, videos, and webinars on a variety of investment subjects. The broker also has a useful search tool for fixed-income securities.
Vanguard provides its clients with educational pamphlets in pdf format. The broker has valuable information on education and retirement planning. A calculator determines how much income investors will need during retirement. The website has good securities screeners. Independent reports on stocks are available from MarketGrader and Argus at no cost. Disappointingly, there aren't many educational videos on the Vanguard site.
Fidelity wins this category.
Fidelity representatives can be reached by fax, e-mail, an on-line chat system, or phone. The phone service is available 24 hours day, 7 days a week. The broker also has a list of more than a hundred international phone numbers for clients who travel outside the U.S. Currently, Fidelity has more than 180 brick-and-mortar locations.
Vanguard can be reached via e-mail, phone, and snail mail. Regrettably, phone service is available only during the weekday. Vanguard does have a phone number for investors outside the U.S. Regrettably, the firm does not have a network of branches.
Fidelity wins this category, too.
Vanguard's website is user friendly, although it can have problems in Google Chrome. Compared to Fidelity's site, Vanguard's isn't as easy to navigate. Trading at Vanguard occurs within the web browser with basic order pages. Useful information on order terminology is displayed near the order ticket. The broker's site has charting capability and includes basic tools for technical analysis. Unfortunately, Vanguard doesn't have an advanced trading platform.
Fidelity provides its clients with helpful tools, including good charting capability and portfolio analysis tools. Executing trades is quick and easy with the firm's web browser, which includes a multipurpose trade ticket. Fidelity also has Active Trader Pro, an advanced platform for active traders.
Once again, Fidelity wins the category.
Mobile apps for Apple, Android and Windows Phone 8 are available from Fidelity. The interface is user friendly and easy to learn. Clients can contact customer service, transfer funds, pay bills, and place trades. Bloomberg television also streams on the Fidelity app free of charge.
Vanguard has applications for Apple, Kindle Fire, and Android. The interface is user friendly. Traders can reach customer service, make a mobile check deposit, and place trades. Investors can access account documents in pdf format on the app. There are some Vanguard videos available to watch on the app; but there's no live streaming of business news.
Fidelity wins this category, once again.
Fidelity offers its customers the Cash Management Account. It has checks and a Visa Gold debit card free of charge. Moreover, the account offers FDIC protection up to $1,250,000, five times the usual amount. Fidelity reimburses all ATM fees incurred by its customers.
Vanguard has a cash management account called VanguardAdvantage. Customers must have a staggering $500,000 on deposit to qualify. There is a $30 annual fee, and checks are $9.95. ATM withdrawals with a Vanguard debit card are free at PNC banks.
Fidelity wins in this category.
Vanguard vs Fidelity: Results
There was one tie, Fidelity (review) came out ahead in six categories, and Vanguard
(review) didn't win a single category. Fidelity wins by a landslide. Nevertheless, Vanguard will prove to be a good value
for traders who are able to invest at least $50,000 in Vanguard mutual funds and ETF's. For everyone else there are better rated brokerage firms to choose from.
Updated on 3/5/2016.
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