Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Review

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Vanguard Personal Advisor Services offers the personal touch and level of service of a traditional financial advisor at the price of a robo-advisor.

In this article, I’ll review Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and explain why it is money expert Clark Howard’s favorite financial advisor option.

Table of Contents

What Is Vanguard Personal Advisor Services?

Weighted Average
Expense Ratio
Annualized Return
At least 0.30%0.07%*$50,0002.76%*Taxable, Retirement, Trust

*Based on Backend Benchmarking’s Fourth Quarter 2022 Robo Report. Vanguard’s robo-advisor recommends different portfolios to different clients. Your actual results will vary based on the portfolio option you select as well as future market performance.

The Vanguard Group managed $8.1 trillion in assets as of April 2023, making it one of the largest investment companies in the world.

Known for its low-cost index funds and long-term investment philosophy, Vanguard is a favorite.

It’s no secret that Clark loves Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Services (PAS) for anyone looking for a good financial advisor option. But what is it, exactly?

A typical full-service, fee-only financial advisor charges an annual fee of about 1%. PAS offers trusted, full-scope financial planning and advice for an annual fee of at least 0.30%.

Vanguard’s PAS clients get quality financial advisors at rock-bottom prices. You can attribute that to a combination of the company’s scale, the fact that PAS is digital-only and because it invests clients’ money via its entry-level (read: cheapest) robo-advisor.

Vanguard’s Digital Advisor, the standalone robo-advisor, charges 0.20% in annual fees and requires a $3,000 minimum investment. You can unlock the premium version (PAS) by depositing at least $50,000 in assets with Vanguard and paying a fraction more in fees.

PAS is considered a hybrid. Vanguard manages your portfolio via its robo-advisor. But it also provides you with ongoing unlimited access to its team of human financial advisors including full-scale financial planning.


Meeting specific investment thresholds will unlock additional benefits. At $500,000, you’ll get a dedicated advisor rather than whoever is available. You’ll also get a lower annual fee at $5 million (0.20%), $10 million (0.10%) and $25 million (0.05%). However, these fee tiers now appear to be progressive, much like the U.S. tax system.

How Does Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Work?

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services provides every client with an account dashboard to monitor your financial progress.
Source: Vanguard Media Kit

As with most robo-advisors, you’ll start by filling out an online questionnaire about your age, income, assets, goals and risk tolerance. Vanguard will suggest a pre-built portfolio that matches your answers.

Whether you accept Vanguard’s suggestion or request a different portfolio, here is where the path starts to diverge from a typical robo-advisor.

You can schedule a conference call with one of Vanguard’s financial advisors to talk about your objectives and review your answers. The best part? You don’t have to commit to using PAS until one of the financial advisors walks you through the plan and answers your questions.

Vanguard used to create a customized financial roadmap for you. That’s now reserved for Vanguard Personal Advisor Select (minimum investment: $500,000).

Now, in addition to establishing your investment portfolio via its robo-advisor, Vanguard will “nudge” you to “complete your financial picture” by “setting up automatic contributions to meet your goals, defining your emergency savings, choosing a Medicare plan prior to becoming eligible, preparing for healthcare costs in retirement, and more.”

If you become a client, you’ll get the ability to self-schedule a call with a Vanguard financial advisor to walk you through financial planning. Common topics include tax planning, withdrawals (such as in retirement) and debt management.

As a PAS client, you’ll also get access to Vanguard’s digital financial planning tools as well as an account dashboard to monitor your progress.

Where Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Shines

Here are some areas where Vanguard Personal Advisor Services excels:

  • Inexpensive access to fee-only fiduciaries. You can expect an annual fee of at least 0.30%. Considering Vanguard gives you unlimited access to fee-only fiduciaries, a designation that Clark views as a must-have, this represents great value. You’ll typically pay about 1% annually for a full-service financial advisor and Vanguard’s advisors offer you the same services for around one-third of the price.
  • Low average expense ratio. According to Backend Benchmarking’s Fourth Quarter 2022 Robo Report, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services presents clients with an average expense ratio of 0.07%. Vanguard is investing your money in a variety of assets, some of which are funds that charge management fees. A 0.07% average expense ratio is very competitive and indicates an all-in cost of around 0.37% per year.
  • Access to Vanguard’s Admiral Shares. Many robo-advisor portfolios include funds from the robo-advisor’s parent company. Investing with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services means your portfolio will include Vanguard’s well-respected index funds, Vanguard’s Admiral Shares. These include lower expense ratios and are typically reserved for those who meet a higher minimum investment amount. PAS clients automatically get Admiral Shares.
  • Substantial financial planning advice. Vanguard doesn’t operate like a glorified call center: offering only scripted advice based on common financial situations. The company’s advisors have a reputation for thorough communication that will help Vanguard understand your goals, priorities and circumstances.
  • Strong digital planning tools. The best financial planning tools in 2023 are dynamic. They don’t provide a simple progress bar that shows how close you are to retirement. You can prioritize multiple goals, change inputs and get data on the likelihood of achieving your goals based on those changes.

Where Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Falls Short

Here are the downsides of Vanguard Personal Advisor Services:

  • High minimum investment requirement. Clients must invest a minimum of $50,000 to be part of Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. That’s not a high number in the context of financial advisors, but it’s twice as much as the equivalent offerings at Schwab and Fidelity.
  • No in-person meetings. If you’ve never used a financial advisor, perhaps you won’t notice a difference. Traditional financial advisors almost always meet with clients in person, although that’s shifting to a degree. All Vanguard Personal Advisor Services’ live communication takes place through video or phone calls.
  • Moving assets from elsewhere can be expensive. The rules are somewhat murky, but expect to be strongly encouraged to sell or transfer investments you hold at other brokerage firms. Before you sign up, it’s worth figuring out Vanguard’s exact requirements on this front and considering the potential costs.

What Do I Get as a Personal Advisor Services Customer?

Vanguard’s PAS clients receive three main benefits:

1. Guidance from a human financial advisor.

Whether or not you commit to PAS, you can discuss your financial goals and assets with a Vanguard advisor.

You’ll then get access to digital financial planning tools that can help you set goals and make good choices as far as saving for retirement, investing to pay for a family member’s college education or working toward a family vacation home.

Once you enroll in the PAS program, you can always schedule a call with a member of that team of fiduciaries to discuss financial planning topics. Vanguard’s customer service team is available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST seven days a week.

You can schedule a call with an advisor at any time. You’ll also get access to the following services:

  • Social security optimization
  • Tax planning
  • Advice on long-term care and medical costs
  • Estate planning
  • Charitable giving
  • Roth conversions
  • Trust services

2. Robo-investing.

Vanguard will invest your money into a pre-built portfolio that matches your goals, age and income.

Unlike working with a typical robo-advisor, you’ll be able to talk to a human advisor before locking into your portfolio choice.

According to Backend Benchmarking, which reports extensive robo-advisor data, Vanguard’s annualized five-year return is a hair better than 4% with an average expense ratio of 0.07% as of April 2023.


The portfolios include always-popular Vanguard funds.

3. Digital planning tools.

Vanguard isn’t exactly the gold standard for modern gadgets and user experience.

However, if your expectations are low, its digital planning tools may pleasantly surprise you.

You can explore hypothetical scenarios by adjusting inputs for your preferred retirement age and annual household savings. Vanguard will run 10,000 Monte Carlo simulations to determine the probability of you meeting your goal(s).

Is Personal Advisor Services a Robo-Advisor or a Financial Advisor?

The terms “robo-advisor” and “financial advisor” can be confusing.

If you’re still not clear on the difference (and how PAS offers both at the same time), let’s take another look at it.

A robo-advisor uses algorithms to match you with one of several pre-built investment portfolios. You answer some questions, give it some money and it invests in a well-diversified portfolio that matches your needs. It’s inexpensive, guided “set it and forget it” investing.

However, robo-advisors don’t offer financial planning or any services beyond investing.

Traditional full-service financial advisors build a holistic financial plan for you based on your goals, offer financial coaching and can even prevent you from making poor financial decisions.


PAS offers the best of both worlds by using Vanguard’s robo-advisor to handle your investing while still giving you access to human financial experts who can help you with pretty much any money goal, issue or question.

Final Thoughts

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services is the first option that Clark mentions whenever I ask him about financial advisor options.

Getting unlimited access to a team of Certified Financial Planners for an annual fee for around 0.30% per year (plus expense ratios) is a tremendous deal, one that’s possible only because of Vanguard’s enormous scale.

Finding a financial advisor with the right qualifications (fee-only fiduciary) can be needlessly complicated. Doing business with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services removes that concern.

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