American Funds vs. The Vanguard Group: What's the Difference?

American Funds vs. The Vanguard Group: An Overview

American Funds and The Vanguard Group are two of the largest mutual fund managers in the world. Both companies pride themselves on the research they conduct and their customer-focused approach—all while providing their clients with the best possible returns. Although these two companies serve the same purpose, that's pretty much where the similarities end.

American Funds come with both front-end and back-end loads and the fees are higher compared to Vanguard's, which offers no-load funds. The Vanguard Group's offerings are passively-managed while American Funds has managers who actively manage its funds. This article looks at some of the key differences between these two mutual fund giants. All return comparisons are based on each fund's net asset value (NAV) as of Dec. 31, 2021, unless indicated otherwise.

Key Takeaways

  • American Funds and The Vanguard Group are two of the largest mutual fund families in the world.
  • American Funds charges front-end and back-end loads with high expense ratios.
  • Vanguard offers no-load funds with low expense ratios.
  • American Funds products are actively managed by portfolio managers while Vanguard Funds are passively managed.
  • Neither company advertises its funds but pay commissions to advisors and brokers who sell them to their clients.

American Funds

American Funds is a division of privately-owned Capital Group, which was founded in 1931. Based in Los Angeles, Capital Group is among the largest asset management firms in the U.S. with over $2.7 trillion in assets under management (AUM).

American Funds offers a variety of funds in a number of asset classes, including:

  • Equity funds
  • Equity income funds
  • Asset allocation funds (these are some of the firm's highly-rated specialties)
  • Fixed-income classes of funds

The funds are actively managed by portfolio managers who pay attention to value and keep turnover rates low. American Funds does not advertise. It markets its funds by compensating traditional brokers and financial advisors with commissions. To pay these commissions, its funds charge a combination of front-end loads, back-end loads, and higher expense ratios.

The total net asset value of mutual funds was $26.96 trillion as of December 2021. This figure includes both long-term and money market funds.

The Vanguard Group

Vanguard Funds is a division of mutually-owned The Vanguard Group. Founded in 1975, Vanguard is based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. It is one of the world's largest asset management firms, with more than $8 trillion in AUM as of Sept. 30, 2021.

The company offers funds across the same range of asset classes as American Funds. All Vanguard mutual funds are no-load and have no 12b-1 fees. The firm does advertise but does not pay commissions to brokers or financial advisors who recommend its funds.

Vanguard is best known as a leader in passively-managed index funds, an approach to investment management invented and championed by its late founder, Jack Bogle. Nonetheless, Vanguard also offers a wide array of actively-managed funds.

The company's unique structure makes its mutual fund shareholders the actual owners of the company. The Vanguard Group passes all potential profits back to the funds in the form of lower asset management fees, giving them the lowest expense ratios in the mutual fund industry.

Roughly 61% of mutual funds in the U.S. were actively-managed in 2019 while 39% were passively-managed.

Special Considerations

The following are just two of the popular funds offered by both companies.. If you're considering any of these funds (or other ones, for that matter), remember to make sure they align with your investment goals before you make a purchase. You can always consult a financial professional for help if you need guidance.

American Funds

  • American Funds Fundamental Investors (ANCFX): Launched in August 1978, this fund has $127.9 million in assets under management. It combines growth and income investing with an emphasis on growth by seeking opportunities in undervalued companies. Investors pay annual management fees of 0.24%. ANCFX returned 13.08% to investors in 10 years and 12.40% since inception.
  • American Funds SMALLCAP World (SMCWX): This small-cap-focused fund targets growth. Established in April 1990, it had a 10-year return of 11.67% and 9.93% since inception. With almost $5.6 million in AUM, this fund comes with annual management fees of 0.60%.

The Vanguard Group

  • Vanguard Balanced Index Fund (VBIAX): This mutual fund provides investors with exposure to both stocks (60%) and bonds (40%). It aims to mimic returns of the U.S. equity and taxable bond markets. It has a total of $61 billion in AUM and an expense ratio of 0.07%. It returned 10.11% over a 10-year period and over 7% since it was launched in November 2000.
  • Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFTAX): This fund was launched in February 2019 and has $16.8 billion in assets. Its expense ratio is 0.14%. It is a market capitalization-weighted fund made up of both mid- and large-cap stocks. Since it has a socially responsible investment (SRI) strategy, it excludes companies involved with tobacco, alcohol, gambling, adult entertainment, and other related industries. VFTAX returned 20.02% to investors within one year and 21.87% since its inception.

American Funds vs. The Vanguard Group Example

To understand the difference in execution and returns, here's a comparison of growth funds offered by both American Funds and The Vanguard Group.

The Growth Fund of America (AGTHX), which is offered by American Funds, is a large-cap equity fund that focuses on capital growth. Its portfolio managers practice active stock selection. The fund has an expense ratio of 0.61% and a turnover rate of 24%. The $292.1 billion mutual fund returned 15.2% to investors over the 10-year period ended Feb. 3, 2022.

The Vanguard Growth Index Fund (VIGAX) also seeks capital growth through investments in large-cap equities. The fund tracks the CRSP U.S. Large-Cap Growth Index, which includes stocks that comprise about 85% of the U.S. stock market’s total capitalization. The fund's expense ratio was 0.05% while its turnover rate was 11%. With more than $147.25 billion in assets, the fund has an annualized total return was 16.27 percent over the ten years ended December 31, 2020.

The Growth Fund of America has a front-end sales charge of 5.75%. The Vanguard Growth Index Fund has none. This is an added cost advantage for the Vanguard fund, in addition to an expense ratio that is lower by 0.48% annually.

Is Capital Group the Same as American Funds?

Capital Group is one of the world's largest investment management firms. It is the parent company of subsidiary American Funds, which offers investors with low-cost mutual funds. Its offerings can be purchased through brokers and employer-sponsored 401(k) plans.

Which Is Better, American Funds or Vanguard Group?

There really is no answer to this question. What constitutes "better" depends on an individual investor's investment goals, age, risk tolerance, immediate needs, and available capital. Their investment strategy is also important, such that it must align with the overall strategies of the fund, portfolio manager, and fund company.

Keep in mind that investors must pay front-end and back-end loads with American funds, which are actively managed. Funds offered by the Vanguard Group come with no loads and low expense ratios. And its offerings are managed passively.

But again, only you can answer the question of which company is better.

How Much Does the Vanguard Group Manage in Assets?

As of Sept. 30, 2021, the Vanguard Group managed $8 trillion in assets.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Capital Group. "Newsroom."

  2. Investment Company Institute. "Release: Trends in Mutual Fund Investing."

  3. The Vanguard Group. "Facts and figures."

  4. Statista. "Distribution of active and passive mutual funds in the United States in 2010 and 2019, with a projection for 2025."

  5. Vanguard. "Vanguard Balanced Index Fund Admiral Shares (VBIAX)."

  6. Vanguard. "Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFTAX)."

  7. Capital Group. "The Growth Fund of America (AGTHX)."

  8. Vanguard. "Vanguard Growth Index Admiral (VIGAX)."

  9. Morningstar. "American Funds Growth Fund of Amer A AGTHX."

  10. Morningstar. "Vanguard Growth Index Admiral VIGAX."

Take the Next Step to Invest
The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.