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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?
- How Does Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Work?
- Where PAS Shines
- Where PAS Falls Short
- What Do I Get as a PAS Customer?
- Is PAS a Robo-Advisor or a Financial Advisor?
What Is Vanguard Personal Advisor Services?
|Weighted Average |
|Up to 0.30%||0.07%*||$50,000||9.00%*||Taxable, Retirement, Trust|
*Based on Backend Benchmarking’s Fourth Quarter 2020 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 $7.1 trillion in assets as of January 2021, 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 Clark.com 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 most, 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 robo-advisor, charges 0.15% 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.
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 whomever is available. You’ll also get a lower annual fee at $5 million (0.20%), $10 million (0.10%) and $25 million (0.05%).
How Does Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Work?
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’ll schedule a conference call with one of Vanguard’s financial advisors to talk about your objectives and review your answers.
Vanguard will then create a customized financial roadmap for you. (You can view a small sample of a plan here by clicking on “See sample snapshot of financial plan.”)
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.
If you become a client, you’ll get regularly-scheduled calls with a Vanguard financial advisor to monitor your progress and adjust things if needed. Plus, you’ll be able to contact an advisor at other times (via phone, email or video chat) if you have questions or concerns.
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. Even if you deposit the minimum and not a penny more, you’ll pay an annual fee of just 0.30%. Considering Vanguard gives you unlimited access to fee-only fiduciaries, a designation that Clark views as a must-have, that’s great value. You’ll typically pay about 1% annually for a full-service financial advisor, and Vanguard’s advisors offer you all of the same services at less than one-third the price.
- Low average expense ratio. According to Backend Benchmarking’s Fourth Quarter 2020 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 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, which include lower expense ratios, are typically reserved for those who meet a higher minimum investment amount. PAS clients automatically get Admiral Shares.
- Substantial and custom financial planning. 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. And you’ll get a detailed and customized financial roadmap.
- Strong digital planning tools. The best financial planning tools in 2021 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:
- No tax-loss harvesting. Many of the best robo-advisors offer tax-loss harvesting, which helps lower your tax burden, but some robo-advisor companies can overstate the impact that tax-loss harvesting makes. Instead, Vanguard takes care to avoid unnecessary taxes by doing things such as using municipal bonds, which are generally exempt from state and federal taxes.
- 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’ll discuss your financial goals and assets with a Vanguard advisor early in the process.
You’ll then get a custom financial plan from one of Vanguard’s fee-only fiduciaries. That includes custom portfolios for goals such 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, a member of that team of fiduciaries will hold a conference call with you periodically to monitor your progress. Vanguard’s customer service team is available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET 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
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 9.00% with an average expense ratio of 0.07%.
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 uses 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.
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 of 0.30% per year at most (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.