When it comes to index funds, the Vanguard Group has led the way from the very start. In 1976, it created the very first index fund, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares ("VTSMX"), which has grown to more than $389 billion in assets under management (AUM) as of March 17, 2016. Ten years later, it introduced the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Investor Shares ("VBMFX"), which has $153 billion in AUM. That was followed by the introduction of the Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Investor Shares ("VGTSX") and the Vanguard Total International Bond Index Fund Investor Shares ("VTIBX"). Always the innovator, Vanguard was the first to introduce an index fund of index funds with its LifeStrategy Funds. The LifeStrategy Funds are a series of broadly diversified, low-cost funds using the Total Index funds as the foundation for creating different portfolio allocations based on risk objectives.

The series offers risked-based allocations for conservative-, moderate-, growth- and income-oriented investors. The Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund Investor Shares ("VASGX") has the most aggressive orientation with 80% of its assets held in stocks, roughly 50% domestic and 30% foreign, and 20% in bonds. As of March 18, 2016, the fund has 10.7 billion in AUM invested to track Vanguard's Growth Composite Index. It is designed to smooth risk, but investors should not expect it to outperform the broader markets. However, with its exposure to the global bond market, VASGX has the potential to outperform in down markets. The fund has returned 4.91% over the last 10 years and 7.4% over the last five years, as of March 2016. Year to date (YTD), as of March 18, 2016, VASGX had a gain of 0.77%. Its expense ratio is 0.15%, and it holds just four Vanguard index funds.

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares

The Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares had the top position with a 48.52% weighting as of Feb. 29, 2016. It owns more than 3,500 stocks to track the performance of the MSCI U.S. Broad Market Index, which is composed of 99.5% of the total market capitalization of the U.S. stock markets. The fund leans toward large-cap stocks, but it includes weightings of all capitalizations based on the weightings of the underlying index. Its exposure to small- and mid-cap stocks has enabled it to outperform the Standard & Poor's (S&P) 500 Index in recent years. Over the last 10 years, as of 2016, the fund returned 6.83%, and over the last five years, it returned 11.6%. As of March 18, 2016, its YTD return was 0.25%. The fund's expense ratio is 0.16%.

Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Investor Shares

The Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Investor Shares had a 31.65% weighting as of Feb. 29, 2016. It has $183 billion in assets invested in nearly 6,000 stocks tracking the MSCI ACWI ex-USA Investable Market Index. Most of its holdings are from developed markets, and 20% is from emerging markets, including Taiwan and South Korea. The fund is heavily weighted at the top with larger global companies, such as Royal Dutch Shell plc (NYSE: RDS-A), Nestle SA (OTC: NSRGY) and Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS). Over the last 10 years, the fund has returned 1.94%, and over the last five years, it has returned 1.47%. As of March 17, 2016, its YTD return was negative 0.04%. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.19%.

Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Investor Shares

The Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Investor Shares had a 13.67% weighting as of Feb. 29, 2016. The fund has more than $150 billion in assets invested in higher-quality investment-grade bonds. As of March 17, 2016, the portfolio had allocated 52% to government and government-related bonds and 27% to corporate bonds. The fund is designed to track the performance and yield of the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Float Adjusted Index. It returned 4.61% over the previous 10 years and 3.31% over the previous five years. YTD as of March 17, 2016, the fund had a gain of 2.42%. Its expense ratio is 0.16%.

Vanguard Total International Bond Index Fund Investor Shares

The Vanguard Total International Bond Index Fund Investor Shares had a 6.13% weighting as of Feb. 29, 2016. The fund provides investors with a low-cost way to gain exposure to international bonds. As of March 17, 2016, its $53 billion in assets were invested in nearly 4,000 holdings to track the performance of the Barclays Global Aggregate ex-USD Float Adjusted RIC Capped Index. The fund is heavily weighted toward government and government-related bonds from developed countries, but it has some exposure to emerging markets. The fund, which is less than three years old, returned 2.23% over the previous year, and its YTD return was 3.24%. Its expense ratio is 0.17%.

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