Vanguard Platform Walkthrough
Vanguard is one of the largest investment managers on the planet, with more than $4 trillion of assets under management. Founded by John Bogle an early advocate and pioneer of passive indexed strategies, one of Vanguard’s missions is to provide low-cost, index mutual funds and ETFs to its clients. Vanguard is therefore an ideal platform for long-term investors seeking a combination of low fees and quality service.
In addition to offering its mutual funds and ETFs, Vanguard’s web platform lets users buy and sell other vendors’ mutual funds, trade stocks & bonds, and plan for long-term life events such as retirement or college saving. Along with all of this comes Vanguard’s expert market research and analysis to give its clients a deeper understanding of the markets. Financial literacy and education is also a goal of Vanguard as it empowers individual investors, and so it, too, provides a suite of excellent learning resources.
In this review, we will look at the many facets of Vanguard’s online platform, focusing on how to choose from among Vanguard’s many proprietary mutual funds and ETFs, and how to compare these to other funds offered by other providers. In addition, we’ll see how to access news, research, and other client tools. For more information about this broker, you can read our full Vanguard Review.
Portfolio & Account Management
My Accounts - Balance overview - After logging into your Vanguard account, you’ll be directed to the Balance Overview page, which is under the heading My Accounts (to access this page at any time, click the My Accounts tab at the top of any page and select Balance Overview). If you click on the Go To Balances & Holdings link you’ll be able to check account balance details and transaction histories, as well as view any non-Vanguard investments linked to your account (clicking on the account number will also lead you here). This landing page has several quick links to buy or sell mutual funds and ETFs, to roll over retirement accounts or to initiate transfers if you need to trade in a hurry. You’ll also see a small number of relevant news headlines related to your holdings. From the overview page, you can quickly view Recent activity, your Performance summary and see your current Asset mix by asset class.
My Accounts - Balance and holdings - Here you’ll see all of your account balances and individual holdings in your account - as well as in linked accounts. This is the main place you’ll want to be when you are ready to trade. Look at the shaded region under your account number- here you’ll find the links to buy and sell. Click Buy and sell and you’ll get a drop-down menu to buy or sell Vanguard mutual funds and ETFs as well as non-Vanguard funds, stocks, options, or bonds. Once you’ve made a trade or two, click on Order status to see if they’ve been filled or are still open. If they’ve been filled you’ll get the prices the orders executed at. The Transaction history link shows you the details of your previous trades, and Cost basis is useful if you need to calculate realized and unrealized gains & losses for your taxes. Here, you can also compare how your investments look today with past performance. Under the ‘Balances and holdings’ heading, the Balances over time tab displays your personal rate of return along with a chart of historical performance for your portfolio – for when you want to know how much return you’ve made – year over year, year-to-date, or today versus any date in the past.
My Accounts - Account activity - So you’ve made some trades. Where do you go to see the details of those trades and order status? From the ‘Balances and holdings’ page, clicking on Order status or Transaction history will bring you to the ‘Account activity’ page. You’ll get a summary of the status of open orders, list of your transaction history, get trade confirmations, and view and download account statements as well as other documents such as tax forms.
My Accounts - Portfolio watch - Looking for a more condensed dashboard of your portfolio and trading activity? From the My Accounts drop-down tab on the top of any page, surf to the Portfolio watch tab. Vanguard’s Portfolio watch is an all-in-one console for portfolio analysis that includes a breakdown of asset allocation, risk/return analysis and a snapshot of your historical return. Other tabs let you analyze specific stocks or bonds, and let you see a breakdown of your costs & taxes. Portfolio watch also lets you set a target asset allocation by clicking the link Determine my target asset allocation, which takes you to Vanguard’s Investor Questionnaire to gauge your risk and return profile - or else you can choose a model portfolio based on your own preferences.
My Accounts - Tax center - At least once a year, the ‘Tax center’ will be an important page to get the info you’ll need for your returns. From the My Accounts drop-down tab on the top of any page, click the Tax center link to find all your current and historical tax forms and filing tools, as well as a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs). The Quarterly summary tab will give you a breakdown of quarter-by-quarter financials such as dividends and interest distributions, long- and short-term capital gains, retirement account distributions, and taxes withheld. If you need more tax info, look to the links on the column to the right. There you can also link to TurboTax which will automatically import your account information to its tax filing software.
My Accounts - Account maintenance - Need to change your password or update your address? For account & profile maintenance, use the Account maintenance link from the My Accounts drop-down tab. Here you’ll be able to update your personal information, change your password, create account activity alerts or price alerts, link your bank accounts, and more.
My Accounts - Buy and sell - Ready to trade? From the My Accounts drop-down tab on the top of any page, click on the Buy and sell link to reach the main menu for trading and transferring funds and accounts. If you’re a Vanguard customer, you probably are interested in their family of investments - click Buy Vanguard funds to purchase from among Vanguard’s line of mutual funds. You can also sell Vanguard funds you already own as well as trade Vanguard’s exchange traded funds (ETFs). Not to be a one-trick pony, Vanguard’s brokerage services also let you buy and sell non-Vanguard mutual funds and ETFs as well as trade listed stocks, bonds, options, and CDs.
My Accounts - Trade an ETF or stock - Trading stocks and listed securities from the Buy and sell menu is easy and straightforward. You’ll be directed to the usual form used to buy and sell listed stocks and ETFs where you enter (or lookup) the ticker symbol of the security you’d like to trade, the number of shares you’re interested in and the order type. Click Continue to review your order information and then confirm the trade.
My Accounts - Trade non-Vanguard funds via FundAccess® - Buying non-Vanguard funds is just as easy as its proprietary offerings. Follow the Trade non-Vanguard funds link from the Buy and sell menu to get to the Fund Access order form. Here you can choose from a drop-down menu from among dozens of other mutual fund providers and fund families. After you’ve chosen the desired fund family, a second drop down box will appear with the specific mutual fund and fund classes available for purchase.
Stock Trading & Investing
Investing - Overview - Don’t know which mutual funds to buy? The Investing tab at the top of any page brings you to Vanguard’s investment center. Here you will find information on Vanguard’s own line of mutual funds as well as competitors’ funds. You can also research and lookup quotes for stocks, ETFs, and bonds. There is also information on the various different types of accounts that you can open with Vanguard
Investing - Vanguard mutual funds - Vanguard has made a name for itself by offering a wide variety of low-cost mutual funds, including a large number of passive indexed funds. This set of pages allows you to learn about Vanguard’s offerings and about its perceived advantages - and then choose which funds might be right for you. Under the ‘Explore All Our Mutual Funds’ heading click the link Get a complete portfolio in one fund to choose from among Vanguard’s mixed-asset mutual funds that replicate diversified portfolios. You can also browse funds by asset class or review from among Vanguard’s Select Funds.
Investing - Vanguard Select Funds - From the Choose your mutual funds tab from the Vanguard mutual funds main page, you can browse and compare from among Vanguard’s many offerings. Funds denoted as ‘Vanguard Select Funds’ point to well-established, broadly diversified, low-cost funds selected by the firm’s internal portfolio review department. You can sort funds by asset class, return, expense ratio, or any number of other metrics.
Investing - Learn about ETFs - Exchange traded funds (ETFs) have become increasingly popular, and Vanguard has developed its own line of ETFs that mirror many of its mutual fund offerings. Under the Investing tab, click Vanguard ETFs to learn about ETFs in general, Vanguard’s philosophy on ETFs and to explore their suite of ETFs, broken down by asset class.
Investing - Get your ETF recommendation - Can’t decide which of the many ETFs out there are right for you? Click on the Choose your ETFs tab, and you are directed to a menu of options, one of which is to Get your ETF Recommendation Online. This recommendation will be based on the results of a short questionnaire that evaluates your risk and return profile.
Investing - Vanguard ETFs - You can also browse and compare the complete listing of Vanguard’s ETFs (under the Choose your ETFs tab, click on Browse our complete ETF lineup.) You’ll find this list to be similar to the Vanguard mutual funds page where you can browse and compare funds.
Investing - Stock Screener - Interesting in buying individual stocks instead of mutual funds or ETFs? Vanguard allows its users to access its comprehensive stock screener tool. This page can be a little tricky to find. First, find the Investing tab at the top of any page, then click on Stocks and other ETFs. Then, click the Find a Stock or ETF button on the menu bar and find the link that says Log on to use the stock screener. Here you can browse and compare the universe of listed stocks and filter for your own preferences using a number of metrics.
Education & Resources
Advice & guidance - Partner with an advisor - While Vanguard’s online tools and services are functional and resourceful, Vanguard does offer an option to be connected to a human advisor, so long as your investment accounts total more than $50,000. First, you will need to fill out some forms and questionnaires that will take approx. 10-15 minutes in order to match you with the right advisor. If you’re interested, the Advice & Guidance tab also has a number of useful online resources to educate yourself about various financial goals such as retirement planning and college saving, as well as how to prepare for life events. In addition, there is an investor education section under this heading that has useful tutorials for beginner investors.
Advice & guidance - Investment calculators & tools - Want to delve a little bit deeper into your investments research and analytics? From the Advice & Guidance tab at the top of any page, the Calculators & tools link will take you to a useful suite of online tools to help you choose your mutual funds, research stocks, or project retirement savings accumulations. The Find more ways to research funds link, for example, brings up a menu of mutual fund research and comparison tools for investors.
Advice & guidance - Find similar Vanguard funds - One useful tool that launches from the Calculators & tools page is Find similar Vanguard funds. We’ve already seen how Vanguard allows you to browse and compare its own mutual funds and ETFs; here it allows you to find the Vanguard fund or funds that most closely resemble some other mutual fund you may have your eye on. You can now see if a Vanguard fund of similar strategy and asset composition could be a better performer or carry a lower cost.
Advice & guidance - Compare mutual funds and ETFs - Another useful tool allows you to compare the characteristics of up to 5 Vanguard and non-Vanguard mutual funds and ETFs with each other.
Advice & guidance - Contrast mutual fund & ETF costs - One handy tool is found at the Contrast Mutual fund & ETF costs link. This tool allows you to calculate and compare the costs for a Vanguard mutual fund vs the corresponding Vanguard ETF.
Advice & guidance - Match Vanguard fund growth with a benchmark - This tool lets you compare Vanguard fund performance against a benchmark in order to get a better idea of relative performance over time. You can compare the hypothetical growth of $10,000 invested in up to 3 funds and your choice of benchmark.
Advice & guidance - Retirement savings - Retirement got you worried? Vanguard offers an array of retirement planning tools that you can access to plan and execute the right retirement strategy. Each menu items brings up an individual tools for your retirement planning. For example, you can see how much money you need to save today in order to retire at your current standard of living, calculate tax consequences for early withdrawals, estimate retirement expenses, and estimate required minimum deductions.
Advice & guidance - Retirement planning - Are you putting away enough money for retirement? This calculator lets you determine how much retirement savings to put away each month in order to reach your preferred retirement income goals.
Advice & guidance - Saving for college - In addition to retirement planning tools, Vanguard provides a set of of college planning tools including access to a number of 529 college savings plans. You can compare 529 plans, determine how much money to save for college, and estimate college expenses in the future.
News & Market Insights
News & Perspectives - News & Views - When you need to know what is going in the markets, with your investments, or the economy at large, Vanguard’s News & Perspectives section is the place to go. From the News & Perspectives tab on the top of the page, News & Views will bring up a list of Vanguard’s own curated news, advice & opinions pieces. You can search or filter by topic or type of media (which includes audio & video as well as text articles). Here you’ll also find replays of Vanguard educational webcasts for a variety of investment topics as well as browse in-depth research papers.
News & Perspectives - Investment research & commentary - When you want content that is focused on your own investments only, the Market Summary link provides third-party news and commentary pertaining to holdings in your portfolio.
Client support - Client support center - Vanguard has been in the investments business for decades now, and has grown to be among the largest. Vanguard’s investment research and commentary allows its users to access select in-depth research pieces produced by Vanguard’s own internal analysts and researchers. These papers are segmented by topic and are downloadable in .pdf format so you can read them offline later.
Client support - Account guide - Everybody needs a little help sometimes. The client support link is found all the way on the top right of each page, inside the dark grey menu bar. Clicking this will send you to the client support center. Here there are a number of tabs you can click on to find help on a variety of issues, starting with frequently asked questions (FAQs) where you can browse or search question.
Client support - How to use your Vanguard account - We think this walk-thru is pretty thorough, but you might need to get a closer inspection of how to navigate and operate the Vanguard online platform. Clicking on the Account guide tab in the client support center brings up access to a number of step-by-step instructions and how-to guides. Each how-to guides link provides easy-to use instructions for how to open an account, transfer in money, trade, and more.
Client support - Technical support - Still can’t figure it out? The technical support tab provides information on how to correct and troubleshoot computer or web-related problems that may arise when using Vanguard’s online platform. It also lets you to link to software tools such as Quicken or link online accounts. Here you can subscribe to Vanguard’s RSS feed as well as to its podcasts and videos
Client support - Contact us - Sometimes you just have to talk a real person. The Contact us tab provides several methods for users to contact Vanguard directly. Either via secure electronic message, or over the phone with the numbers provided.