Stocks — Part XVII: What if you can’t buy VTSAX? Or even Vanguard?

sailing ship

Today we’ll explore some alternatives

In Part VI of this Stock Series, and in other posts on the blog, I recommend two specific mutual funds:

  • VTSAX (Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund)
  • VBTLX (Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund)

These are the funds I own myself. In each case they are the “Admiral Shares” version. As such they have rock bottom expense ratios, but also require a minimum investment of $10,000.

While these “Admiral Shares” versions best fit my needs, they might not fit yours. Perhaps you are just starting out and the 10k minimum is still too steep. Or maybe they are not offered in your 401k plan.

Vanguard is also the only investment company I recommend, or use. But maybe Vanguard itself is hard to access in the country where you live or in the 401k you are offered.

Not to worry. Today we’ll explore some alternatives.

Variations on the Funds

Each of these funds come in other flavors. For example, VTSAX is a Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund and that exact same portfolio can be found in five other funds, or what Vanguard calls “classes.” Below I list them with links to Vanguard and followed by their expense ratios and required minimum investment.

The first three are for us individual investors:

  • Admiral Shares: VTSAX .04%/$3,000
  • Investor Shares: VTSMX .17%/$3000 (This fund is closed. See note below)*
  • an ETF: VTI .03% (ETF=exchange traded fund) Note: For most practical purposes you can consider ETFs and Funds as interchangeable. Especially for long-term investors like ourselves.ETFs were created to make it easier and faster to trade mutual funds. Where with a fund when you buy or sell you get the price as of the trading day’s end, with an ETF you can buy or sell instantly just like a stock. And, just like a stock, commissions and/or spreads are frequently involved, adding to your costs.For more check out this FAQ from Vanguard on ETFs

These next three are “Institutional Shares” and you might find them in your 401k or other employer-sponsored retirement plan:

So, when I recommend VTSAX you can substitute any of these if that’s what is available and/or if one of these others better meets your needs. The important thing is that you are buying the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Portfolio.

Similar variations can be found for VBTLX (Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund). If you click on those links you’ll go to the Vanguard page describing them. At the very top, under the fund name, you’ll find links to the ETF version.

Vanguard has a very active institutional business serving 401k programs and the like. If you are curious, this is the link to the list of their institutional funds. (Mmm. Seems this link didn’t hold the list. But if you paste “institutional funds” in the search box it will bring it up.)

What if Vanguard isn’t available in my 401k (or similar) plan?

Even if your tax-advantaged, employer-offered plan doesn’t offer Vanguard you should still participate, certainly at least up to the amount needed to capture any employer match. Once you leave that employer you can easily roll your investments into an IRA with Vanguard.

The good news is that, due to the competitive pressure from Vanguard, nearly every other mutual fund company now offers low-cost index funds. Just like the variations you can find in Vanguard of VTSAX, you can in all probability  find a reasonable alternative in your 401k. Here’s what you are looking for:

  1. A low-cost Index Fund
  2. For tax-advantaged funds you’ll be holding for decades, I prefer a Total Stock Market Index Fund, but one tracking the S&P 500 index is just fine too. See Addendum #1.
  3. You can also look for a Total Bond Market Index Fund. Most plans will also offer these.
  4. Target Retirement Funds are frequently offered in 401k plans and these can be an excellent choice. But look closely at the fees. They are always higher than those for index funds, sometimes by a lot depending on the company offering them.

For my international readers:

If you live outside the USA, Vanguard and its funds may or may not be available. Vanguard is growing rapidly and now is available in many countries outside the USA.  You can check the list out here:  Vanguard Global

If Vanguard simply is not an option, in your fund search you’ll want to follow the same guidelines as described above for 401k plans.

Also, when I talk about VTSAX or a Total Stock Market Index Fund, both these are indexes that mirror the US stock market. As I explain in my post on International Funds, this is all those of us in the USA really need. But you might find it difficult to access such a USA-centric fund.

No worries. Take a look at a Global Fund like VTWAX. This is an index fund that invests all over the globe. In some ways I like it even better than my beloved VTSAX. In fact the only reason I don’t recommend it instead, is because of it’s relatively steep expense ratio (.35%) (as of 2018, the ER for this fund has dropped to .19% making it steadily more attractive) and because VTSAX covers international pretty well for the reasons I describe in that International Funds post linked to above.

If you are inclined to go this route, you might consider the lower cost ETF version: VT  Ordinarily, I tend to avoid ETFs (exchange traded funds) because with them you have the possibility of sales commissions and/or spreads to consider. But since the expense ratio on VT is .07%, it is worth exploring. Just be careful what you pay to buy it.

One final caution. Be sure that whatever global fund you choose includes the US market. It is a huge chunk of the world economy and you can’t afford not to own a part of it. Many ‘international” funds, especially those offered by US-based firms like Vanguard, are “ex-US stocks.” The reason is that they are designed to supplement the holdings of investors already in the US market with VTSAX and the like. Makes sense, but likely doesn’t suit your needs as an investor outside the USA.

The Bottom Line:

Since I no longer work or have access to 401k plans (Rats!), my portfolio looks like this:

  • VTSAX (Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund) 75%
  • VBTLX (Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund) 25%

I also hold some cash, about 4% at the moment.

I target about 5%. (Yes I know all those add up to 105%. These are targets that vary with market swings.)

If for whatever reason I didn’t have access to those specific funds (or if I had access to the even lower expense ratio Institutional versions) I’d look for the Vanguard variations that delivered the same Vanguard stock and bond index portfolios.

If for whatever reason I didn’t have access to Vanguard, I’d look for similar low-cost funds from whatever sound investment company was available:

  • A Total Stock Market Index Fund for about 75% of my money
  • A Total Bond Market Index Fund for about 25% of my money

And if the future offered me the chance, I’d roll on in to Vanguard when I could.

If you’ve found similar solutions in your 401k, or as an international investor, please share them in the comments. I’d love to hear about them and my guess is so would the other jlcollinsnh readers sorting thru these concerns. Thanks!


When to roll an old employer based 401(k)-type plan to your IRA


*Important note on VTSMX

Vanguard has closed VTSMX ($3000 minimum initial investment & .14% ER) and it will phase out over time.

The minimum for investing in VTSAX drops from 10k to 3k and its .04% ER remains the same. Basically, VTSMX investors now have access to VTSAX and its lower costs. 

Vanguard has a long history of improving investment options and lowering costs for investors. It is their core value, and the reason they are the only investment firm I recommend.


Addendum I:

Throughout this blog I express a preference for investing in the total stock market index, as represented by VTSAX. But my preference for it over the S&P 500 index, as represented by VFIAX, is slight. VFAIX also comes in multiple variations, just like VTSAX.

Over on the Bogleheads forum, in response to a question, a guy called Nisiprius gives a great overview as to why this is so, right down to why the total market is preferable if available:

In short, when available, go with a total stock market index fund. When only an S&P 500 index fund is available, as is often the case in 401(k)/403(b) plans, you can chose it with confidence. In my view, tying to replicate a total stock market index fund with multiple funds, while possible, is not worth the effort.

Addendum II:

If you do want to duplicate the total stock market index as held in VTSAX, here’s the formula…

  • ~81% Large cap (an S&P 500 fund)
  • ~6% Mid cap
  • ~13% Small cap

Be sure you use low-cost index funds.

This usually comes up when a 401(k)-type plan offers an S&P 500 fund but not a total stock market fund. Personally, I wouldn’t bother. VFIAX (S&P 500 index fund) will perform within a hair of VTSAX so I’d keep it simple and just go with that.

Addendum IIa:

From reader Probley and Addendum #2 in this post:

 Personal Capital currently categorized VTSAX as

  • 69% large
  • 18% mid
  • 8% small
  • 4% real estate
  • 1% international

Looking at the composition of the CRSP U.S. Total Market Index (the current VTSAX benchmark), the top 500 holdings are roughly 83% of the total. So if you consider the top 500 as large cap, there’s your 80%.

Addendum III:

For my Canadian readers, over on MMM Mr. Frugal Torque has a fine discussion outlining some of the investment considerations unique to your country: Part I and Part II.

Addendum IV:

For my European readers, check out this cool post where Mrs. EW provides great map visuals of some index funds available to you.

Addendum V:

Also from Mrs. EW — Index Investing with Dollars for Europeans

And her guest post here: Investing with Vanguard for Europeans 

Addendum VI: From the Escape Artist — An International Portfolio

Addendum VII: Reader Jonathan provides an excellent review of ETFs

Addendum VIII: In this comment thread, reader Greg provides a nice comparison of funds vs. ETFs

Subscribe to JL’s Newsletter

Important Resources

  • Talent Stacker is a resource that I learned about through my work with Jonathan and Brad at ChooseFI, and first heard about Salesforce as a career option in an episode where they featured Bradley Rice on the Podcast. In that episode, Bradley shared how he reached FI quickly thanks to his huge paychecks and discipline in keeping his expenses low. Jonathan teamed up with Bradley to build Talent Stacker, and they have helped more than 1,000 students from all walks of life complete the program and land jobs like clockwork, earning double or even triple their old salaries using a Salesforce certification to break into a no-code tech career.
  • Credit Cards are like chain saws. Incredibly useful. Incredibly dangerous. Resolve to pay in full each month and never carry a balance. Do that and they can be great tools. Here are some of the very best for travel hacking, cash back and small business rewards.
  • Empower is a free tool to manage and evaluate your investments. With great visuals you can track your net worth, asset allocation, and portfolio performance, including costs. At a glance you'll see what's working and what you might want to change. Here's my full review.
  • Betterment is my recommendation for hands-off investors who prefer a DIFM (Do It For Me) approach. It is also a great tool for reaching short-term savings goals. Here is my Betterment Review
  • NewRetirement offers cool tools to help guide you in answering the question: Do I have enough money to retire? And getting started is free. Sign up and you will be offered two paths into their retirement planner. I was also on their podcast and you can check that out here:Video version, Podcast version.
  • Tuft & Needle (T&N) helps me sleep at night. They are a very cool company with a great product. Here’s my review of what we are currently sleeping on: Our Walnut Frame and Mint Mattress.


  1. Stephanie says

    what a super helpful post. I have bookmarked it. Thanks for all the work and research you have obviously put into this!

  2. SavvyFinancialLatina says

    Awesome post! I’m a lover of Vanguard. I had actually no knowledge of Vanguard until I started reading PF blogs. My company recently added Vanguard institutional funds in Dec 2012, and I immediately re-allocated my portfolio! Vanguard funds are easy to understand, and they are the best in their field.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks SFL!

      That’s great news about your new access to the Vanguard Institutional funds. The more Savvy people become, the more they’ll be demanding this option from their employers.

  3. Ruth says

    I love Vanguard. I didn’t see this in your post, but your Investor shares will automatically upgrade to Admiral when your total goes over $10k (or whatever the amount is for Admiral shares, different for different funds of theirs). So you don’t have to start with $10k or more, you can build your way up to Admiral shares. I just got a notice that this happened for me! I imagine that once you get over $100k they might automatically switch you to Institutional shares, but I wouldn’t know yet 🙂

    I have too many Vanguard funds, bought in a moment of “I need diversification!” panic. They’re all indexes and cheap, but it’s likely not necessary to have so many. (Mid cap, small cap, international, etc., etc.)

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Ruth…

      That’s great input. I didn’t know Vanguard automatically upgraded accounts to Admiral status once they hit the 10k threshold. Back in the Jurassic age when I made the transition, you had to do it manually.

      Another fine example of their customer-centric philosophy. 🙂

      If I had all those funds, I’d consolidate them. But then I’m anal that way. If they are all low cost index funds you can also just leave them alone. Maybe focus new money in two or three core funds and let the others become smaller and smaller fractions of your holdings over time.

  4. Tara says

    I don’t have access to VTSAX in my 401K, so I approximate it by buying the 3 funds available to me that approximate it: VIIIX (S&P 500 fund), VMCIX (midcap), and VEXRX (small cap) in the ratios recommended on the Boglehead forum (81/6/13 are the respective percentages).

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Tara!

      I presume you also don’t have access to one of the three institutional versions?:

      VITPX: .02%/$200,000,000
      VITNX: .04%/$100,000,000
      VITSX: .04%/$5,000,000

      If that’s the case, you’ve done a fine job of replicating the Total Stock Market Index, which is what you want. Thumbs up!

      • dwasch says


        Just getting through your blog and finding it extremely helpful as well as interesting and even inspiring.

        Following your advice in earlier posts, I’ve decided to (a) invest my 401k entirely in stocks since I’ll be working for 15 to 20 more years and can use my paycheck to weather any market downturns; and (b) select Vanguard index funds as they are the lowest expense ratio and offer the best bet for a good return on investment, as you so eloquently explain in your blog. Good so far?

        What I’m not sure about is how to allocate my investments across the vanguard options, which include:

        Small cap growth index admiral (VSGAX) – .09 expense ratio
        Small cap index institutional blend (VSCIX) – .08 expense ratio
        Mid cap index institutional blend (VMCIX) – .08 expense ratio
        Large cap growth institutional index (VINIX) – .04 expense ratio

        Option 1: Put it all into VINIX as it’s the lowest expense ratio. I see in your reply to another comment that this seems to be the approach John Bogle takes.

        Option 2: split it across large (81%), mid (6%) and small (13%) cap options to approximate the total market fund. If I use this option, which of the two small cap funds would you suggest?

        Option 3: something else entirely?

        If relevant, my wife and I also max out roth IRAs using 2035 retirement funds — mine through T Rowe Price and hers through Vanguard.

        Thanks in advance for any thoughts or advice. Thanks as well for this very helpful public service you provide via this blog.

      • jlcollinsnh says

        Hi dwasch…

        Glad you like it!

        “Good so far?” Yep. Hope you still feel that way when the downturns come. 😉

        With option #2 you are trying to replicate a total stock market index fund like VTSAX. Such a fund has outperformed VINIX, but by the slightest of margins.

        While the funds you list for option #2 are low cost, they are still higher than VINIX. This extra cost very likely erases any performance advantage. Plus there is the added complexity of having to rebalance them to stay on target.

        Personally I’d go with option #1. VINIX is an S&P 500 index fund with a rock bottom ER of .04% making it a great choice.

      • James says

        Much like Tara above I have access to Vanguard via the 401K but not VTSAX. From what I can gather from the offerings I have I would have to go with:
        VIMAX – Vanguard Mid Cap Index Admiral
        VSMAX – Vanguard Small Cap Index Adm
        VFIAX – Vanguard 500 Index Admiral

        Splitting these with the 81/6/13 ratio

        I do not have access to the institutional versions you recommend.

        Also, I got here via the Bigger Pockets Money Podcast which was great! Thanks for taking the time to do the Podcast and impart your wisdom. Your book is going on my to/do reading list!

  5. Joe says

    My plan is similar to Tara’s, though fortunately I have access to the insanely-low-fee VINIX (S&P 500) and VBTIX (Total Bond Market) funds.

    I have a similar 401k allocation to Tara (i.e. trying to mimic the total market), but with a small-cap tilt and an international fund thrown in for good measure. I know you don’t recommend international, but I feel it’s necessary for diversification and I grok the risks.

    I just wish the 401k plan offered an REIT. Is that unheard of?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hey Joe…

      Aren’t those fees remarkable? and remarkably beautiful. 🙂

      Funny you should mention international funds. I just got off the phone with a good friend who was taking me to task for not holding them.

      For those who want to own them, I have no strong resistance. Go for it. You’ll prosper just fine. But for me, owning VTSAX I don’t feel the need (as explained in my international funds post linked to above) and I cringe a bit at the extra cost. But were it not for the cost factor, a Global Fund like VTWSX might just replace VTSAX as my core holding.

      As for REIT funds in 401k plans, I’ve yet to see one. But then, there are nearly as many different 401k plans as snowflakes. So my guess is the are out there somewhere.

      Any jlcollinsnh readers have one in their plan?

      • Joe says

        The international fund in my 401k plan is VTSNX (Total International Stock Index Fund Institutional Shares) which has a 0.12% expense ratio. Yes, it’s 3x the S&P 500 fund in my 401k plan, but lower than the Admiral version of the same fund. To each his own!

        If any readers step forward with an REIT fund in their 401k plan, I’ll quit my job and go work for their company 🙂

        • jlcollinsnh says

          Ha! .12%!

          Official jlcollinsnh Seal of Approval now formally applied!

          Debating these levels of ERs are the kind of issues us Vanguard folk face. While the rest of the world pays average ERs north of 1%. 🙂

          Yeah, I’m very curious if any REIT-friendly 401k plans pop up myself…

          • Morgan says

            Google has Vanguard as their 401(k) provider (go figure!) and I included a REIT (VGSNX, Vanguard REIT Index Fund Institutional Shares) when I worked for them. I did use the Target Retirement (2035) plan in addition to TCMMX, VBMPX, and VBMPX, but I couldn’t find anything that was clearly an S&P 500 tracker in their fund list, and that was what I thought I wanted.

            I’m not very good at this stuff, though. My other Vanguard portfolio (from a prior rollover) has VFINX, VEXPX, VMFXX and VSEQX, which (other than VFINX, which I sought out) is probably not a very broad an investment base.

            Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that Google’s 401(k) plan includes REITs…

          • Joe says

            Alright, I’m a man of my word so I’m quitting my job and going to work for google!

            PS: Is there an index of all articles in your “Stocks” series? I love to re-read them in order, but find that I have to click through the other (interesting, but non-stock-related) articles.

            If there isn’t, I’ll make one. I know you’re busy with your book.

          • jlcollinsnh says

            Sure there is! What kinda joint you think I’m running here anyway?? 😉

            Check out the “categories” list in the RH column.

          • Joe says

            Thanks! I’ve been sending the series to friends and always found it awkward to pass around. This’ll help!

  6. Steve Johansen says

    Hi Jl,

    I assume you are not making any withdrawals from these funds.

    Presumably you have other income streams you use at this
    point in your retirement?
    Seems I once read you are in the 55 plus age bracket?


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Steve….

      Yep. 55+.

      Nope. No other income streams since I hung up the job two years ago.

      As I’ve mentioned in this post – – I’ve been drawing down a bit more than 5% each year. Mostly it has come from unwinding old investments I shouldn’t have made, like CGMFX. Those are done now.

      With the sale of the house, I’ve set aside a chunk of cash that should last thru most of next year.

      Each year I’ve also been moving IRA money into our ROTHs at a pace that keeps me just under the 15% tax bracket. This to avoid being pushed into higher tax brackets when our mandatory withdrawals kick in at age 70.5.

      Since I hold the REITs and Bonds in the IRAs, at some point I might have the interest and dividends routed to our cash accounts for spending. Or I might continue the ROTH strategy and draw living expenses from my taxable VTSAX fund.

      Depends on where we are at the time…

      • Steve Johansen says

        What’s your plan for SS?

        Also, what do you figure you need each year to pay expenses?
        I ask mainly because I am in your age bracket and will be making
        similar decisions when my wife leaves her job in 2 years.

        I am just 61. I figure about $4K monthly to be comfortable.


        • jlcollinsnh says

          My wife will take her SS at 66. My current thinking is that I’ll wait till 70.5. I figure she will outlive me by a couple of decades and, since my benefit will be larger than hers, this will maximize her guaranteed check.

          I think of my expenses in three categories:

          Basic living – rent, food, utilities, car and the like.
          Travel, which has been a big one since I retired two years ago.
          College for our daughter. Big expense but one that goes away in another couple of years.

          Because the travel is easy to cut back if we hit a rough patch and because the college expenses will end, I feel comfortable running over the traditional 4% withdrawal rate.

          so far, so good!

  7. CashRebel says

    So I’ve got a question for you that no one else has been able to answer thus far. Id like to get into vgslx because im 80/20 in stocks /bonds right now (im 24 btw). Anyway, should I put this in my roth ira or my taxable account. On the one hand, I seem to recall that dividends are taxed at my income tax rate instead of capital gains so it would make sense to put the Reit fund in my tax advantaged roth ira account. But on the other hand, id like to eventually turn the vgslx into the a downpayment on a home (in 5+ years). Any thoughts?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi CR….

      I’d definitely put it it the Roth. You can withdraw your contributions tax-free anytime. You can even withdraw the earns on them tax free for a down payment on a first house. Pretty much a no lose situation.

      Now having said and done that, I’d also scramble to accumulate the downpayment outside the Roth. Just because I HATE the idea of drawing down a Roth — the tax free growth potential over decades is just too beautiful to give up.

      Hope that helps?

      • CashRebel says

        So I thought about this again and I’ve got a new question. Whatever I put into my Roth, I’m not going to take out until retirement (in 41 years… for real). Does it make sense to hold the REIT fund in the Roth or outside of the Roth assuming I’ve got a sizable taxable investment fund (in VTSAX) as well?
        I guess it feels right that if I had the REIT fund in a taxable account, I could trade it in for a down payment at some point and keep a consistent RE asset allocation. But I don’t actually know if it matters that much. Maybe I should just trade VTSAX for a down-payment when the time comes.
        Does that all make sense?

        • jlcollinsnh says

          sure, it makes sense and you are on to something.

          If, as you should, you think of all your assets as a whole where you hold them matters only for tax reasons.

          For instance, we hold our bonds and REITS in IRAs to protect the dividends from taxes. We fill our Roths with VTSAX because I expect stocks to have the strongest growth over time and the ROTH best protects that.

          But we also hold VTSAX in our taxable account because stock index funds are inherently tax efficient.

          So to see the way this works in a practical sense, consider our recent home sale. Since I count home equity along with the REIT as my RE allocation, I wanted the sale proceeds in the REIT in the IRA. But, of course, I couldn’t put that money into an IRA.

          So, the house sale proceeds actually went into the taxable VTSAX fund. Then, in turn, I transferred an equal amount of VTSAX shares in our IRA to the REIT also within the IRA. Net result, my allocation remained exactly the same.

          Make sense so far?

          Were I ever to buy a house again, I’d reverse the process:
          1. Sell taxable VTSAX shares to fund the purchase.
          2. Transfer REIT shares in the IRA to VTSAX shares also in the IRA. Thus keeping the allocation the same.

  8. Wrightius Maximus says

    Thank you for your brilliant blog. Such a good read.

    A question. I’m in Australia. We have access to Vanguard here. Our economy has faired better than most after the GFC. I can get a high interest savings accounts paying 5% pa. Now I’ve heard index funds have only been paying 2% pa the past decade and I’m wondering if I should take the 5% on offer locally or still put in Vanguard over the long term? I’m a newbie and I”ve read all mmm and ere and now I’m devouring yours. Brilliant work.

      • Wrightius Maximus says

        Thanks Antipodean. I got my Info from mmm saying that his index funds had not faired too well in the past decade in “Where’s my 7%” I also read Simple living in Suffolk blog and he speaks of not faring too well either. Thank you very much for the link. I shall investigate further.

      • Wrightius Maximus says

        Thanks for that link AP. I’ve had a look around and I’m going to pick up the phone and call Vanguard. I see we are offered around 30 funds in Aus as opposed to 140 in the US. I am at the beginning of the journey with 50k to put in and then 36k+ pa for the next ten years. I am comfortable with risk and want to make my money work the hardest it can in that timeframe. What I’m asking is what Aust fund is comparable with the US VTSAX? Then I guess I pile it all into there? All thoughts are most welcome.

        • Antipodean says

          Hi WM

          The nearest of the Australian Vanguard funds to the VTSAX would be the VTS ETF

          To capture exposure to the rest of the world there is VEU ETF

          Living in Australia it would be prudent to consider local stocks due the benefits of our favourable tax treatment of dividends through imputation credits

          These ETF can be purchased via discount brokers such as ETrade.

          Depending on your age you may want to consider whether invest via Self-Managed Super Fund to take advantage of the favourable tax benefits.

          I invested about $50K in Feb this year in the Lifestyle High-Growth Managed Fund and plan to invest at least $19K (or more if I can grow my salary) per year for next 10 years via automated regular payments. I know the management fees are higher using the Vanguard managed funds vs Vanguard ETF but found the idea of investing regular small amounts into multiple ETF and re-balancing required too much micro-management on my part (a nice way of saying I am lazy).

          I guess it is up to you on what approach you figure works best for you:)

          • Wrightius Maximus says

            Thank you for your very detailed explanation Antipodean. I’m still very much at the beginning of investing but I’ve got a lot to invest and I want to do it correct. I just want to learn more.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks, WM….

      and welcome. Glad you’re enjoying it around here.

      As to your question, what you are really comparing is apples and oranges: a Savings Account with a (hopefully) secure principle and an interest rate with a Stock Fund.

      Stocks have the potential for capital gains and, as I explain elsewhere on the blog, they should dramatically outperform savings accounts over time. You are only looking at the 5% savings interest rate v. the stock dividend currently at 2%. This dividend and the value of the stocks both have the potential to grow.

      Of course, there is also the possibility that they will decline, especially in the short term. The saving interest and value should remain fixed. Although it will lose ground to inflation over time.

      Make sense? If it does, you can use these guidelines to make your call. Good luck!

  9. D says


    First of all many thanks for picking up the subject. As someone following your blog from Europe I would like to share a few additional details.

    The Bogleheads also covered the differences between US/UK/European investors and list some alternatives:

    When it comes to investments or even saving for retirment we are far away from the ‘United States of Europe’. Different tax systems, different pension vehicles, different social securitiy systems etc. Mind you Europe hasn’t felt that fragmented in many ways and on the edge of breaking into pieces for quite some time.

    There are different tax rules in most EU countries and it does matter what fund domicile you chose, e.g. most Vanguard funds over here are Dublin-based vehicles that usually come with a tax disadvantage to domestic funds or investors outside of Ireland, if the funds do reinvest the distribution.

    Also, unfortunately with the exception of the UK (where you do have an investment culture) there is little regulation when it comes to funds/ETFs across Europe, ie. rules what they can/cannot do. So one has to look very deeply into the details. There are ETFs that are “replicated” (=they invest your Dollars/Euros physically in the underlying stocks/bonds) and ones with a lower annual management charge that are “synthetic” (=they ‘guarantee’ you to match the performance of the index, however, they do invest in options, derivatives and all sorts of things). An analysis of the db x-tracker MSCI World ETF has for example shown that it did not hold a single stock out of the MSCI World, but was invested in YEN-derivatives and all kinds of complex stuff.

    When it comes to the bond part of the portfolio one has to realise that you either go for a bond index fund/ETF that invests in domestic (government) bonds such as German Bunds or UK Gilts or you will end up with a European portfolio with high weightings in countries such as Italy, Spain and France which might not be the safest option within the current Euro crisis. So high risk at low yields. Perhaps that even speaks against a bond portion at all for the time being.

    You would not believe that the total number of people that invest in stocks average around 5% in most bigger European country (exceptions are UK and Sweden). That means that 95% of Germany’s population has lazy money on the beach for currently 0.25-0.5% in a cash/savings account (inflation rate 2% rising). Unfortunately, that also leads to very little competition in the investment market (dominated by the big banks) and a situation where funds/ETFs still get ‘sold’ (by financial advisers, bankers etc.) and not ‘bought’ (by self-directed, informed private investors).

    Looking forward to following your blog in the future.

    Greetings from sunny Europe!


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi D…

      Thanks for adding a European perspective!

      Very interesting, especially the low numbers of investors. Mmmm. I guess given the difference in governments and cultures it makes sense that this would be the case.

  10. Ottawa says

    I loved your (now 17 part) investing series….A Canadian perspective…

    We’ve just had Vanguard move into Canada. The equivalent to VTI is VUS, for those of us who don’t wish to move money into US$ (Norbert’s Gambit helps with the conversion costs if you do). VUS is currency hedged which will add a little drag, but the 0.17% MER is not too bad.

    VEF might be the best route for international exposure holding around 950 common stocks of companies in approximately 22 countries in Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Far East ( However, a 0.43% MER.

    The Vanguard REIT (VRE) is new on the scene and I’m waiting to see how it shapes up…until then I’m in XRE (ZRE would be good too).

    Would be interested to hear your perspective on my strategy: I will be receiving an indexed DBB pension at 60. I treat this as my bond fund. Thus, I invest little in bonds (10% – combination of Canadian short term and US high yield).

    In summary (all ETFs):
    VUS (30%)
    XRE (10%) (bearing in mind 55% of net worth currently in mortgage free house)
    ZDV (25%) Canadian dividend ETF
    HXT (20%) Canadian top 60 by market cap ETF (Growth)
    XSB and CHB (10%) short term bond and high yield bond
    ZUT (5%) utilities ETF

    I will be looking to shift the HXT into an international ETF like VEF…as I’ve got more Canadian exposure than I’d like.

    I find my portfolio to be WAY more clunky than I’d like…I hope that Vanguard will continue to make offerings into the Canadian space…appreciate any comments! Cheers

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Ottawa….

      and thanks for the Canadian update. Does VRE focus only on Canadian RE?

      As to your portfolio, I agree it seems a bit clunky. When I found myself in that postion a few years back I sold some positions and just let others ride. I focused new money on the three funds I hold now. When I retired I drew down on the remaining “extras” till they were done.

      With 55% of your net worth in your house, you certainly don’t need a REIT. In fact that percent in RE would make me uncomfortable enough to consider:
      1. Selling the house
      2. refinancing to free up capital to deploy for a more balanced allocation.

      Since Canada is a small economy, I applaud your plan to expand internationally. Personally I’d look at a Global Fund like VTWSX, if you have access to it. If not, at least if provides a model for where you want to be.


  11. Ms.W says

    I’m still working on getting my financial “house” in order, but do have a 401k through work. I’ll admit to being lazy, and doing the “set and forget” with a Targeted Fund. It seemed to have been doing okay.

    Towards the end of 2012, our parent company decided they would combine our company 401k plan into their plan. I figured the Target Fund had worked for me so far, so I’d continue doing so in the new plan. The fund for my age bracket is considered their most aggressive plan (I’m 34). We finally got our statements from last quarter. My “aggressive” return? 3%. There were complaints across the board from our company regarding the new plan. We had a quarter overlap between the two plans, so we all got to see the difference in return % on the two plans during the same quarter, prior to our old 401k money being rolled into the new 401k plan.

    Looking into it, there is one Vanguard Index Fund offered that fared MUCH better than my Aggressive plan last quarter. Actually on the sheet provided, it fared much better the last quarter, year, 5 year and 10 year period. I’ll be switching my allocations this weekend.

    Thank you so much for making it easier for those of us “newbies” to understand the market!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Ms W….

      As you’ve likely figured out, we love simple around here. Lots of reasons, not the least of which it provides better performance.

      You might be being “lazy” using a TRF, but you are also being smart. Here’s my take on why:

      I’d be curious as to which TRF you have and which.Index fund you’ll be moving to. Performance comparison can be very tricky, and misleading. Even looking out ten years. The last ten years have been a fairly unique time….

      • Ms.W says

        Looking through my paperwork/online. The TRF under the new plan is MRP25 (Managed Aggressive II – Axia Advisory Corp). The expense ratio (according to the website) is .92%. The website shows the quarterly return at 4.61%, so higher than what I had originally thought. Under our old plan I was enrolled in the American Funds 2045 Target date-R2, which returned 7.20% in the same quarter, but with a much higher expense ratio (1.49%)!

        The Vanguard Fund offered in the plan is VINIX, which is listed as an “Institutional Fund”? I obviously know very little, and don’t see it listed in your post. It has an expense ratio of .04%.

        So, I understand that past performance doesn’t guarantee future returns. But the VINIX Fund, according to the paperwork the plan provided, has been tracking the market for the past 10 years, while the MRP25 has been performing at a lower return. So, in combination with the lower expense ratio, wouldn’t I want an index fund over a managed fund?

        Right now my portfolio is small. I have about $4,500 in the 401k plan, along with about $1,000 in a Roth IRA and some equity in my home. My largest “investment” for the next few years will be in my education, so I can move ahead in my career.

        • jlcollinsnh says

          VINIX is the institutional version of Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund. As such it will precisely tract the market. You don’t see it in my post as I only talked about the variations of the Total Stock Market Index.

          “So, in combination with the lower expense ratio, wouldn’t I want an index fund over a managed fund?”
          Exactly, and VINIX is a fine choice.

          Don;t worry that your portfolio is starting small. Everybody’s does. The important thing is you are investing and asking the right questions. You are on your way!

  12. Eric says

    My employer does out 401k through Fidelity, so I don’t have any access to Vanguard to at the moment. They just (as of May 2013) started offering an index fund as an option – FUSVX: Fidelity Spartan 500 Index Advantage. It has a low expense ratio, 0.06%, however its not as diversified as the VTSAX, as it only includes large cap stocks. But it will have to do for now, as it is the only index fund I have available.

    I’m excited to finally have an index fund. My prior 401k funds didn’t even come close to matching the market.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Eric….

      Fidelity Spartan 500 is a fine and low cost fund. It tracks the S&P 500 and as such is an exact match to Vanguard’s. My only concern is Fidelity uses it as a “loss-leader” to try to lure folks into their more expensive options.

      You are correct that neither are as diversified as VTSAX. That said, they still closely match its performance over time.

      So, don’t give it a second thought. Fund your Spartan 500 to the max. You can always roll it over to Vanguard and VTSAX when you leave that employer. It will serve you just fine in the meantime.

  13. Rockstache says

    I love your Vanguard series so much! I was so excited when I saw this new post.

    I recently opened my first Vanguard Roth IRA but I only had $1,000 to put in it to start. I do plan to fully fund it this year (and one for my husband), but ony had the $1,000up front. I put it in to a Target Fund to begin with because that was the only one that seemed to offer $1,000 funds as a minimum. Was this a bad move? Once I get $3,000 built up in there, can I transfer into the VTSMX fund? If so, will there be any penalties (tax or otherwise)? Thank you so much for your help, I love your blog.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Rock….

      and thanks for the enthusiasm!

      Putting your grand in a TRF is just fine. Good move, if fact as I was just discussing with Ms. W above. In fact, you could just stick with it, keep adding to it over time and call it a day.

      Once you build it up to $3000 you can easily switch to VTSMX. It’s in your ROTH so no tax or penalties to worry about. Once it’s there, as Ruth explained above, Vanguard will automatically move it to VTSAX and Admiral status once you hit 10k.

      Bottom line: You are off to a great start!

  14. Danny says

    I was turned onto your site through MMM, and got to say that I’m impressed, and especially by this series. I just switched jobs about a month ago and was going to just rollover my 401(k) into the new company program (which isn’t Vanguard). However, after reading this series for a while and it logically making a lot of sense, you’ve inspired me to do some research, open a Vanguard IRA and primarily invest in the three mutual funds listed above. Just wanted to thank you kindly for sharing your knowledge and experiences!

  15. AK says

    Dear Joe,

    I am new to your blog, and have enjoyed reading random posts. Enjoyed your post on the Vanguard. I have been with them myself for more than 15 years. Recently I was stunned (and pleased) to read that Vanguard is managing $2 trillion U.S. mutual fund assets (15% of all US investments)

    Pretty amazing!!!

  16. Shilpan says

    Every young person ought to read this article! Guess what? Last Christmas, my wife and I gave $10k VTSAX(your favorite) investment to both of my daughters. It has no strings attached EXCEPT that they can’t touch it till only after they retire.

    And you were the inspiration for this gift, my friend!

    Oh, your blog is looking more like MMM( 44 comments and counting.. way to go, pal)


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Cool beans!

      Now, assuming they are around age 20 now, that they will retire at age 62 and that this investment will double every seven years on average:

      Age Investment
      27 $20,000
      34 $40,000
      41 $ 80,000
      48 $160,000
      55 $320,000
      62 $640,000

      Nice gift!

      Here’s another idea. Once your kids start working, fund a ROTH IRA in their names. You can match their income up to $5000 a year. It could grow as illustrated above, tax free and free of tax when they withdraw it in retirement.

      jlcollinsnh is a long, long way from MMM. But the comments are growing and I love the participation from readers!

    • Ed says


      would like to do something similar for my stepson’s soon arriving daughter. How do you keep them from not touching till they retire?

    • Norma says

      Thanks for sharing. I want to do e same for my son. Did you do this in an Ordinary Bucket or 529k? I want to plant the seed but don’t know which bucket.

  17. RW says

    Happily invested in Vanguard, Thanks for the great advice.
    You mentioned in a reply above (from Steve) exchanging a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, Besides paying the taxes when you exchange is there any other drawbacks or pitfalls? Other than paying less taxes when withdrawing, when would this make since to consider or not? Are you planning a series or post about withdrawing assets to avoid the tax man?

    Love to hear about Prague!

    As always enjoying the series and your blog!


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks RW….

      Glad you like it!

      OK, on to your questions:

      Besides paying the taxes when you exchange is there any other drawbacks or pitfalls?
      Nope. Paying the taxes is it.

      Other than paying less taxes when withdrawing, when would this make since to consider or not?
      This is a tough question with no easy answer. What you want to do is pay taxes as late as possible but also at the lowest rate possible. Since I think 15% is as low a rate as I’ll ever see, each year since I retired (and my income dropped) I’ve been converting as much as I can without being pushed into the 25% bracket. My other motivation is that at 70.5 mandatory withdrawals kick in. Since we’ll also both be collecting SS then, our tax rate could easily be higher.

      Are you planning a series or post about withdrawing assets to avoid the tax man?
      Nope. But it’s a great idea! I’ll add it to the list.

  18. slowth says

    Thank you for another helpful post. In a recent post you determined that a 100% stock allocation had a better (historical) return than a mixed stock/bond portfolio, so why hold any bonds? Are you holding bonds to limit your risk from market collapse, and in that case your bond and REIT holdings could allow you to recover? I have bonds now, around 20% of my portfolio, but I’m trying to decide if I should shift that to stocks instead.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Slowth…

      glad you liked it!

      There are two main reasons to hold bonds:
      1. They tend to be less volatile than stocks and so owning them tends to reduce portfolio risk and makes for a smoother ride.
      2. They are a deflation hedge.

      The price you pay is, typically, lower total returns over time. But the exeption, at least in some research, is an 80/20 split like you hold.

      My guess as to the reason is that, assuming you are conscientious about rebalancing, over time this mix will give you the advantage of buying low and selling high while still holding a strong enough stock percent for maximum performance.

      For more on bonds:

  19. Wrightius Maximus says


    This is a newbies account of what I’ve done so far. I rang up Vanguard Australia where they do offer VTSAX. I was told that I can only purchase through a broker (gulp, more new scary stuff to learn). Then I was told I may be subject to more tax as it is an international fund. Why is nothing straight forward? : ). I just don’t want to mess it all up. I’m very skeptical of getting any help/financial advice as I am now aware that fees eat up a lot of my money. Confused. I wanted to deposit into VTSAX every fortnight as I got paid but now I know brokers fees will cost me dearly if I deposit that regularly. Anyone have any thoughts on what is the ideal deposit rate to keep brokers fees as low as possible?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      The good news, WM, is that you are moving slowly, asking good questions and gathering information before you act.

      The market will always be there. You’ve got time.

      Hopefully, with this blog, you now know what you are looking for. With some help from Vanguard and your fellow Aussies like AP, you’ll soon know how to best get it where you are.

      Please share with us what you learn!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thank you!

      and I hope they, and you, will add any useful Dutch-specific info to the conversation!

  20. brighteye says

    This post is most welcome! Love your blog and your writing style. As a investing beginner I often get confused about the fund names, so this is really helpful. And I appreciate that you included advice for your international followers 🙂

  21. Teepin says

    I’ve been lead here from MMM. I’m a Kiwi with an investment in our New Zealand Share Market through individual share investments, term investments through banks and a few Bonds, which I have built up over the last 15 years, plus of course property investment which is breed into Kiwis. My only international investment is through my ‘Kiwi Saver Fund’ our NZ Superannuation fund, which I started 5 years ago. It is comprised of 30 per cent indexed Australasian shares, 20 per cent indexed World shares, 10 per cent Property, 30 per cent NZ and International bonds, 10 per cent cash, I contribute 3 per cent which is matched by 3 per cent from my employer plus a small bonus from our Government each year, this Kiwi Saver is locked up till I’m 65. So after reading a number PF blogs I have been very keen to get some more international exposure. Vanguard really appeals, low fees and index based. It ticks all the boxes. As Vanguard have no exposure here in New Zealand I’ve had to look over the ditch to Australia. Late last year I took the plunge with a small dabble in a Vanguard ETF listed on the Australia Stock Exchange tracking the Total US market called VTS. So far so good, upward share price and a small dividend paid, so I plan to add to it in the near future, and will look at an ETF that tracks the World Share Market as well. My question is – as a Kiwi is an ETF through the Aussy Stock Exchange my best plan of attack to or is here an easier way (or should I say more direct way) that I have missed?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Teepin…

      Glad you found your way over here.

      Perhaps one of our Kiwi/Aussie readers has figured this out and will weight in.

      My guess, and it is just that, is that the ETF was/is likely your best way. What did the transaction cost you?

      But I would also spend some time on the Vanguard site and/or give them a call to see if there is a way to buy the funds directly from them.

      • Teepin says

        I buy shares through my bank. I have a cash management account so mostly I buy online. Here are the Brokerage fees they charge here in NZ.

        New Zealand Trades 0.3% with a minimum of NZ$30.00 per trade or Telephone order 0.7% with a minimum of NZ$35.00 per trade
        Australian Trades 0.3% with a minimum of AU$30.00 per trade or Telephone order 0.7% with a minimum of AU$35.00 per trade
        United States Trades-For orders up to US$50,000 0.8% with a minimum of US$50.00 per trade plus Agency Fee 0.4% with a minimum of US$40.00 per trade

        Really enjoying your blog

        • jlcollinsnh says

          Thanks, Teepin…..

          …glad you are!

          And thanks for the great informational comment above. Very helpful addition to the data base here!

    • Reuben says

      Hi Teepin

      I am a fellow kiwi investor and am interested in the VTS ETF on the aussie exchange. I was wondering about what taxes are incurred on the returns on the investment (dividends/capital gain). To my understanding only dividends are taxed currently, do you have any further info? Also, do you just accept the foreign exchange risk (NZ dollar weak against AUS recently) or do you go about it some other way?

      Cheers, Reuben

  22. Donna says

    Hi Jim:

    First, I want to Thank You for sharing your knowledge and experience regarding money and investing.

    Second, I have a couple of questions that you may know the answers to right off. I have a general investment account in which I have selected specific dividend stocks. Overall the stocks have done quite well. I want to know, can I transfer these specific stocks to a Vanguard ROTH IRA? In other words, can one choose the stocks that make up their ROTH IRA or are these IRAs all pre-selected stocks. The other question I have is as an American living abroad and working for a foreign company, am I allowed to have a ROTH IRA?
    I tend to spend some of my winter and summer vacations reading up on money matters but these are two questions I haven’t gotten to yet.
    Thank you in advance for your feedback.
    Take care.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Donna…

      Glad you found your way here!

      Yes, you can hold individual stocks in your IRAs, Roth and otherwise. If you currently hold these at another brokerage, Vanguard can help you transfer them. Once you are set up with Vanguard, you can buy and sell stocks thru them. But while you can do, whether you should is another question. Consider first:

      1. Do you really want to own individual stocks? If you read much of this blog you’ll read why I don’t like this idea.
      2. One of the advantages of owning individual stocks is that you can decide to sell the losers when you chose for a tax deduction and to offset gains in others. You lose this advantage in an IRA.
      3. Dividends enjoy favorable tax treatment. Inside an IRA they will be taxed as regular income once you begin withdrawing them. This doesn’t apply to Roths, of course.

      As a US citizen, you can own a Roth regardless of where you live. Subject, of course, to the income restrictions on all Roths.

  23. Lasse says

    I’ve been following your blog for quite a long time now, and I have learned ALOT.
    Unfortunately I do not live in the US, and the tax laws on investment are quite different here in Denmark compared to the US tax laws.
    So I have felt like I knew what to do, I just didn’t know how to go about doing it for a long time now, and as a result the wife and I still just have our money sitting idle in the bank.

    Basically I think the main dilemma boils down to whether or not we want to pay 42% on our investments in Vanguard, or pay 27% on investing in a Danish index fund that also have 10 times higher fees – About 0,5+% vs Vanguards 0,6%

    What would you choose?
    Of course the exposure provided by Vanguard and any Danish index funds might be different as well, but that’s a whole other question, I guess.

    We would also like to ask your opinion on paying for financial advise – would you advice us to spend about 1000 $ on getting proper independent financial investment advice?
    The price on this has been holding us back, because it’s a lot of money, but then again it’s also a very complicated field, where we could be setting ourselves up for a loss or needless heavy taxation without setting it up properly in the beginning.
    Still we only have about 40k $ in savings and are putting in about 2-3k$ a month, so it’s not a lot yet, but it’s growing at least.

    I know, especially the second question, is hard to answer, but we would appreciate any advice you can give, because having our money in the bank at 0,25% interest is frustrating in the extreme.

    Thanks so much for the wisdom you’re spreading here, and keep up the good work!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Lasse…

      and welcome. We can always use a few more Danes around here!

      My daughter is about to wind up her year studying in France with a return to Denmark to catch up with some of her Danish friends.

      As you know, I have no expertise in Danish or European investing options. All I can offer you is some general guidelines at to what I in your position would be looking for, and that would be something that closely matches this:


      Please note that this includes the USA market, which given its size is critically important.

      In fact, the only reason I don’t recommend this rather than VTSAX is the .35% expense ratio which, while low, is still much higher than the .06% of VTSAX.

      Since you are stuck with higher ERs overall, it is not the same concern for you.

      What you are looking for is a broad based world stock index fund with the lowest cost you can find.

      Your second question is actually the easier of the two.

      Before spending money on an advisor, read the stock series on this blog, especially this one:

      Ask whatever questions you have here. After all that, if you still feel the need you can consult a fee-only advisor.

      But don’t be in a rush. You are in the process of learning to find your own way. Keep saving your money while you do. The market will be there for you when you are ready.

      Hope this helps!

      • Lasse says

        Thank you for the reply!

        I have read every one of the posts on your blog and I have learned a lot from them already.
        Unfortunately some of the information I feel that we still need to really take the plunge is information on taxes and what would be smart in terms of our relatively complex Danish tax on investments.
        I can’t seem to find much, if any, information on this around the internet, as it seems passive investment isn’t really all that big here in Denmark for some strange reason. But I’ve searched the net for almost a year now, so we’re getting a bit ripe for paying an independent advisor, even though we really would rather not shell out that kind of money. We’ll hold off a bit longer then, while I try to get a bit wiser still.

        At any rate, one of the Danish index investment funds with the lowest fees have 3 US funds at 0,5% fees. They follow either the MSCI USA Growth, MSCI USA Small Cap, MSCI USA Value. They also have the same kinds just for Europe (MSCI Europa Growth and so forth).
        Do those sound useful?
        They have some global ones like ‘MSCI World Minimum Volatility Index’, but I don’t know if that’s any good either.
        It feels like really deep water if I should go out and try to compare other index funds to what Vanguard provides, because not only might they follow slightly different indexes, some also charge you fees for buying into the funds, withdrawing from the fund and god know what!

        Even with the higher taxes on foreign investment funds, I am seriously drawn on to the simplicity of just having a Vanguard investment with a clear-cut recipe on what to do when (reallocation and so forth). I really don’t think the wife or I have it in us to become investment pros 🙂

        Again thanks for the help, it is appreciated.

        • jlcollinsnh says

          Hi Lasse…

          Sounds like you’ve been doing your homework and maybe for you the time has come to seek paid advice. Chose carefully and try to go fee only so the advisor doesn’t have a conflict with earning commissions.

          Have your questions ready and clearly prepared. (Which it sounds like you already do)

          Don’t get too hung up on trying to find an exact match to what Vanguard offers. You just want to get close and for as little in fees and taxes as you can manage. Even seemingly small ones can hurt your returns significantly over time.

          Of the funds you mentioned, MSCI World Minimum Volatility Index sounds closest to what I was describing in a world fund. I’d closely consider that.

          If you combined MSCI USA Growth, MSCI USA Small Cap, MSCI USA Value you’d have a close approximation of VTSAX. But it is a same you’d have to deal with and annual rebalance three funds. Too much trouble for me.

          You and your wife should not have to become investment pros! and congrats on the efforts you’ve made so far. You are closer than you thing. With a low cost index fund that tracks MSCI World Minimum Volatility Index it sound to me like you are there!

          • Lasse says

            That sounds like good news, that makes us a bit more optimistic.
            I will contact the fund and ask them for some more in-depth information, and maybe I’ll be back with another question, if that is okay.

            Also in the off chance that your daughter swings by Aarhus in Denmark and wants a tour-guide, feel free to contact us. We know the place well, and my wife (from Georgia, US) would certainly appreciate the opportunity to talk to a fellow country(wo)man 🙂

          • jlcollinsnh says

            No worries, Lasse…

            …feel free to ask any other question that comes up.

            Thanks for your very kind offer. I’ll let her know, but my guess is she’ll be very busy and well taken care of. She’s visiting her Danish friends from previous trips and some Danish girls who were exchange students living with us a few years back.

            Mmmm. Since you’re wife is an American and still, I assume, a citizen, she should be able to buy funds directly from Vanguard. You might have her email them and ask about it. Please let us know what you learn.

  24. Lasse says

    Hi again!

    Yes, my wife is still a US citizen and she already has some funds at Vanguard. Some in a money market account and some in the VFINX index fund.

    The problem for us is not to get Vanguard, as we can buy the Vanguard ETF versions of the funds you recommend, and I presume we could also open a new, joint account at Vanguard from Denmark.
    The main problem is taxation, and if the taxation laws makes it a bad investments compared to more expensive Danish index funds which are taxed more leniently.

    From what I know now, it seems that the main difference between Vanguard and a Danish index fund like the ones we discussed earlier, is that with Vanguard you are taxes on your gains/losses yearly regardless of whether you actualise the gain/loss. In the Danish funds you don’t pay taxes till you sell them.

    But I found out that there is an big investment event here on the 18th, so I’m going to go to that, and see if I can’t get wiser on these questions.
    I’ll report back and with what I find out.

    PS: It seems I can’t reply to your last post, so I’m posting this as a separate post.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Ah. That tax treatment makes quite a difference. Having then already accounted for any gain or loss, would I be correct in then assuming when you did sell you Vanguard shares it would not be a taxable event?

      Great info! thanks for sharing it here.

      • Lasse says

        Yes, you’re correct.
        You’re only taxed on the gains once, regardless of whether it is foreign or Danish funds you invest in.

        To matters more complex though, you can only deduct up to 33% of your losses if you invest in foreign funds, where as you will still be taxed up to 42% on your gains.
        In Danish funds the loss/gain deduction/tax is the same, so up to 42%.

        If we were investing for a personal pension fund, it would be really simple though, as it’s only taxed 15% when you withdraw it, regardless of whether it’s foreign or national funds.
        But then we would like to be FI before we hit the state pension age (around 65).

        It’s all these added complexities that makes it really hard for me to figure what is the best method of going about following your advice – But sometimes I also feel that I’m probably not doing ourselves a favour, by having the money in the bank doing nothing, while I try to find out how to save a few percent here or there 🙂

    • Lauge Jepsen says

      Hi Lasse.

      Are you sure Danish index funds aren’t taxed the same way as international funds (i.e. annually)? I was quite convinced that it was so. Do you have a link or a reference. I think I’m pretty much in the same boat as you guys (fellow dane) and am trying to get an overview of my options as well.

      • Lasse says

        Hi Lauge
        Apologies for the late reply. I simply didn’t see your question at first.

        The taxlaws unfortunately discriminates in favour of Danish funds, but you can read some more about it here:

        Also as James already recommended this fund, might be the best equivalent of the Vanguard funds mentioned on this site:

        I haven’t invested in anything yet, so I can’t tell you anything about it from first-hand experience, but check it out. If you want to get the Vanguard funds, you can open an account at for instance and buy the ETFs equivalents. But I’m not sure it’s such a good idea, even if they have lower fees.

        I got in contact with two other danes through the Money Mustache blog, so maybe we should make a small “support-group” for people trying to reach FI in Denmark? 🙂
        I certainly could use some people to spar with.
        But feel free to PM me (username LSK) at MMM or keep this conversation going here.

        • jlcollinsnh says

          Great idea, Lasse.

          If you get a few more Danes on board, I’d be happy to have you do a guest post that can become the focal point for your discussions.

          • Lasse says

            Thank you.
            I have been refering everyone I talk to about FI to this site, as it simply has the explainations that is the easiest to understand – And understanding investment as a “non-investor” is no easy task! 🙂

            Still doing a guest post would require a bit more understanding and most importantly experience than I have at the moment, I think. Though if any other dane, more experienced in investment, would like to write a post, I would love to read and contribute if necessary.

          • jlcollinsnh says

            Thanks Lasse….

            Passing this blog on to your friends is the highest praise of all. Since word-of-mouth is the only way readership spreads, I appreciate it!

  25. Lauge Jepsen says

    Hey there.

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and am slowly beginning to make an investment plan based on your advice. I have one major problem, though, which I hope you might be able to offer some reflections on:

    I happen to live in a country (Denmark), which quite recently (in 2009, i think) made some changes to the way taxations on investments are done.

    It used to be that you had to pay taxes on your profits when you realised them (i.e sold your stocks, bonds, ect).

    However, with the new laws, your investments are taxed annually even if you don’t realise any of the profit. This means that I have to pay taxes even if I don’t have any of the money in hand, just because my investment went up. Likewise, if I loose money on my investments, the losses are tax-deductible.

    I’m not really sure how this affects the advice you are giving on this site. Intuitively, the final amount paid in taxes should be the same either way. With the anual taxation the tax is simply paid ‘along the way’ instead of ‘in the end’. However, as I see it, the main problem is that no matter what I’ll be required to keep working at all times. If the market goes up, I need a steady income to pay my taxes (the only other alternative is to withdraw money from my investments, to pay for my investments, which seems like a big no-no). If the market goes down I need an income to utilise my tax-deduction, otherwise I’m simply giving away money, when the market inevitably rises again later.

    Also, tax-levels differ depending on my income level. I can’t even begin to contemplate what this does to the tax-deduction part, along the way.

    Can you (or anyone of your readers) offer some advice given the circumstances described? Obviously, I don’t expect you to sort out my financials for me, or investigate danish tax-law on my behalf 🙂 I’m simply looking for a piece of advice. It could be that your strategy is simply not usable in my country and that I’ll have investigate other options.

    No matter what, keep up the great work. I really enjoy reading this blog. At the very least it has opened my eyes in regards to long term investments 🙂

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Lauge…

      And welcome! Thanks for the kind words and your question.

      As you already know, I am no expert in Danish tax law. Although after hearing from my Danish readers about it, I’m amazed you guys are ranked as some of the happiest people on earth! 🙂

      First be sure to read this post, and you’ll also find my conversation above with your fellow Dane, Lasse, interesting.

      I think the strategy discussed here is usable for you, but with some modification. Starting with the need to find funds equivalent to the Vanguard ones I discuss.

      Given the “pay as you go” treatment of the annual gain or loss on shares, Danes will lose the advantage of tax free growth. On the other hand, you won’t have the tax due when you start selling the shares.

      I gather you are able to deduct losses against earned income, but not carry them forward to apply against future gains?

      None of this should prevent you from retiring. You’ll just have to pay the cap gain tax from your investment returns, just like you’ll be using them to pay your other expenses.

      “in the end” is simpler and will most likely give better results. So I’m glad that’s what we have here. But the difference would not deter me from investing.

      My only suggestion would be to try to pay any annual tax due from cash on hand, rather than selling shares. Leave them to grow.

      Then, years from now, when us Americans are faced with huge tax bills on our accumulated gains, you Danes can put you feet up by the fire and say, “No worries here!”

      • Lauge Jepsen says

        Thanks a lot for your feedback, I really appreciate it!

        I’m glad to hear that the approach you ‘preach’ may still work, despite my special circumstances. I think I need to fully understand the Danish tax law in regards to ROI and explore my specific options in regards to suitable index funds. Maybe Lasse and I could start a support group for frustrated Danish investors 😀

        I still just started accumulating my F-you money so there is time, yet 🙂 Just glad to hear that all is not lost.

        Anyway, thanks again!

        p.s.: No deductions can only be carried on to future gains if you handle investments through a company, but no one no longer recommends doing that due to other aspects of the Danish tax laws….

  26. David says

    Hi James,

    Presently I have VTSAX Admiral Shares, and have been thinking about ETFs. You mention ‘just like a stock, commissions and/or spreads are frequently involved, adding to your costs.’ Do you see any benefits to holding ETFs over regular mutual fund shares? I’m guessing the greater liquidity of ETFs doesn’t really matter to us long-term investors.


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi David…

      I think you hit on the main reason some like ETFs. They are easy to trade. Since frequent trading is just about the last thing I want to do, they hold no interest for me.

      As for liquidity, you can sell VTSAX any business day and it will be clear by the end of the day’s trading. That’s plenty of liquidity for all but the most active traders.

      With my status at Vanguard, I’m offered a bunch of free trades each year thru Vanguard Brokerage so, if I wanted ETFs I could own them even with out those costs. But why bother? VTSAX suits my needs perfectly.

  27. John says


    Just wanted to make mention that my 401k plan has an REIT fund in it with an ER of .95%. Do you think this is too high?

    Also, for a mid-twenties investor what are your thoughts on VGENX and VGHCX? Currently, my ROTH IRA portfolio is 40% VTSAX, 25% VGENX, 25% VGHCX and 10% VGSLX.


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi John….

      Yep, .95% is too high an ER for my tastes, especially since you can buy VGSLX @ .10. In your 401k plan I’d look for a total stock market index fund which should have a much lower ER.

      VGENX & VGHCX are both what’s called sector funds, each focused on one business sector. Energy and Health, respectively. I am not a fan. In choosing sector funds you are essentially trying to do the same thing as in choosing stocks: pick the one that will out perform. Both entail predicting the future, an un-winable game.

      Personally, I’d dump them and use the money to build your position in VGSLX, while reducing your expensive REIT in the 401k.

  28. TheDirtyGreek says

    I have some amateur questions. Do you have to have a Vanguard account to purchase VTSAX? I hold some other Vanguard funds in my Fidelity account. If it is available through Fidelity, is there any disadvantage to purchasing it through there as opposed to opening a Vanguard account? In my Fidelity account I have my personal investment account and a rollover IRA, so I could transfer everything to Vanguard at some point.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi DG…

      and welcome.

      You should be able to buy VTSAX thru your Fidelity account just as you have the other Vanguard funds. No disadvantage other than it is a bit more cumbersome.

      Personally, I prefer things to be as simple as possible, so I’d shift everything to Vanguard. But that reflects my temperament more than any financial advantage.

  29. dahlink says

    Vanguard does not charge commissions for their ETFs. Would that make it a good choice to DCA until you get about 10K worth to shift to the admiral shares?

  30. Patriq says

    Here in Sweden we have access to an index fund following the 30 largest swedish companies (named Avanza Zero), and the funds expense ratio is 0%. It comes with no additional costs what so ever, and is of course always recomended for swedes looking to invest in an index fund.
    My question though, is this:
    Would you recomend mainly investing in this no-cost index fund over investing in the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index ETF, which have an expense ratio of 0,05% ?

    My biggest concern would be that Avanza Zero focus on swedish companies only, and thats not a very big market compared to the US.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Patriq….

      my concern would be the same as yours: The Swedish market is just too small.

      The Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF holds 3000+ companies, many of them multi-national giving you world-wide exposure. This would be my choice.

      Good luck!

  31. Mike says

    Thanks for running such a great blog! it’s so informative, especially for investment noobies like me.

    Just a quick question as I was reading your blog and checking out Vanguard (I recently opened an individual non-retirement account with them).

    I know you don’t necessarily prefer ETFs in general, but what about Vanguard ETFs through Vanguard Brokerage accounts?

    As I understand, if you purchase/sell Vanguard ETFs through Vanguard Brokerage account, they don’t charge you commissions. If commission is out of the equation, aside from the possibility of spreads (or what Vanguard calls “premium/discount”?) to consider (which can be plus or minus for you on a particular day, depending on the market conditions, right?), is there any other particular difference between Vanguard ETFs and Vanguard mutual funds of the same kind? To put it slightly differently, is there something that makes the former particularly less attractive?

    I’m asking because if you don’t have enough initial capital to qualify for the Admiral version of a mutual fund, expense ratio of the ETF version is actually cheaper than the regular Investor version. In most cases, the expense ratio of the ETF version is equal to the Admiral version, without the minimum initial investment level, of course.

    For those who don’t have enough yet to qualify for Admiral version, wouldn’t ETF make more sense, at least from the expense ratio point of view?

    Or, am I missing something more important/relevant here?

    Thanks for your thoughts!


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Mike …

      Your understanding of EtFs is spot on.

      As long as you watch for transaction expenses they are a fine way to start.

      One advantage investor shares offer is they convert automatically to admiral shares once you hit 10k.

    • Krishanu says

      I have been mulling over this and Mike’s comment captures my exact thought.

      Mr. Collins – VTSAX has an ER of 0.05%, VTSMX (investor shares) is 0.17% and VTI (ETF) is 0.05%. The expense for the investor shares is more than 3 times as the admiral shares or the ETF.

      Why shouldn’t someone, who doesn’t have $10K to start off with, start with the buying the ETF once a month, commission free at Vanguard, and then convert to the Admiral shares. Why pay 3 times the expense for the investor shares?

      Do you recommend the investor shares because of the “automatically” conversion to the Admiral shares? Or is there any other reason?

      • jlcollinsnh says

        Just as I said in my reply to Mike:

        ETFs are fine as long as you watch the transaction costs (and avoid the temptation to trade that they offer.) In return you get the lower ER.

        Investor shares have a higher ER but offer a seamless transition to Admiral when 10k is reached.

        Either works.

  32. Ralf Sköld says

    Hello there jlcollinsnh, i have a question for you.
    Its about how to invest in Vanguard from sweden. I do know of one way, but thought i could ask if you know a smarter way before i start investing it.

    I am a 29yr old swedish gentleman, with a pretty new found interest for saving up for an early retirement.
    Im very interested about investing thru the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund
    But i am unsure about my options for doing it from sweden.

    I know i can buy them over the market as a stock traded fund (ETF). But im not sure if its the best way to get them for a person living in sweden. Or if i can buy the Admiral/Investor shares, and if so, if it is an option for me or not. Having a hard time understanding the info i see over the internet here, i did find a vanguard site for sweden, however, they have nothing like the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund, the closest is a european index fund with about 450 different stocks. And thats not at all what im looking for.
    Found it at this link:

    From what i can se, the etf has an expense ratio of 0.05%/year just as the Admiral Share.
    However, id have to pay a brokerage fee every time i buy into it. (would probably be around every second month, to keep the brokerage fees at a decent level).
    Brokerage-fees for buying american stocks is at 13.95 USD, and buying every second month would be an investment of somewhere around 2000-2200 dollars worth, so a buying fee of 0.6% or so. Or would it possibly be better to buy every month, even though it bumps up the brokerage fee to 1.2%?

    also, i noted someone talking about a 20 dollar yearly fee for ppl with less then 50k invested, does this apply to ETFs too? Couldnt find any info about it.

    I do know where to invest it, we have something called Investersparkonto here in sweden.
    Basically you dont pay any taxes on dividends, nor for the valueincrease if you sell off any shares later on, it gives you a lower tax then the others if your investments grow at a pace of more then 3.8%/year on average or so. Instead you pay a small tax thats around 0.4% of your portfolio each year. Its gives around a 30% tax decrease compared to the other options currently aviable in sweden.

    Looking forward to see your take on the matter.
    Best regards

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Ralf…

      Unfortunately I am completely unfamiliar with the nuances of investing in Sweden. But very possibly other readers will see your questions and join in with their ideas and experiences.

      I can however offer a few comments.

      First, you have identified the key problem with ETFs: Brokerage fees. The ones you describe are high for my taste. But if you are really going to hold them for the long term, this could work. You pay the fee only once (and again when you sell) and then you have only the low Vanguard fees to worry about. Over the decades, you’ll come out ahead.

      But I don’t understand why you say the brokerage fees would go up to 1.2% if you invest only once a month. If I understand correctly, there is a flat fee of $13.95 no matter how many shares you buy? If so, buying once rather than twice a month would cut your cost in half.

      Looking at the link you provided, I’d go with the Global Stock Index Fund. You definitely want the USA as part of the mix. Unfortunately, there is an addition fee that brings the total to .50%. Not great, but acceptable.

      I am unfamiliar with “a 20 dollar yearly fee for ppl” and “Investersparkonto”. Maybe sone of our readers has more insights?

      • Ralf Sköld says

        You misunderstood me, i thought of only buying every second month to keep the brokerage fees down. The fee isnt flat, but to get a higher brokerage fee i would have to buy for somewhere around 15k a pop, unfortunally 13.95 is the floor.

        Ofc, buying stocks on the swedish stockmarket is a lot cheaper, around 5 dollars or so id say.

        Im leaning to buying around half of my investments into the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund, and keeping the other half on the swedish market. Here in sweden we have an index fund with 0.00% fees, but it only has the 200 largest companies in it. And the swedish stock market as a whole is to small for my tastes, dont want all my money on our pretty small home market.

        And the 20 dollar fee was someone talking about VANGUARD and less then 50k invested, there is no such fee in an investersparkonto.

        Very thankful for your reply, probably going to check out the global stock index fund too, se if its to my liking or not.

    • Lasse says

      Hi Ralf

      I don’t know if you’ve read the comments & questions I posted earlier in this thread, but I think some of the same solutions should apply in your situation.
      Nordnet is a Swedish internet bank and broker, that covers Scandinavia and they have a setup, where you can create an account, set a certain amount of money to be transferred into that account each month, and then pick certain EFTs/funds from a long list, that the monthly saving goes towards buying each month.
      The good thing about the setup is that there is no fee for buying ETFs/funds, so you avoid having to pay the fee every month if you want to continuously build your investments over time.

      In Denmark the laws makes it very unattractive to buy into foreign funds like Vanguard, unless it is via your private pension-fund. Therefore I had to look for alternatives that mirror what Vanguard offers, and James suggested the MSCI World Minimum Volatility Index, of the Danish index funds available to me.
      So I setup a Nordnet account, picked my monthly amount and picked only the Danish fund that covered the above index, and let it run.
      The Danish fund that covers that index does have a higher fee than Vanguard, but at 0,6% it was the lowest one I could find, so I have to live with that so far.

      Maybe you could use a similar setup if you want?
      At least I would suggest you take a look at Nordnet and their monthly savings account setup.

      Hope it helps.

  33. Petey says

    Hi Jim,

    I think I have almost read every one of your posts in the past fortnight. Absolutely love it all and have linked a bunch of friends too including my wife.

    My wife and I (both 29) have ~$300k worth of savings sitting in the bank, losing purchasing power every day thanks to inflation and tax on interest income.

    So far you have taught me NOT to dollar cost average. That said I probably won’t plummet it all into an index fund on the one day, purely just for that warm fuzzy feeling, but I suspect that we will drop a fair chunk in on say 4 days over the course of a month or so.

    You have also taught me to keep it simple. If I was in the states, I’d be sinking most of it into VTSAX however I am from Australia and currently living in Canada. Tricky.

    Right now I am trying to choose between the following:
    Vanguard Index International Shares Fund:
    – MSCI World ex-Australia Index
    – High management costs (max 0.90% pa / min 0.35% pa)
    – Buy cost 0.15%, Sell cost 0.10%
    – Dividend reinvestment option

    Vanguard US Total Market Shares Index ETF (VTS):
    – CRSP US Total Market Index
    – Low Management Cost (0.05% pa)
    – Buy/sell cost through my bank 0.11%
    – No dividend reinvestment

    The VTS ETF seems like the most similar option to what you have in the USA however it’s shortfall is that dividends aren’t able to be reinvested, which means I will lose 37% of each year to the tax man… At least that is how I understand the situation anyway!

    Thank you once again for your great blog. Your daughter is very lucky to have such an experienced parent. My parents unfortunately don’t understand money too well, but thankfully my mother always taught me to save!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Petey…

      Thanks for the kind words and for passing the blog along to your friends and family. That’s the highest praise of all.

      Clearly you’ve been reading and absorbing the concepts here. It is reflected in your fund choices and the analysis of them. I like them both and there is no reason you can’t use both.

      Too bad about the transaction costs, but they are low enough that you can live with them as a long-term investor.

      Vanguard Index International Shares Fund holds about 1600 of the world’s major publicly traded companies. Since it does hedge currencies, you also get diversification on that front.

      VTS is the equivalent of VTSAX, but since it also doesn’t hedge the currency, and it is only the US and Aussie dollars in play lacking the diversification in the fund above, you have an additional risk related to any movement between them.

      I don’t know what the Autralian/Canadian tax law says on dividends, but here in the US they are taxable whether reinvested or not. There is a certain logic to that in that even when reinvested dividends are first paid. Perhaps the rule is the same where you are.

      Maybe some of my Canadian and/or Aussie readers can provide some insights?

      Oh, and dollar cost averaging is all right as long as you understand it messes with your allocation and can work against you in a rising market. But for some it is the help needed to ease into the market.

      For what it is worth, my parents also didn’t understand money and when my father’s health failed we wound up poor. Might be what motivated me to learn. 😉

      • Petey says

        Thanks for your reply James.

        As you know, I first posted that comment on another blog post of yours some time ago. In that time I have joined the Vanguard Index International Shares Fund and have deposited $15k. A pittance, but it’s a start.

        While I understand the market and the “logic” involved with investing, it’s still not an easy decision when you have worked so hard to earn that money. Must not let emotion make decisions! What makes it harder is watching the status quo all buy houses while we are left renting. We know why we do it, but it’s hard to be the odd ones out sometimes and my wife really struggles with this.

        My only concern is not being exposed to real estate in Australia. I have been considering buying some A-REITS to make sure that we aren’t priced out of the market in Australia if/when we do want to buy a house.

        I did some research after reading your reply, you are indeed correct, dividend reinvestment is taxed – damn, they get you everywhere, right?!

        • jlcollinsnh says

          Hi Petey…

          Having read my stock series, you know investing in the market is a wild ride. If you and your wife are emotionally uncomfortable now while the market is been on a strong climb, how will you feel the next time it takes a steep drop?

          It is very, very important to understand — in you gut as well as your brain — that drops are a natural part of the process and to be expected.

          Investing and then panic selling when they happen is far worse than not investing at all.

          That emotional uncertainty is also one of the reasons to use DCA, even though I’m not a fan overall.

          I know nothing about the Australian housing market, but the last time I heard people around here worrying about being priced out of housing was rifght before our huge housing price collapse. Just sayin’, ya know? 😉

  34. Nash says

    Hello jlcollinsnh,

    Very informative and eye opening article. Really like it.
    I am presently living in Dubai as a Canadian Expat.
    Vanguard low cost index funds are unfortunately unavailable in Dubai But I found an alternative with ETF’s.

    By opening a brokerage account with Citi bank I have access to the US stock market including ETF’s.

    I was thinking of the following portfolio:
    40% VTI
    30% VXUS
    30% BND or AGG (bond’s mid term)
    Rebalancing one a year to keep the same ratio

    Citi bank commission: 0.3% buy or sell
    ETF commission: 0.065% buy or sell
    Custody Fee: 0.2% yearly

    Would appreciate your feedback…


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Nash…

      Glad you enjoyed the post.

      The portfolio you describe will serve you well, so consider my thoughts just a bit fine tuning.

      With VTI you have the Total US Stock Market Index. With this I don’t feel the need to add VXUS for reasons I outline here:

      You don’t mention your age or retirement plans, but a 70/30 stock/bond allocation is conservative in my view for anyone in the wealth building stage of investing. But it is perfect if you are transitioning into the wealth preservation stage.

      Lots more on this in the stock series:

      Too bad about the layers of fees, especially the Citi commission, but you are kind of stuck with them.

      So, what took you to Dubai and how are you enjoying it? I gather it is a remarkable place to see…

      • Nash says

        Many thanks for your quick reply Collin regarding my previous post.

        The reason I chose VXUS is to really have international exposure to the stock market excluding the US

        With VTI and VXUS I feel I get exposure to a really broader equity market.

        Regarding Citi bank fees as you said I am stuck with them but at least its below 1%. I will just have to manage.

        I’ ve been in Dubai for the last 5 years and it’s ok.
        It is worth visiting at least once in your lifetime…

  35. Mrs EconoWiser says

    Here’s a discussion via email between J. and myself which we’d like to share with other readers.

    Hi Uncle J.!

    Just letting you know that I copy-pasted the stock series into a PDF document and uploaded it to my kindle. I am now reading, rereading and doing some more rererereading of the stock series. And so is the husband.

    The husband and I are almost ready to take the plunge. A little hick-up in the dividend leakage department, though. However, we’re still convinced of sticking with Vanguard. We’re thinking of dumping all of our cash into the Vanguard FTSE All-World ETF. and It’s in euros and we like the diversification. 52% America, 28% Europe and 21% Greater Asia (includes a large chunk Japan and Australia, only 5% emerging). TER is 0.25% (but there is a dividend leakage, I don’t know how much, anywhere from 0.1% to 0.6%) We could try and avoid tax leakage by choosing for Dutch versions…but then we’d be stuck with an index we don’t want to invest in (AEX) or (relatively small) fund providers that aren’t Vanguard with which we could risk investing with providers whose interests are not the same as ours. We love the whole Vanguard cooperative system.

    However, this FTSE All-World ETF was only founded in 2012 so we don’t have a lot of details to compare. We find it a bit scarier because of the lack of historical data. Still this ETF is our best option, we think, our second choice would be the S&P500 at 0.09%TER. My husband would not prefer this, he likes diversification.

    You did reccomend the FTSE ex-US fund for investors who were interested in investing outside the US as well in your blogpost on international stocks Therefore, I thought that you might find the FTSE All-World index including the US trustworthy for our purposes.

    I totally understand that you are not our personal investment advisor, however I’d love to know your thoughts on choosing the FTSE All-World Vanguard fund if you’d be willing to. I also totally understand that you have other priorities other than thinking about investing for Europeans, so if you can’t find the time to have a look at our situation, that’s fine. I know I am being rather bold here in asking you a favour.

    Thank you and best wishes,
    Mrs. EW

    J’s response:

    Hi Mrs. EW

    Always nice to hear from my Netherlands niece!

    I hesitate giving specific advice to folks outside the USA because my knowledge of the nuances of investing in other countries is pretty much zero. That said, the basics still apply.

    1. If you can do business with Vanguard, do so as they are the only investment company out there that puts the interests of their customers first.
    2. Buy broad based index funds.
    3. Costs matter hugely.
    4. Keep it simple.

    So looking at those criteria, you can see why VTSAX is my #1 choice:

    1. Vanguard
    2. covers virtually the entire US stock market: over 3000 companies. Further, the largest 500 (same as the S&P 500) of these make up ~ 70% of the fund and they have huge international operations.
    3. ER = .05, rock bottom
    4. One fund, huge diversification in the stock arena. Even VFIAX, the S&P 500 index fund, offers plenty of diversification in the stock arena. But VTSAX provides access to the small and mid caps which is why I prefer it a bit.

    So those are the benchmarks. You can use them to evaluate the options you actually have available to you.

    As for VTWSX
    you get the entire world in one fund. Very cool. But there is no Admiral Shares version and the Investors Shares version has an ER of .35% The ETF version drops the ER to .19%, a better choice as long as you can buy and sell without transaction commissions. That’s possible in the US, but I don’t know about Europe.

    If VTWSX had the same ER as VTSAX it would be my 1st choice. But it doesn’t and, as I say, costs matter hugely!

    Hope that helps!


    Mrs. EW’s response:

    Hi J.!

    That sure helps a lot! It confirms our reasoning, so I guess we’re on the right track.

    Thanks so much!

    Best wishes,
    Mrs. EW

    Addendum: we’ve almost made our decision. I still have a couple of phone calls to make. The results (which might be interesting for European index investors) and the decision we eventually made and why will be published here: ASAP.

  36. OrionX says

    I’ve very new to all this and your blog has been blowing my mind for awhile now. I am constantly recommending it to friends and family as we all try to wrap our heads around the mysterious world of investing.

    Here’s my question.
    My 401K doesn’t offer VTSAX,VGSLX,VBTLX.
    This is what is offered as fare as Vanguard goes:
    Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Signal
    Vanguard 500 Index Signal
    Vanguard Extended Market idx Signal
    Vanguard Developed Market Index Inv
    Vanguard Target Retirement Inv
    Vanguard Target Retirement 2010 inv
    Vanguard Target Retirement 2020 inv
    Vanguard Target Retirement 2030 inv
    Vanguard Target Retirement 2040 inv
    Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 inv

    Does it make sense for me to put everything into Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 inv so I get as much of VTSAX as I can? What does “Signal” mean? Any onsite would be great appreciated. Thanks for the great blog!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome OX…

      ..glad you found your way here. Hopefully this blog can help unravel the “mysterious world of investing.” I know it seems that way at first, but with a little education and time I think you’ll find what you really need to know is the soul of simplicity.

      Signal Shares is simply Vanguard’s name for the portfolios they offer to institutions like your 401k. So the portfolio in Vanguard 500 Index Signal is precisely the same as that of the investor shares version VFINX or VFIAX the Admiral shares version.

      If you want to duplicate VTSAX with the options you have:

      70% Vanguard 500 Index Signal
      30% Vanguard Extended Market idx Signal

      will pretty much get you there. Of course you’ll have to rebalance about once a year to stay on track.

      You don’t mention your age, but assuming you are young, Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 is a fine option too. It will give you a bit of bonds to smooth the ride and rebalance automatically for you.

      Thanks for the kind words and for passing the blog on to your family and friends. Much appreciated!

      • OrionX says

        Thanks for the great information and quick response!  I’m passing this information on to several people I work with.
        We all want that F-you money.

        I’m 35, my personal goal is to retire early taking advantage of the “Roth Conversion Ladder” the Made Fientist outlines in his article “Traditional IRA vs. Roth IRA.
        Great interview too by the way (

        Would the 70% 30% mix you recommend be a more aggressive approach were the Targeted Retirement 2050 is more conservative? Do either make more sense for someone aiming for early retirement?

        Thanks again!

        • jlcollinsnh says

          My pleasure OX…

          …Having F-you money is a wonderful thing! 🙂

          The Mad Fientist is brilliant and well worth reading. He even has a guest post here that made it into my Stock Series:

          That’s about the highest praise I can offer!

          Both the 70%/30% funds and Targeted Retirement 2050 are aggressive and well suited for wealth building to early retirement. The former is all stocks and therefore a bit more aggressive.

          Remember, with either it will be a wild ride!

          Glad you liked the interview! It was fun to do.

          • Jack Lightning says


            I’m a friend and co-worker of OrionX. He turned me on to your website and got my gears turning in terms of smarter investment strategy. Thanks for the stimulating and helpful information.

            My question is similar to the ones OrionX has outlined above. I am 33 years old and have the same 401K portfolio options listed in the initial question. I’ve been considering a hybrid approach using information from various sources. I’m not necessarily aiming to retire early, although I would like my 401K to perform well while keeping fees to a minimum.

            Below is the asset allocation approach I’ve been considering.

            Vanguard 500 Index Signal – 50%
            Vanguard Extended Market Index Signal – 20%
            Vanguard Developed Markets Index Inv. – 20%
            Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Signal – 10%

            If you have any feedback regarding this approach, I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks!

          • jlcollinsnh says

            Welcome Jack…

            ..good to have you here! Any friend of OX and all that… 😉

            Basically, you have created your own Target Retirement fund with those four. As long as you rebalance each year, it is a great approach. I like it.

            With the first two you have mostly duplicated VTSAX. You also have 20% international and, while I strictly don’t see the need for that, it certainly is not a bad choice.

            The 10% bonds will give you some “dry powder” during market drops that will help when you rebalance.

            Keep in mind, rebalancing can be tough. Basically it entails selling your winners to buy your losers. Hard to do psychologically. But very important for that mix to work for you long-term.

            Good luck!

  37. Jack Lighning says

    Thanks for the reassurance and for pointing me back to the post on International Stocks. The overall picture is starting to become more clear. I’ll be sure to pass your stock series on to friends as they become more interested in developing a degree of control over their financial futures.

  38. LW says

    Thank you for this great site and a REAL PERSON’s perspective. We have rolled over everything we could to Vanguard and maintain our Roth IRA there too, but sadly half our retirement has to remain with others. I get nothing close to the same service with Fidelity or TIAA CREF. Please note that Vanguard customers can have their entire portfolio (Vanguard and everything else) analyzed for about $250. My consultant was fantastic and both educated me as well as put me on a plan and strategy that we feel comfortable with and we understand.

    FYI, we have a similar mix with VTSAX at about 50%. However, we have a bit of international stocks with the similar indexed stock fund VTIAX. One question please – do you feel the need to move some of your bonds to the short term bond fund? Thank you again for a wonderful blog.

  39. Ali Clark says

    Newbie here! Trying to make sense of all this.

    I’m looking for your Vanguard recommendations in my freshly started 401K.
    Are these index funds?

    Vanguard LifeStrategy® Conservative Growth 0.70%
    Vanguard LifeStrategy® Moderate Growth 0.70%
    Vanguard LifeStrategy® Growth 0.70%
    LVIP Vanguard International Equity ETF 1.20%

    What about this guy?
    LVIP SSgA S&P 500 Index 0.54%

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Ali…

      Always nice to have another newbie join in!

      Only the last one is an index fund. However, the first three are each what are known as a “fund of funds.” That is, they are made up of other funds and each of these are made up of index funds.

      The idea is that you get diversification and automatic rebalancing, but the ER (expense ratio) is a bit higher.

      For instance, Vanguard LifeStrategy® Growth — — is made up of:

      Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Investor Shares 56.1%
      Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Investor Shares 24.1%
      Vanguard Total Bond Market II Index Fund Investor Shares† 15.9%
      Vanguard Total International Bond Index Fund 3.9%

      Basically an 80/20 stock/bond split using a nice selection of funds.

      Were I young and planning a few more years of work, that’s the one that would be my choice.

  40. mdFehrle says

    Suggestion for moving approximately $330k from 401k to Vanguard IRA, due to termination of employment. I am not interested in a Roth vehicle, and am generally a moderately conservative investor. Any direction will be greatly appreciated.

  41. Ed says


    Much thanks for sharing your knowledge & experience. I am starting late at 57 years old, but hope to retire (earlier than I had ever thought) in 5 years, due to changes made as a result of your blog & MMM’s.

    Just had a couple of questions. My 403 B (current balance = $59,000) has the following Vanguard choices -VIFSX, VTMGX, VERSX, VIGSX, VMISX, VASVX & VBSSX. I had luckily chosen VIFSX a few years back when the other fund I was in closed.

    Whoops..I see another similar post above. Will follow that advice.

    Also, from silly decisions made pre-JLC, I have approximately $6000 of miscellaneous stocks sitting in 3 separate accounts (Scotttrade, Computershare & Sharebuilder). Would you recommend selling & transferring $$ to Vanguard?

    Just little background: I make $4800 gross/mo, and am now saving $1350/mo to the 403B as tax advantaged (pretty much have taxes close to zero). My only debt is $179,000 mortgage (house worth aprx $280k). My mortgage pmt. is $1200 PITI, and my other monthly expenses are about another $900, so its about exactly my take home pay ($2100). I have a few places where I can still cut, but being married to someone who, to put it delicately, is not saver, makes things a bit difficult. I am fortunate to have a pension that would just about cover monthly expenses, assuming I retire in 5 years. The plan is to let the 403b keep building (no more contributions after 62) for another 5 years or more. Any recommendations?

    Anyway, I am so happy do have found your site & MMM,s as I had basically assumed I would have to keep working into my late 60’s or even later. Your stock series is so thorough, yet so easy to understand, that it has inspired me to study even more. Thanks for all your efforts…you are appreciated more than you know.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Ed….

      …and thanks for your very kind words. They are very much appreciated.

      Sounds like you’re are doing very well in short order. Kudos!

      Like you I used to fool around with individual stocks and what to do with them now depends on how you feel about them. If you don’t hate them and especially if you have them in taxable accounts with some pending capital gains, I’d just hold them. Then, when you retire, liquidate them as needed to cover your expenses in the first few months/years. That’s what I did anyway.

      As for you 403b, VIFSX is a fine, low cost choice. Just keep maximizing your contributions as long as you can. Once you leave your employer you might consider rolling it over into an IRA holding VTSAX. Once there you might consider slowly rolling it into a ROTH for the long term tax advantages those offer. Just be careful not to convert too much at once which would push you into a higher tax bracket.

      Once you reach age 70 you’ll be required to make mandatory minimum withdrawals from your tax advantaged accounts — except ROTHs.

      Yeah. I wish I had discovered MMM years ago too! 🙂

      Good luck!

  42. Rick says

    I haven’t done any investing other than my TSP and Roth TSP at work (gov’t). Your series has been a great crash course for me and I’m ready to make a move in this portion of my financial life. I’m starting this from scratch so I don’t have the 10K or the 3K for Admiral or Investor shares.. I’ve seen a few questions and starting off with the ETF.. Would you recommend starting right now with the ETF or saving 3k as fast as possible in order to get started in Investor shares? Once at 3k do you then recommend going to investor shares?

    Thanks in advance!!


  43. sam says

    Hey Jim,

    My 401(k) offers the opportunity to invest in VTSSX, the signal version of what the Total Market Index fund is. Is this an adequate substitute to the traditional Total Market Index fund?

    I’m 25 so I’m not particularly worried about replicating the bond portion of your basket just yet.


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Sam…

      Yep, VTSSX and VTSAX hold exactly the same portfolio: The Total Stock Market Index. Ever the same low .05% ER.

      You are fortunate that your 401k offers it.

      • Sam says

        Thanks Jim! Thats awesome. Soon after posting my comment, I read somewhere else that they are transitioning all of their signal funds into Admiral shares as of Oct ’14. Great to be able to invest in it.

        On an aside, I wanted to give a HUGE thank you for all the resources and advice you’ve provided here on this site. I am incredibly appreciative to have stumbled across all of this, especially at a younger age. I have my whole life in front of me and the opportunity to make the most of it has been vastly helped by what you’ve posted here!


        • jlcollinsnh says

          Thanks for the very kind words, Sam…

          …and congrats on taking advantage of an early start. Kudos!

  44. Reid says


    Prior to today my company only had one index option in our 401k. Luckily it was a not half-bad VIFSX. I have been rolling 100% investment in this for about 1 year. Guess who talked me into that? Thanks by-the-way.

    I was excited to see that we are opening up a host of new Vanguard options in the 401k this August:


    My VIFSX will be rolled over into VFIAX. I can’t seem to find out how the Admiral Share version differs from the Signal Share. Appears to simply be a change in name. Not my real question though, should I keep going with the Vanguard 500 or switch to one of my the newly added funds, specifically: VTIAX? I don’t see a real benefit and the expense ratio is more than double. Gut tells me that VFIAX is my new horse. Am I thinking correctly?

    Thank you sir,


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Reid…

      VIFSX and VFIAX are both S&P 500 index funds holding exactly the same portfolio. Even the .05 ERs are the same. As you suspect, simply a name change. Of the funds listed, VFIAX would be my choice.

      VTIAX is Vanguard’s Total International index fund, excluding the US market. If you want some international, this would be my choice. At .14% it is nearly 3x the ER, but still cheap for an international fund. All that said, I don’t personally feel the need for international for the reasons outlined here:

      So, in short, yes, I think your thinking is being done correctly. 🙂

      • Reid says

        Thanks Jim. You have helped redirect and clarify my thinking immeasurably over the last year. I cannot thank you enough.

  45. Jason says

    Hi Jim,

    First – many, many thanks for your very awesome stock series (and entire blog for that matter) It’s been a great guide. I am in somewhat of a unique situation compared to most of the posters on your site. First I am Canadian and second I live in Turkey. I have recently opened a TD Ameritrade account as it is (from my research) the only way for me to invest in the US market from over here. With TD Ameritrade I have the option to buy VTI commission free (they have BND comm free as well) I could also buy VTSAX but I would have to pay a 50 dollar fee each time I make a purchase. From my understanding I would be better off with commission free VTI and BND ETF’s than their mutual fund twins correct? Again thanks for much for all your knowledge sharing and experiences.



    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Jason…

      and thanks for the kind words.

      VTI and VTSAX are both Vanguard total stock market index funds and they hold exactly the same portfolio. So if you can acquire VTI less expensively that is absolutely what you want to do.

      How do you like living in Turkey? We’ve never visited but have heard great things. It is high on our list.

      • Jason says

        Hi Jim,

        Thanks for replying. I just bought my first 48 shares in VTI… and I’m already down 15 bucks (what!?! – kidding!)

        Turkey is really great. I live in Ankara which is not exactly the nicest part of Turkey but I’m here working so not much choice in the matter. Whenever we get a chance we try to escape the city and see the rest of the country. I think I would have to live here another 10 years to see every little historical town (seems like every little town here has some kind of ancient ruin or castle etc to see) Anyways long story short I highly recommend visiting. If Turkey does ever make it to the top of your list I am happy to go into more detail on when and where to visit (it’s the very least I can do)

        Also if it’s OK – a quick plug for TD Ameritrade – if there are any overseas expats who want to self manage their investments and are interested in the US market TD Ameritrade is great. They are the only company that I could get to open an account while being a non-resident. I contacted quite a few other brokerages in both the US and Canada and none were able to help me. I know they normally charge $9.99 per stock trade BUT they have a very nice list of 100+ commission free ETF’s and it includes quite a few Vanguard options. Not to mention their whole website interface is pretty fancy schmancy and has tons of free resources. There is a fair bit of paperwork to fill out and I did have to mail in my application but they were on top of it and it only took about 10 business days to get everything in order. (including the mailing part)

        Best Regards


        • Benedicte says

          Hi Jason and Jim

          What a great blog ! I also am a non US resident and have a TD Ameritrade account, which I transformed from a resident to a non resident when I had to move back home in France after my divorce. I am about to get a nice $ 150 K divorce settlement and was also looking at Vanguards ETFs . As non resident I have a 15% withholding on dividends but no tax on capital gains or interests… So I have been trying to figure where to put that money so as to minimize my taxes. My question is two fold :
          To Jason : How much dividends do you get from your VTI and how often do they come out .? I want to reinvest those dividends if and when I get them, but since I can afford admiral shares which have a lower ER than regular shares but are not commission free, I do not want to pay more in commissions than I save in ER !
          To Jim : because of the taxable dividends and the tax free Capital gains and interests, would there be a better ETF or fund that I should invest into ? I was thinking growth index… I have some more money that I need to invest in Europe too, that will take care of diversification, so I don’t need to be diversified in my US portfolio.
          Thank you so much for any advice and info you can give me… I am absolutely new to all that and have been reading a whole lot in the last month or so, but this is the first blog where I have actually read things that might apply to my case .

          • Jason says

            Hi Benedicte

            I just wanted to warn you about purchasing US based stocks/etfs/mutual funds. IF you are a non-resident/non-citizen there is an estate tax that you could be liable to pay should anything unfortunate befall you while abroad. Basically if you were to pass away and you are holding any amount of US based equities valued over $60,000USD the Fed will levy a tax against the amount above the $60K.(for American citizens/residents and Canadian residents it is $5 million) I am not sure of the exact percentage but believe it’s about 30%. No need to panic though. There are ways to still invest in VTI or VTSAX without putting yourself in the crosshairs of US estate tax. A man named Andrew Hallam wrote a book called The Global Expatriates Guide to Investing which details the workaround. Essentially you can open a trading account with someone like TD International (based in Luxemburg I think) and purchase VTI under the it’s European/Canadian/Australian/etc counterpart – I think the Canadian version of VTI is VUN. The big drawback to this… you would have to change your USD to whichever stock exchange you decide to work with (I think TD International gives you access to all the major global exchanges) and the MERs are higher as well. I know it’s not the most simple or appealing way of investing in the US market but it is the only way that I know of to avoid this estate tax. France could possibly have a tax treaty with the US like Canada does that increases this amount to $5 million and definitely something to look into. I myself decided to throw caution to the wind and continue to own VTI as I will be back in Canada within this year but if you are planning to live outside of the US for an extended duration you might want to take all of this into consideration. Regards. Jason.

        • jlcollinsnh says

          Hi Benedicte…

          VTI pays a dividend of ~1.71% at the moment. It has an ER of .05%.

          VUG, growth stocks, pays ~1.3% with an ER of .09%
          VB, small cap, pays ~1.37% with an ER of .09%

          All pay out quarterly.

          Personally, I’d stick with VTI for the lower cost and broader coverage. But VUG or VB would be a bit more tax efficient for you.

          Good luck in your new adventures!

          • Benedicte says

            Thanks you so much for such a prompt answer !
            I have been reading through the whole stock serie all weekend , still not quite done yet, but learning a whole lot. I think I am going to go your way and forget about tax optimization, in the grand scheme of things, 15% on dividends only is not that outrageous… Thinking about VTSAX $130 000 and VGSLX a for $20 000, just because I want to see how they both compare 🙂
            Now if only it could be that easy with the rest of my investment in €…

        • Benedicte says

          Hi Jason,

          Somehow, I can’t answer to your last post ( I think that thread is to long…and becoming too narrow to read).
          Thank you for the warning.
          I am aware of the inheritance tax problem that I have ( or rather my two kids have !) now that I gave back my greencard. I have not found a way around it yet. My kids are Amercican and French. The French system is not much better ( slightly more than 150 000 € per child tax free and then I think it’s 20% tax, if I am not mistaken). Since my “fortune” in euros outside of the US is more important than those $150 000 I still have in the US, I am trying to focus on that for now. The way around this one is putting that money in a life insurance ( complicated systeme that allows you to pick and choose some of your investments) which makes it basically tax free at death for my heirs.
          I am planning to chose a life insurance in Luxembourg because they are are way more flexible than the French in what you can invest in. But the system does not come cheap. Although I would pick my investment ( the ones I have been offered so far are really expensive funds, like 1.5 to 3% TER) , they still take .6 or .7% fees per year just to keep my money, plus .5% if I rebalance my portfolio on the amount I sell/buy…
          The good news is, I now live in St Barth, of which I will be a resident after 5 years of living her (2018) . That pretty island is French but has its own tax code and no income or inheritance tax for residents. So for now I am stuck with that LI system but I will review all that in 3 years and if by then I stll want to move back to the US when I retire, then I will get rid of the LI and consider buying directly from Vanguard. On the other hand, If I have decided that I want to move back to France then I will be stuck in that life insurance system… And pay fees that make me sick for the rest of my life 🙂
          I realize that I also need to check on what tax Oncle Sam will levy on my Kids French inheritance… I plan to go ask a question to the nice attorney that Jim invited to post on this subject of estate planning on soon !
          What a great blog this is ! 🙂
          Thanks again for your answer Jason !


  46. Dan says

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for sharing all this great information, so helpful 🙂

    Also, I’m a UK investor and don’t have access to the index funds listed in this article (via my ISA brokerage account).

    Could I replicate the total stock market index funds using the 3 Vanguard ETFs below instead?

    VUSA (S&P 500 index)
    VWRL (FTSE All-World Index)
    VANGRSA (Global Bond index)

    Regarding allocation, I’m 40 years old and was considering an allocation of 30% (VUSA), 30% (VWRL) and 40% (VANGRSA), does that sound ok?

    Best Regards,

  47. Dan says

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks so much for sharing all this great information, really helpful 🙂

    I’m a UK investor and unfortunately don’t have access to the index funds mentioned in your article (via my ISA brokerage account).

    Could I replicate these total stock market index funds using the 3 ETFs below?

    VUSA (S&P 500 Index ETF)
    VWRL (FTSE All-World Index ETF)
    VGOV (UK Government Bond ETF)

    I’m 40 years old and thinking of the following allocations:

    30% (VUSA)
    30% (VWRL)
    40% (VGOV)

    Does that sound ok?

    Best Regards,

    • The Escape Artist says


      I am also a UK based investor. Be aware that what you suggest contains duplication of US exposure. The Vanguard World ETF (VWRL) is approx. 50% invested in the US market. So why do you need an S&P500 tracker as well? If you want a 60% equities : 40% bonds portfolio, why not just keep things nice and simple and go with:

      60% VWRL
      40% VGOV

      • Dan says

        Thanks for your feedback (TheEA and Jim), I will take your advice and go for a less conservative portfolio of 80% VWRL and 20% VGOV 🙂

        Best Regards,

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Dan…

      While I’m unfamiliar with the specific funds you mention, I agree with TheEA: If VWRL holds 50% in the US market you don’t need VUSA. Unless, of course, you are seeking to overweight your US allocation.

      My only other thought is that a 50/40 stock/bond allocation is very conservative for a 40 year old guy. At least from my view.

      It is fine if you are sure that’s what you want: Lower growth in exchange for lower volatility.

  48. John says


    I love your site and all of your helpful advice. It has made me an indexer…and no longer a stock picker.

    Right now I have my investments as follows:

    Taxable: 100% VTI (26k)
    Roth IRA: 100% VTI (36k)
    401k: 100% S&P 500 fund (143k)

    Since my 401k does not have a total market fund, and it’s Mid/Small Cap fund has an atrocious expense ratio of 1.7%, would you recommend me swapping my VTI total market shares to VXF–the extended market fund–to a ratio of 80/20 S&P500 and Extended Market to approximate the total market over my entire portfolio? If I were to convert my entire Roth IRA to VXF it would balance out the 401k S&P funds and I would incur no tax consequences. Do you think it is worth it or is it not worth the bother? I would appreciate your insight!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Not worth the bother, John.

      I prefer the Total because it is, well, Total. But I’d be perfectly comfortable holding the S&P 500 too. (See Addendum I above)

      Jack Bogle holds the S&P 500 index fund, likely because that’s what he created first.

      Over the long term the difference between the Total and S&P 500 funds is likely to be a rounding error.

      I’d keep exactly what you have. And count your blessings you have the S&P 500 Index fund in your 401K. 🙂

  49. Damien says

    G’day Jim!

    I’m an Australian investor and I’ve recently been reevaluating my current strategy. I started out attempting to pick the typical (Australian) bluechip stocks. So far, i’ve managed to break even – mostly through sheer luck. But i quite like the “set and forget” mentality of index-funds and i think i’ve managed to come up with a simple strategy that may suit Australian Investors.

    50% Vanguard Australian Shares Index ETF (VAS) – 0.15%
    25% Vanguard US Total Market Shares Index ETF (VTS) – 0.05%
    25% Vanguard All-World ex-US Shares Index ETF (VEU) – 0.15%

    Weighted-ER = 0.125%

    1.) ETF’s seem to be the best (if not, the only) way for Aussies to get access to cheap Vanguard index funds. This does add some brokerage costs, but purchasing less often will limit the impact of these costs.

    2.) Although the Australian market only makes up roughly 2% of the global market, Australians will get significant benefits from the dividend imputation (known locally as “franking”) credits, as some have mentioned previously. Hence, 50% invested locally.

    3.) Vanguard Australia have just started a new International ETF (VGS – 0.18%) which includes the US. An investor COULD potentially invest in this instead of VTS + VEU. However, I like having one investment in the US separately as this allows some room to capitilise on US market movements – as well as having lower fees.

    4.) VAS could potentially be combined with Vanguard High Yield Australian Shares (VHY – 0.25%) for extra dividends. VHY currently yields 5.9% and VAS, 4.5%. And over the last 3 years VHY has been active, it has returned 16.8%pa whilst VAS has returned 13.2%. However, i still prefer just VAS as it has lower fees and purchasing only one ETF means less brokerage costs.

    5.) I have designed this allocation as a 30-year old investor with a view to investing for the next 60 years. If i was to pass this on to my parents, i would probably only change to 40% VAS, 20% VTS, 20% VEU and add 20% in Vanguard Australian Government Bond Index ETF (VGB – 0.20%). Although, my parents are only just in their 50’s, so i’d push for them to go 100% stocks for the better returns.

    6.) Potentially, you could add Vanguard Australian Property Securities Index ETF (VAP – 0.25%), which invests in the major A-REITS in the ASX300. the majority of the companies it owns invest in commercial and retail property. Over the last 3 years it has returned 18.8%pa. I prefer my 100% stocks approach, for simplicity, if nothing else. And, also, having only been listed for 3 years now, it’s not a guarantee that VAP will continue to outperform stocks in the long term. (Not only that, but VAS owns all the stocks in the ASX300, which includes all the REITS owned under VAP anyway…)

    I could see some room to move here on the percentages. 60/20/20 would work. Perhaps 40/30/30. But i like the balance of 50% Australian stocks and 50% international.

    And that’s all there is to it. What do you think, Jim?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      G’day Damien!

      Here’s my take:

      1. Makes sense to me.

      2. My first reaction to your three funds was to suggest, since the Aussie market is only 2% of the world total, dropping VAS and going 50/50 in the other two. Holding 50% of your assets in 2% of the world seems very risky to me. But I am unfamiliar with the benefits to holding it you mention. If you say the benefits are generous enough to outweigh the risks, I trust your judgment. But they would have to be very generous indeed before I’d do it.

      3. I agree that holding the two funds with the lower ER is best. But when you say “this allows some room to capitalize on US market movements” I hear: market timing. And that, in my book, is a losers game.

      4. I agree. VHY holds high-dividend stocks which have been much in fashion of late. But fashions change.

      5. Mostly I agree, but I would suggest adding bonds has more to do with when they plan to retire than their age itself. Once retired, they lose the income flow that can take advantage of market plunges. But, even more important, is their comfort level with volatility.

      6. I agree with your thinking on this and would only add that REITS also go in and out of fashion.

      As for those last three allocation choices, it seems to me it all depends on just how juicy those benefits for holding Aussie shares are.

      Overall, you’ve put together a strong and simple plan. Well done!

      Hope this helps! Give a tip of your next Foster’s to me. 😉

      • Damien says

        Thanks for the feedback, Jim!

        I’ve done a little more research into the benefits of the Australian dividend imputation system – and it certainly can be quite significant. It does appear to be dependent on your level of income and, therefore, your tax bracket. For me, I think it is worth keeping a reasonable portion of my funds in an Australian ETF to gain a portion of these credits. But, for any other Aussies reading this, it is probably worth running this past your accountant first.

        Personally, I have revised my allocation slightly, to:

        30% – Vanguard Australian Shares (VAS) – 0.15%
        30% – Vanguard International Excl. US (VEU) – 0.15%
        40% – Vanguard Total US Market (VTS) – 0.05%

        This gives me a weighted expense ratio of 0.11% (slightly better than the previous allocation) and a 70/30 International/Australian split.

        For reference, I looked at a few Superannuation funds (which are the Australian equivalent of 401k accounts) and most of those keep an allocation of about 50/50.

        In regards to trying to “time the market”, I was referring, simply, to rebalancing the account back to the desired percentages on a yearly or quarterly basis and taking advantage of weak/strong markets in that way. That is the extent of my attempts at “market timing”.

        Looks like we’re on the same page, otherwise! It’s always nice to get a bit of positive feedback on ideas.

        Cheers Jim! Oh, and I might just skip the Fosters and down a nice IPA or Red Ale for you instead! Craft beers are all the rage in Australia at the moment. Most (good) liquor stores in Australia don’t even SELL Fosters! 🙂

        p.s.This is a great link for any Australians looking at International ETFs.

        • ChrisH says

          Thanks Damien. I’ve been searching for some Aussie focused ideas and comments. I’m a Brit currently living in Melbourne, and have been struggling with the whole index fund and ETF ‘thing’ for a while now.

          I’m wary of so-called financial advisors here because they always seem to focus on active fund (typically specialist ones) and property.

          Great post and some great links that I’m going to follow up on.

        • woks says

          Hi Damien

          Thanks for your posts. It gives a good idea of how an aussie investor should allocate his investments.

          I am only starting out on this index fund investment journey and was wondering how are you going with your investments now that it has been a few years since your comment ? the reason I am asking is I like the your plan most probably will follow it in someway but just wanted to check if everything seems to be working so far or would you change things with the hindsight.


          • Damien says

            Hi woks!

            Yes, I am still following the plan outlined above. The only thing I would add is that having a nice cash buffer is very important. The allocation is, traditionally, very high-risk. But, as long as you have the cash to ride out any downturn and not panic-sell, you’ll be right as rain.

            I would also add that i think VGAD (international – hedged) and VGS (international – unhedged) are both good options to substitute for the VTS/VEU portion. VGAD and VGS are both Australian domeciled. So, there is no need to fill out a W8-BEN form as you would with VTS/VEU. But, the management fees are slightly higher. So, I continue with my VTS/VEU allocation for the moment.

            For what it’s worth, my VAS/VEU/VTS allocation now makes up about 40% of my total portfolio (excluding cash). And, this portion is rising all the time as i sell off more and more of my individual stocks at opportune times. I also hold about 25% of my portfolio in the Australian Listed Investment companies (LIC’s) AFIC and ARGO. They have similarly low fees to VAS. And i still often recommend these to people just starting out in stocks. But, i rarely add to my own holdings any more. I prefer to invest in my VAS/VTS/VEU portfolio. The simplicity of this strategy + the benefits of rebalancing the ETF’s back to the original percentages (ie, buying more of the cheaper ETF’s and less of the more expensive) wins out.

            One other thing: the more index funds i hold, the less often I check the share market for price movements. When i held mostly individual stocks, i would be checking several times a week. The (relatively) stress-free nature of this investment strategy is a definite plus!


          • woks says

            Nice thanks. makes sense to have a cash buffer otherwise you are more inclined to take it out of the stocks when in need. I am definately planning on keep cash for emergency and other needs.

            Just had another question on which broker are using ? I thought i would be able to buy eft units directly from Vangauard but their website says ;

            “Investors wishing to acquire Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) can only acquire them through the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) via a stockbroker or financial adviser authorised to trade ETFs. ETF units cannot not be acquired directly from Vanguard”

            So far i have tried commsec but their brokerage fee is rather high , I was getting myself familiar with the website so tried to place an initial order for 500$ worth of units in VAS and they want to charge me 19.95$ as brokerage fee which is their minimum for orders upto 10,000$.

            What do you use for buying units in EFTs ? any cheap brokers which do not cost as much.

            p.s thanks for all the help and answering my questions 🙂

        • Larry says

          Hi Damien,

          Thanks for your posts. It gives a good idea of how an aussie investor should allocate his investments.

          I am reading up on this investment stuff from an Aussie perspective.

          I just wanted to check if everything seems to be working so far or would you change things with the hindsight.



        • Achal says

          Hi Damien and other Aussie mates,
          I guess I am late to the party but better late that never hey!
          Thank you so very much Mr. Collins for your effort bringing all these investment information & strategies together on this blog and connecting all the like minded people from all over the word.
          I live in Australia too and I am interested in walking this path where all the pioneer like Mr. Collins has already walked but my dilemma is what is the closest Vanguard Australia flavour to VTSAX/VBTLX? Damien has listed great break down and based on that information I’ve come up with following:
          (1) I would have majority of share of my portfolio (>85-90%) invested in VGS as this is to closet we can get in Australia to VTSAX and the mgt fees being 0.18 %. It tracks 1500 companies of 23 developed economies around the world ex Australia and majority of these 1500 companies are US based anyway. (I know I will miss out buying ~ 4000 companies if I would have choice to pick VTSAX)
          (2) The rest is in VAS with 0.10% of Mgt fees, combined these two cover for companies from developed economies of the world.
          I am 44 now and I am looking for at least 20+ years time horizon before I retire. With US based investors who have advantage of 401k, 403b and IRA & roth bucket accounts etc, I am not aware of any of such accounts in existence here in Australia except if you create your own Self Managed Super Fund (SMSF) and invest via SMSF to take the full advantage of tax. (This is what I think if anyone knows if it does exits for us here in Aus happy to hear about it).
          A big shout out to Mr Collins for his wonderful book which I’ve already shared across all my family and friends who I really care about. we’re forever in you debt. Thank you!
          Damien, I know your last post is quite few years old but if you any of people from Australia who commented and placed this strategy or any strategy in place I would love and really appreciate if you could reply and share your view on this.
          Thanking you in advance!

      • ChrisH says

        I forgot to ask this in my last comment… but are there any thoughts or advice regarding inheritance tax with US-stocks?

        I’ve been reading about new(ish) laws that came into effect earlier this year (2015) regarding people being liable for tax even if they are not US-citizens or reside in the US.

        For me, being able to invest in the largest stock-market is preferable but not if I or my partner get stung for tax at some point in the future.

  50. Erik says

    Dear Mr. Collins,

    My question needs a bit of background, sorry. I just moved to Korea to teach English, and I’m looking for an apartment. The apartments require a $5000 (US equivalent) as a deposit. Now, my company is willing to front that money. However if I put down the deposit, they’ll pay me $150 (US) a month, which in a year ($1800) is way more than the 6% I’ll get if I keep that money in my Vanguard account.

    Unfortunately, I only have about 13,00o in my account, so taking the 5k out will downgrade my account from Admiral Shares to Investor Shares.
    How will this affect me?

    I know they’ll take .17% instead of .05%, but isn’t it still worth it?
    And if I put enough money in over time to bump me back into the Admiral Shares category, is that transition easy? Will I have a problem qualifying?


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Eric…

      Congratulations on your new adventure in Korea!

      You are correct in that pulling the $5000 from VTSAX will drop you below the 10k minimum for Admiral Shares status and your account will revert to the Investor Shares version VTSMX. You are also correct that this means your ER will rise to .17%.

      But this is the only change. The portfolios are exactly the same.

      Once your balance again exceeds 10k, your account will revert back to VTSAX and its lower ER. Vanguard should do this automatically, but it is worth keeping an eye on and reminding them if needed. But both transitions should be seamless.

      Your plan is a good one, as the $1800 represents a very handsome return of ~36%. It’s not often you get to lock in such a return.

      Of course, you’ll also want to closely consider how secure your $5000 deposit is and how sure you can be of its full return before accepting the deal.

      The only thing I would correct is your assumption that VTSAX/VTSMX will return 6%. It’s return in any given year could be just about anything and is actually very unlikely to be exactly 6%. It could be considerably more, or considerably less — including the possibility of a loss.

      Good luck and have fun!

  51. Saff says

    Thank you so very much for this blog. I’m very new to this community and am ecstatic to have finally found you guys. More like… I’ve been of the mindset or “in the community,” if you will for a long time, but I’m just now discovering that I have neighbors. I wore weary of “conventional financial wisdom” many years ago. Now that I’m here, I have a question for you regarding my asset allocation.

    I’m ready to restructure, and I’m sold on the idea of the 75/25% split of investments between VTSAX and VBTLX. However, neither is offered in my 401k plan (at least not without going through the “BrokerageLink” or “Mutual Fund Window” as some 401k plans call it and incurring extra fees for doing so). I was hoping to find them or something similar, especially since there are several Vanguard funds available within the plan.

    I have a couple of funds that I am leaning towards to try to capture that 75/25 stock/bond portfolio in my 401k given the absence of VTSAX and VBTLX as options. They are:

    75% VINIX – Vanguard Institutional Index Fund Institutional Shares (Exp Ratio .04%)
    25% FXSTX – Spartan® U.S. Bond Index Fund – Institutional Class (Exp Ratio .07%)

    I’d like to get your feedback on this choice framed with other options available to me in the same 401k plan. I won’t list all of the options, but for stocks, I at least want to mention the Vanguard funds (purposely excluding the target date funds) and the only non-Vanguard fund that is an index fund.

    VIGAX – Vanguard Growth Index Fund Admiral Shares (Exp Ratio .09%)
    VINIX – Vanguard Institutional Index Fund Institutional Shares (Exp Ratio .04%)
    VEIRX – Vanguard Equity-Income Fund Admiral Shares (Exp Ratio .2%)
    VEXAX – Vanguard Extended Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (Exp Ratio .1%)
    VSMAX – Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (Exp Ratio .09%)
    VTSNX – Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Institutional Shares (Exp Ratio .12%)

    Of the non-Vanguard stock offerings in my 401k plan, only one is an index fund:
    FUSVX – Spartan® 500 Index Fund – Fidelity Advantage Class (Exp Ratio .06%)

    VINIX seemed to be the most logical choice for the 75% stock portion since it is designed to track the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and has the lowest expense ratio, but I’d love to hear your take on it.

    For the 25% bond portion, I’m leaning heavily toward the FXSTX bond index fund (likened to Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index), but here are all of the Bond/Managed Income products offered in my 401k plan:

    FXSTX – Spartan® U.S. Bond Index Fund – Institutional Class (Exp Ratio .07%)
    PRRIX – PIMCO Real Return Fund Institutional Class (Exp Ratio .46%)
    PTTRX – PIMCO Total Return Fund Institutional Class (Exp Ratio .46%)
    PTRQX – Prudential Total Return Bond Fund Class Q (Exp Ratio .46-.51%)
    Stable Value – Managed Income Portfolio II Class 2 (Exp Ratio .49%)
    Stable Value – Morley Stable Value Fund (Exp Ratio .57%)

    Obviously this new mix would be for contributions going forward, but would you also suggest rebalancing my current portfolio to mirror this?

    One last question/scenario for you…
    In addition to the above described current employer situation, I have a 401k with a previous employer. In my old employer’s 401k plan, I found a “Total Stock Market Index Fund” (Exp Ratio .03%) that attempts to match the investment results of the Dow Jones U.S. Total Stock Market Index, which covers all regularly traded U.S. stocks. I also found a “Total Bond Market Fund” (Exp Ratio .02%) that seeks to track the investment performance of the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index. I’m no longer contributing to this 401k plan since I no longer work there, but I’m thinking I should rebalance this portfolio to incorporate the 75/25 stock/bond index fund philosophy. Is there any guidance on how/when/how fast/all at once/etc? The thought of rebalancing has always made me nervous, so historically I’ve just reallocated my future contributions rather than rebalancing existing holdings. It’s time for me to do better though, so I’d appreciate any feedback. It’s been 5+ years since I’ve worked for this employer, so there shouldn’t be any penalties for selling anything in this portfolio. After terminating employment, I never rolled over the 401k because the fees in the old employer’s plan were cheaper when compared to the new employer and an IRA.

    I thank you for your time and look forward to your response. (My apologies for such a verbose comment/question/post…)

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Saff…

      I’m glad you found your way here.

      I confess, I groaned a bit when I saw the length of your comment. Most often this indicates a lot of random questions surrounded by fuzzy writing. But not in your case.

      In fact the very opposite: Clear, focused and logically presented.

      Well done! and in the process you’ve pretty much answered your own question.

      With VINIX and FXSTX, of the funds available to you, you’ve zeroed in on the best proxies for VTSAX and VBTLX. As you note, VINIX tracks the S&P 500 rather than the total market but the truth is over time the performance will be quite close and it’s a coin flip as to which might do ever so slightly better. They are what I’d use.

      As for your old 401K, with total stock and total bond funds at those ERs I’d stay right there. Ordinarily, I advise rolling into a IRA with better fund choices as the choices in many 401K plans is wretched. But you’d be hard pressed to do better than those.

      Since these funds are in a tax-adnvataged account, you can freely rebalance without tax consequences. If 75/25 is the right allocation for you, I see no reason not to rebalance to it immediately. Both in this 401k and across your portfolio.

      In fact, when thinking about your allocation, it is best to consider all your assets as a whole. With that in mind, here’s an idea.

      Why not concentrate all, or most, of your bond holdings into the Total Bond Fund in the old 401k with its ultra low .02 ER, rather than the more expensive (.07%) FXFTX?

      This would mean holding more stocks in VINIX. This also has a higher ER at .04% than the old 401K Total Stock Fund at .03%, but the gap is smaller.

      Hope this helps!

  52. Chris says

    Like so many others, thank you for this excellent resource. Also, like many others, I’m relatively knew to this. I’ve never been very active in managing my portfolio. I mostly invest in my 401k and let them allocate the money. After reading several of your post, I began looking at my allocation and the ER. Needless to say, most of my money is in very expensive funds. I have two Vanguard options, VIIX and VSCPX with .02 and .06 ER respectively. I don’t have any bond options with a low ER. The lowest is .42.

    Should I allocate all of my money to the two Vanguard funds and find other bond funds to invest in outside my 401k or go ahead and allocate some even though the expense is high? Also, I already have several thousand dollars in the high expense funds, should I transfer that money to the Vanguard funds or leave where they are?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Chris,

      First, are you sure VIIX – – is one of the options? This is a very agressive and specualtive fund and one I’d definitely avoid. Also not Vanguard.

      My guess is you meant VINIX – If so, this is an S&P 500 index fund and an excellent choice.

      VSCPX – – is a small cap index fund. If you add it to holding VINIX you can come close to duplicating VTSAX, the total stock market index fund. To do so you’d go ~80/20 VINIX/VSCPX. But I don’t think I’d bother. VINIX will perform very closely to VTSAX over the years and with lower cost than holding both.

      If your personal allocation needs require bonds, then bite the bullet and buy the broadest based index bond fund offered in the 401k. For more on selecting your allocation:

      For tax efficiency reasons I would only buy bond funds outside your 401k if you have an IRA to hold them in.

      Absolutely you should switch out of those high cost funds ASAP. No sense paying for them a moment longer. Since you will be switching within your 401k it should be easy and there will be no tax consequences.

      Hope this helps.

      • Chris says

        Wow, thanks for the quick response.

        Indeed, it was a typo, the actual fund is VIIIX. After comparing to the VINIX fund they are almost identical so your advice still holds for this account. I’ve decided to go ahead and allocate 100% to this fund. I’ve also gone ahead and transferred everything else. As you promised, it was extremely easy. Thanks again! I look forward to reading and learning more from your post!

        • jlcollinsnh says

          My pleasure, Chris…

          Your question rolled in at a good time.

          It must have been easy, you got it done instantly! 🙂

          Now all you have to do is keep adding money, stay the course and not get rattled when the market falls.

          When the day comes that you are sipping umbrella drinks on a tropical shore, send old jlcollinsnh a good thought. 😉

  53. Adam says

    Hi Jim,

    Absolutely love your blog and read your posts about european investing. I tell a lie, I have read most articles on your website, and I have passed a bunch of them on to friends and family. I started reading via MMM. I read Monevator as that seems to be the best UK version of you and MMM 🙂

    Anyway, my question:

    What is the difference between “Vanguard US Equity Index Acc” and VTSAX. To be clear I don’t have VTSAX available from the UK, but I do have the option of Vanguard US Equity Index Acc” as linked below:


    Many thanks
    Adam (from London, UK)

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Adam…

      Glad you like it.

      I can see why you are confused. The two links you provided describe this fund a bit differently. On one hand they refer to it as a large-cap index fund. This would imply that it tracks the S&P 500 like VFIAX.

      But one also says: “The Index is a market-capitalisation weighted index representing the U.S. stock market, offering broad exposure to large, mid, small, and micro-cap companies regularly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq over-the-counter market.”

      This suggests that it is a total stock market index fund very much like VTSAX.

      My guess is that it tracks an index between those two.

      In any event it looks like a fine alternative to VTSAX.

      Hope this helps.

      • Adam says

        Hi Jim,

        Your posts have motivated me to take the plunge and open a SIPP in the UK with the Vanguard Total Stock Market Equity Index (Acc). I can’t access the money in the SIPP until I am at least 55 years old (I am 31 now) giving it 24 years to do it’s thing.

        Only problem now, which is making me nervous, is that of currency risk. What is your feeling on the matter given my situation?

        I guess the only additional thing that might affect your opinion on it all is that my next move is to open an ISA with a more broad Vanguard LifeStrategy fund which will be left alone for at least 9 years, linked below with much more diversification but still plenty invested in the Total US stock market.,-prices–and–factsheets/search-results/v/vanguard-lifestrategy-80-equity-accumulation

        Many thanks

      • jlcollinsnh says

        Hi Adam…

        Well you are tying yourself to the dollar rather than the pound. Of course, that’s exactly what I’ve done too. The only difference is where we live.

        Both are “hard” currencies and it’s anybody’s guess as to which will prove stronger over time.

        My take is that both are only measuring sticks.

        What I own with VTSAX/total stock market index fund is an ownership in virtually every US based publicly traded company, each striving for success that will create wealth for their owners.

        Life Strategy is also a fine choice and I discuss those types of funds here:

  54. Adam says

    Both links I sent you were, I believe, are the same fund (even if their descriptions were slightly different).

    The performance of “Vanguard US Equity Index Acc” is very, VERY close to that of VTSAX which is why I asked the question.

    Thanks again. Looking forward to the next case study. 🙂

  55. ZKINGUK says

    I have a question, and am not sure that you still answer questions on this post but here it goes. I am currently invested in the Fidelity Freedom K 2055 target date fund. Now, this fund has a .66% fee, and after reading your stock market series I am pondering changing to a mix of the Spartan Index Funds that are available in my company’s 401k. My question is:

    Do I invest 100% in the Spartan 500 Index FXSIX? 80% in the Spartan 500 FXSIX and 20% in the US bond Index FXSTX? or 40% in Spartan 500 FXSIX 40% in an international Index either FSEVX or FSIVX and 20% in US bond FXSTX.

    I am just a bit overwhelmed with my options and was hoping to get some insight. Thanks, I really enjoy reading your blog.

  56. ferox says

    Dear Jim,

    I’m a Malaysian investor just about to get started with my wealth accumulation phase. Upon further research, it would seem the best route tax wise would be to invest in Irish-domiciled funds as an NRA (Non-resident Alien).

    The relevant fund choices are as follows:
    VWRD – FTSE All-World UCITS ETF – 0.25%
    VUSD – S&P 500 UCITS ETF – 0.07%

    Planning to go with 100% stocks based on simple path and willing to ride out the storms. However I do not know where I stand in regards to diversification out of US, being an International investor. My thinking is between the two funds above, the ER for the All-World is just too costly (3.6x more) and I should instead just go for the S&P500 index and be done with it.


  57. Julieta says

    Hola Jim,
    Thank you for your generosity of spirit. I’ve been reading your blog with much excitement and anticipation like I’ve never felt before regarding investing. I am in Mexico. How can I put all this good information to practice? Are there Vanguard products I can access?
    Muchas gracias,

  58. Jeremy says

    I have recently started a new job, and the employer is offering Lincoln Financial Group for their matched savings accounts. It does have Vanguard options but not VTSAX. It offers VIPIX, VINIX,VSCIX and VTSNX. After reading your article and being that I am 28 and can “weather the ups and downs” as you put it, I think my best option here is the VINIX. Fees are minimal at 0.04, and it’s comprised of 98.1% US stocks. What are your thoughts on this?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Jeremy…

      I agree. VINIX is Vanguard’s institutional S&P500 index fund. That’s the one I’d use.

      Over time, its performance will very closely track VTSAX.

  59. Caleb says

    I’m still reading through your stock series but decided to take a look at my 401k to see what indexes are available. The only options from Vanguard are the Vanguard Equity Income Fund VEIRX and the Vanguard Intermed. Term Treasury Fund VFIUX. Both of them by far offer the lowest expense ratios of the investments available at 0.20% and 0.10% respectively. The only other option in my 401k with an er that comes close is the American Funds American Balanced Fund RLBGX which comes in at 0.29%.

    So far I’ve just been using their free ProNvest tool to decide where to allocate my investments, but I’m considering switching to those 2 Vanguard funds with 80% in VEIRX and 20% in VFIUX. Do you think that would be a good choice for what’s available to me?

    I hadn’t really paid much attention to the expense ratios before and since there doesn’t appear to be a total market fund available even from the other options, I was thinking this would possibly be the best way to allocate my investments in my current 401k.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      It never ceases to amaze me what an odd selection of funds some 401K plans chose to offer.

      Since it appears you have no option for a total stock market or S&P 500 index fund, it looks like those are as good as it gets.

      Assuming an 80/20 stock/bond allocation fits your needs, 80% in VEIRX and 20% in VFIUX should work.

      Remember, you should consider your allocation across all your holdings. So depending on what else you have where and in what amounts, you might only need one of these funds.

      Good luck!

      • Caleb says

        Hi again,
        Thanks for the advice. A little more information about our situation. My wife and I are both 29. We have a combined gross income of about $88,000 currently and with our current career paths, that should be growing steadily and significantly over the next several years. We haven’t really been planning or saving a lot for retirement and really haven’t been good with our finances in general until the last couple years.

        We’ve built up a large amount of debt that currently totals about $285,000, which is mostly student loans and our mortgage, and a personal loan that is almost paid off. After we bought our first house last year, we decided to really try working on paying off our debt and have come up with a plan to do so that we have been following. In trying to take better control of our finances I came across your blog recently which I have been reading quite a bit.

        We have since decided that our goal is now to be financially independent no later than 50. Most of our excess income is going towards our debt at the moment, but once that is paid off it will be going towards investing towards our future through our retirement accounts and personal Vanguard accounts that we will be opening.

        I have about $17,500 in my 401k right now. As I said in my first post, they don’t offer any total market funds, however they do allow in-service withdrawals of any rolled over contributions, which is about $13,500 for me. My plan is to move that to a Vanguard IRA so that I can invest in the VTSAX total market fund. Once our debt is paid off, I’ll be maximizing my 401k contributions (currently I am just contributing their 6% match since we’re focusing on paying off debt right now) and IRA contributions for both of us, and anything extra will be going into the taxable Vanguard accounts. My wife’s retirement account is currently a pension plan, so it doesn’t give any investment options or allow us to change contribution amounts. Its payout is based more on how long you work.

        I mainly wanted to bring attention to the in service 401k rollover/withdrawal, since my employer’s plan doesn’t offer most of the Vanguard funds or any total market fund. Unfortunately, I can only move rolled over contributions from my previous employer, but I’ve read that some employer’s plans allow for in service withdrawals/rollovers of current contributions. You’d have to check your individual plan to see if they allow it.

        For now, I’m going to move what money I can into the Vanguard IRA and once I eventually leave my current employer, the rest will be rolled over as well. Also, since we’re very much in the growth stage of our wealth, I think we’re going to put all our investments in VTSAX and VEIRX for my 401k. When we get closer to FI, we might add bonds too, but most calculators/simulations I run show that we’ll most likely have better growth with an all stock fund for now. Thanks again for the advice!

  60. Stefan says

    Hi Jim,

    First of all: thanks for writing the stock series. They’re really helpfull for investing newbies like me! 🙂

    I’ve read the whole series (and some books) and I’m ready to start investing, but there’s something I’m not sure about. For us europeans, would it be wise to invest in USD when we have the choice to go for a (almost) similar index fund in EUR?

    I’m asking because I have found a way to invest in Vanguard funds (I’m from Belgium so there aren’t a lot of options available), but I have two options. The first option would be to invest in the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF in USD. The second would be to invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF in EUR.
    Wouldn’t it be better, in this case, to invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF in EUR, as there’s no currency risk? Or am I seeing this the wrong way?

    Thanks in advance!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Stefan…

      Glad you find it helpful!

      Currency is an interesting thing. It represents the value of something, but it is not that value.

      If I want to buy a EUR from you at today’s exchange rate, I’d need to give you $1.12668.

      Let’s suppose you and I both want to buy an iPhone. You paid for it with whatever number of EURs it takes, and I with whatever number of USDs.

      A year from now, who knows what I’d have to pay you in USDs for that EUR. But we’d both have iPhones of equal value. That is, once you convert your currency into something tangible, the exchange rate of that currency no longer matters.

      The same is true once you buy a basket of stocks. Regardless of whether the Euro goes up or down against the dollar, you’ll own the same number of shares that the same rights to their earning potential. So, it really doesn’t matter. In theory.

      However, you live, earn, save and spend in Euros and you’ll be thinking about your investment in Euros and measuring its progress in them. I’ll be doing the same in dollars. And that can look scary if they are measured in a currency other than your own.

      For this reason, you should probably hold your shares in Euros and I mine in Dollars.

      Make sense?

  61. Aaron Gerard says

    Thank you for all the great information. I have a quick question for you. My sister needs some help with her 401K. She is currently invested in WF TGT 2040 CIT E3. The vanguard fund VIIIX is available. I’m curious if you think that would be wise to switch her over to VIIIX. Any advice or thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  62. Matt says

    Your advice is really eye opening and I wholeheartedly agree with it. Thank you for making all your knowledge available to everyone. I’m 35 and my wife is 36. As much as we’d like to retire early, I have a feeling we’ll both be working for another 35 years or so. I have a 2 part question:

    – Assuming we’ll stay the course and not pull out in a bear market, would it make the most sense to be close to 100% in stocks for the next 20 years or so and start shifting the allocation to bonds at that time? Or would it be better to do a 75% stock / 25% bond allocation now, and keep it like that?

    – My wife’s 401K doesn’t have access to Vanguard. Given the available choices, what each fund is invested in, and what the expense ratios are, it looks like the choices most in line with your strategy are BSPIX for stocks and the BPRIX for bonds. Would you agree or do you see any other funds that may be better?

    AB High Income I (AGDIX) B
    American Funds AMCAP R4 (RAFEX) B
    American Funds Capital World G/I R4 (RWIEX) B
    American Funds EuroPacific Gr R4 (REREX) B
    American Funds Growth Fund of Amer R4 (RGAEX) B
    American Funds Invmt Co of Amer R4 (RICEX) B
    American Funds New Perspective R4 (RNPEX) B
    American Funds SMALLCAP World R4 (RSLEX) B
    BlackRock Inflation Protected Bond Instl (BPRIX)
    BlackRock Intl Index A (MDIIX)
    BlackRock S&P 500 Stock Institutional (BSPIX)
    ClearBridge Small Cap Growth Fund A (SASMX)
    Columbia Contrarian Core R4 (CORRX) B
    Delaware Value Inst (DDVIX)
    Deutsche Enhanced Commodity Strat A (SKNRX) R
    Dreyfus Small Cap Stock Index Fund (DISSX)
    Invesco Comstock R5 (ACSHX)
    Invesco European Growth Fund A (AEDAX)
    Ivy Asset Strategy I (IVAEX)
    Ivy Balanced Fund I (IYBIX)
    JHancock3 Disciplined Value R2 (JDVPX)
    JPMorgan Government Bond A (OGGAX) B
    JPMorgan Intrepid Growth Fund R5 (JGIRX) B
    JPMorgan Intrepid Mid Cap A (PECAX) B
    Janus Enterprise Fund A (JDMAX)
    MFS Global Equity A (MWEFX) B
    MFS International Value R4 (MINHX) B
    MFS Mid Cap Value R4 (MVCJX) B
    MainStay ICAP International I (ICEUX)
    Oakmark International I (OAKIX)
    Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund A (ODMAX)
    Oppenheimer International Bond Y (OIBYX)
    Oppenheimer International Growth Y (OIGYX)
    Pioneer Bond A (PIOBX) B
    Principal Real Estate Securities Inst (PIREX)
    Prudential Short-Term Corporate Bd Z (PIFZX) B
    Retirement Reserves Money Fund Class1 (MLIKX)
    T. Rowe Price Blue Chip Growth Inv (TRBCX)
    T. Rowe Price Ext Eqty Mkt Index Inv (PEXMX) R
    Thornburg Limited Term Income R4 (THRIX) 0%
    Undiscovered Managers Behavioral Val A (UBVAX) B
    Victory Fund for Income A (IPFIX) B

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Matt…

      1. Asset allocation is about your needs and inclinations. Since you’ve read the Stock Series, you already know what I do and what I recommend for my daughter. This post is designed to help you decide what works best for you:

      2. BSPIX is an S&P 500 index fund with a reasonable, not great, ER of .11%
      BPRIX is an inflation protected bond fund with an ER of .44% It is a little more specialized than I would prefer.

      As I say in the post, scan the ERs looking for the lowest. This will guide you to the index funds. If none, it will point you to the lowest cost options. That’s where to start.

  63. Chris says

    Hi Jim, I have been reading through all of this blog for the past two weeks. Thank you for your great insight and advice concerning stock/investing.
    Thought I would reach out to you for a bit of advice. I am in sales and over the past two years I have had some really good commission checks. The total comes in to just around $50k. You will want to slap me because this money is currently sitting in an account not earning much of anything. I already max out my employers 401k, max out my Roth IRA, and max out my traditional IRA every year. It’s a good problem to have and I am very grateful. We also have absolutely no debt except for small mortgage left on our home.
    My question is: what do I do with this extra money considering the current state of the stock market being at record levels? I would like to open up a new vanguard acct per your suggestions but a little leery considering I could possibly be buying “high” instead of low. Also: Would it be a taxable account that I would need to open with vanguard? What are your thoughts considering the current environment?
    Keep up the great work on this blog! Love it!


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Chris…

      I’ll not be slapping anybody who’s maxing out their tax-advantaged accounts. 🙂 Well done! But you should put that 50k to work.

      Also, you give me pause when you say you “max out my Roth IRA, and max out my traditional IRA every year.” You can only contribute a total of $5500 ($6500 if you are 50 or over) across all your IRAs each year. Of the two I prefer the traditional deductible IRA as I explain here:

      As for the market being at record levels, you are straying into the murky world of market timing which no one can do reliably. Here’s my take:

      Good luck!

      • Chris says

        Thank you for your reply. Aren’t you supposed to be on vacation? Ha!!
        To clarify, I have only been maxing out one of the two of the IRA accounts. Most of the past recent years i have put the money in the Roth instead of the traditional but now you have me thinking. I will be maxing out again…however, I still have this extra stash that I need to do something with even after maxing out the IRA.
        I almost opened a vanguard account and dumped it in VTSAX last week.
        My procrastination might have paid off so far as I have not invested this bit of cash I have sitting in a savings account. But I am getting ready to. Now the market is doing some correcting. I am definitely not going to time the market…I’ve read enough of your blog to know better now! I’m about to take the leap! However, if you happen to read this and feel like commenting, I bet there are quite a few people that would like your perspective on the recent decline. I know I sure would. Stocks are on sale. I am looking at opening up a VTSAX. Thanks for all your insight. I am still reading through all of your blog as well as MMM’s and learning a lot as I go. Thanks again, Chris

  64. Sean says

    Thanks for all the info!

    Hope you had/are having a great time traveling!

    I just changed my 401k elections. I had to use the provided %’s as these seemed to be the best options, with low fees. There are the only two Vanguard options in the program. Does this seem like a wise allocation to you? I’m 34 so planning on going 100% stocks.

    SPTN 500 INDEX ADV (FUSVX) 81% (.07%)
    VANG SM CAP IDX ADM (VSMAX) 13% (.08%)

    My previous contributions were
    FBGRX 50% (.8%)
    FUSVX 40% (.07%)
    FSIVX 10% (.17%)

    Thanks for all your help!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Sean…

      We had a great time.

      What you’ve done with your new allocation is basically replicate VTSAX, which is the fund I suggest for the Wealth Building Phase (working, earning, saving, investing)

      As long as you have read the Stock Series and understand that this is an aggressive allocation and will be very volatile and you are sure you won’t panic and sell when the market plunges (as it will); it should serve you well.

      Good luck and stay the course!

  65. Kristin says

    I’m in the middle of reading your stock series, jumping around to your links and my head is filling with so much useful albeit confusing information. I’ve never been a money person, never liked finance, the stock market or anything related but I’m good at managing my money when I pay attention and now that I’m in my 40’s and for the time being stuck in a low paying job I am very much paying attention. I can’t look back at this point but I want to do whatever I can to make the best situation going forward and it has finally clicked that I cannot ignore my finances anymore and a savings account just isn’t good enough. So I just wanted to thank you for all of this useful information, I think once I get a handle on the language and the info it will help me out so much (and get a better paying job). I have one question maybe you can answer but maybe I need to contact Vanguard once I open an account with them. Is it possible to rollover a dormant 401k into VTSAX (the company I work for once offered contributions but no longer does, so the account has been just sitting there for years)? or would it be wiser to rollover into an IRA? Thank you for any advice and if it’s best I figure it out on my own or with contact to Vanguard that is completely understandable as well. Thank you!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Kristin…

      You might find things a bit less confusing if you start reading the Stock Series posts in order.

      As for your old 401(k), you want to roll this directly into an IRA. This avoids tax and penalties.

      If you like, that IRA can be with Vanguard and the investment you chose to hold in it can be VTSAX.

      Hope this helps!

      • Kristin says

        I does help! I will keep reading the stock series in order from here on out and jump around after I finish. Especially since all of this is so new to me, it’s like learning a new language. One more question I was talking to my dad about Index funds and he said that’s something you do in your 20’s. Is 40 too late to invest in index funds? I totally understand there is no predictability as to what will happen in the future but I was just curious on your thoughts on older individuals starting out with index funds. Thanks again!

      • jlcollinsnh says

        Not at all.

        Index funds are for all ages, the only thing that changes is the stock/bond allocation.

        After you’ve read the Stock Series a couple of times, and the related posts, you should have a solid understanding of my approach and ideas.

        From there you can compare what I say with what you hear elsewhere and judge for yourself what resonates for you.

        • Kristin says

          I’m half way through the stock series and I’m positive once I finish I’ll start over. I’ve already talked to others that agree that any age is fine to invest in index funds. Another question if you don’t mind. I’m starting the process of moving my defunct simple IRA from my employer into a Vanguard traditional IRA that I can start contributing to again and have some involvement with and I’m overwhelmed by the investing options. With my American Funds simple IRA I had no involvement and no understanding. Any recommendations on researching the options? Or do you think choosing VTSAX is a good and simple way to go? Honestly I cannot thank you enough for all the information you provide.

  66. Sally says

    I recently stumbled upon your blog and wish I’d made the discovery sooner. It’s alot of information to sift through but I’m super excited that there are useful sites out there like yours that genuinely want to help people achieve financial freedom. I’m in my 30’s and only have a mortgage as a liability which I plan to pay off within the next 10 years. After discovering your site as well as some others like MMM and GoCurryCracker, it really puts things in perspective and I’ve refocused and set a goal to save at least 50% of my take home pay. I really wish I could open a Vanguard account, though. Since I work for a bank and as a covered employee, I have restricted investment options and can only trade within Merrill Edge (yeah sounds like 1st world problem). Hopefully by taking your advice I’ll be able to find some low cost Index funds and continue to grow my savings and investment. Thanks again for all the information you provided.

  67. Karen says

    I have been reading your blog for a couple week’s now and it has been very helpful as I have had little to no knowledge of investing. My 401k was rolled into an IRA with LPL Financial few years ago after quiting my job and becoming self employed. Since then, just sits there loosing money. I didnt know much about it (im 27) and just recently decided to do something about it now. Its invested in WASCX. The commission fees are high. I rather do it myself and be more hands on then having a company do it for me.

    I am wanting to transfer it to vangaurd. Currently has $1700 in it, but can add up to $1300 more making the balance $3000 total. I am not to afraid of risk and would like a rather agressive stocks/bonds ratios or even all stocks. I would hope for a 5-7% rate of return over time, or better of course. I am married, we file joint and we have rental properties. I understand income from rentals is not “earned income” which makes it tricky about maxing out the IRA once transfered. We do side work, lawncare but not incorporated, just a DBA. Do you know if the income would count as earned income so we can use that to contribute to IRA? Otherwise.. what would be our option? I have learned a LOT last couple weeks but feel stuck right now. I cant decide if we should transfer the IRA into a traditional or roth or something else. After our deductions last year, tax returns show we only made $2000 for the year (before deductions, $60000) that could change though year to year.

    any advice which way to go as far as choosing which account with vangaurd to go with? I feel completely lost on this..

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Welcome Karen…

      Well, LPL is happily collecting their 1.68% ER so they are making money. 😉

      VTSAX, by way of comparison, has an ER of .o5%

      Assuming you report your lawn care business/revenue on your taxes (schedule C) then yes you can use it as earned income.

      If your taxable income after deductions is only $2000, you should look closely at a Roth:

      As for how to move the account:

      • Karen says

        Yes.. once I started investigating fees/commission I was quite surprised.. you sure pay for the service. I should of looked into this 5 years ago but, ignorance is bliss.

        Yes, the lawncare business is reported using schedule C. Only made $3000 last year and this year about the same, hoping to grow it more next year. Question, will I only be able to contribute to the IRA $3000(in this case)? Even though the max is $5500. From what I understand, you cannot contribute more then your earned income for year. Is that true? Would it be before or after deductions? Of the $3000 income off lawncare, deductions were $600. So net was $2400. Can you contribute the $3000 or the after deduction amount of $2400 to the IRA?

        Also, I would like to invest more then that.. is there any other route to do this? Should I just use a individual/joint brokerage account for the “extra” that cannot be put into the IRA?

        Thanks for taking the time to reply and for the link to the post, will read through it!

        • jlcollinsnh says

          $5500 or up to your total earned income, which ever is less.

          Earned income is before deductions.

          Once you have fully funded your tax-advantaged accounts, you can always (and should) invest in regualr taxable accounts.

          All this, and more, is covered in the link I provided.

  68. Joel says

    Hi Jim,

    Your blog and specifically this stock series inspired me to fight for my IF.

    Anyways as a Spaniard it was really hard to come to a suitable alternative for the VSTAX.

    Thanks god there’s a index fund that it is similar in nature to VTWSX for Europeans. It is managed by “Amundi”, it is called Amundi Funds Index Equity World AE-C Class, you can check further details in its MorningStar profile here.

    Its expense ratio is 0.30% which is also similar to the VTSWSX. As you said it is relatively expensive but it is as good as it gets here in Europe.

    I’m starting with 30.000€ I have saved thanks to some online business I’ve done here and there I’m also planning to start saving 50% as you recommend.

    Again, thanks a lot for all this stock series, I know that you’ve saved a ton of time and frustration so if sometime you drop by Tenerife please contact me, beers are on me 😉

    Kind Regards,

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Joel…

      Welcome, and thanks for the kind words. Glad to know what you’ve found here has helped and thanks for adding to the conversation.

      Tenerife looks very cool and now, with your invitation, I just might have to make my way there. 🙂

      How is it that you find yourself in such a place?

  69. Jason says

    Hi Jim,

    Would you recommend VUN (VTSAX in CAD but management fee of 0.15%, MER at 0.16%) or VFV (S&P 500 in CAD, management fee of 0.08%, MER at 0.13%)? Also what is the difference between management fee and MER? Past results have shown that VFV has done slightly better than VUN.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Jason…

      I’d go with the VFV and its lower fees, which are likely the reason VFV has performed slightly better.

      I’m afraid I don’t know what an MER is.

  70. Cole Speer says

    Thank you sooo much for this stock series! I’m 22 years old and researching investing on my own and trying to help my wife figure out her work plan. They offer a 401(a) and a 403(b) it’s hard to find the difference between the two online but I think the 403(b) is better? My main question is both the plans offer Vanguard Institutional Index Fund Institutional Plus Shares in large mid and small. Should she invest every thing in the large or divide it up using the formula? Also we are living on pretty small incomes, not sure if this factors into what we should choose between stocks or between a 401a and 403b. If we can make it work we’d like to invest most of her paycheck into the plan and live off my paycheck since my work does not offer a plan.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Cole…

      Glad you like it!

      I’m afraid I don’t know much about 401(a) plans and so won’t be much help there.

      Vanguard Institutional Index Fund Institutional Plus Shares are great options and for simplicity’s sake I’d just go with the Total Market version if they have. Large cap or S&P 500 otherwise.

  71. Bianca says

    Hi Jim,
    First of all, I have no words to express gratitude for you putting all this information on this blog for us (for free). You and your advices have been an eye opener and my spouse and I are excited to finally take control of our finances.

    I’m relatively new to your website but have already read quite a bit of it. I have also just recently woken up to the fact that I am making many mistakes and at this rate, I will end up working till 65. My biggest mistake has been ignorance; and thanks to you and others alike, I hope to correct that asap. I do not yet have a retirement plan available to me at work, but my spouse does, and I would like to make smarter decisions.

    Currently she has 14k in her 403b, and she is not contributing to the max (which we will quickly fix) but I also do not like the investment choices she has (that due to our ignorance, were simply assigned to her). She is 34 years old btw.

    This is what her portfolio looks like:
    BlackRock LifePath® Index 2045 Fund Class K Shares (LIHKX ) – about 10k (70%)
    Vanguard Balanced Index Fund Institutional Shares (VBAIX ) – about 4k (29%)
    BlackRock LifePath® Index Retirement Fund Class K Shares (LIRKX ) – 0.05%

    Here are the Vanguard options in her plan: Vanguard Balanced Index Fund Institutional Shares (VBAIX); Vanguard Institutional Index Fund Institutional Shares (VINIX); Vanguard Extended Market Index Fun Institutional Shares; Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Institutional Shares (VTSNX); and Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund Institutional Shares (VBTIX).

    My questions to you are:
    1. Should we leave whatever she already has invested in those 3 funds and simply assign all new contributions to other Vanguard Funds such as VINIX?
    2. Should we exchange all the existing Black Rock and eliminate it from the Portfolio and substitute it for Vanguard instead? And if we do that, are there any fees or taxes we need to pay in order to do that? She has held those funds for about 5 years.
    3. Which of the above Vanguard funds that are available to her would you recommend?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Bianca…

      Your words say it wonderfully well. Thanks!

      1. I’d move it all to Vanguard

      2. Because these are all in a 403 (b) there will be no tax consequences. There should also be no fees unless Black Rock charges a backend load (sales charge to exit the fund). Such things are despicable and hopefully going extinct. Should your funds have one, all the more reason to dump them. You’ll just have to bite the bullet and chalk it up to buying freedom.

      3. Depends on the allocation you want.
      –VBAIX will give you 60/40 stocks/bonds
      –VINIX = Total Stock Market Index
      –VBTIX = Total Bond Market Index

      With those last two you can customize whatever allocation works best for you. This will help you decide:

      I don’t see the need for International for reasons I outline here:

      But if you do, VTSNX is a fine option.

      Her plan has some great choices!

  72. Chad Potter says


    I previously read The Intelligent Asset Allocator by Bernstein. I’ve invested with his simple portfolio and used all Vanguard funds:

    25% Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX)
    25% Vanguard Small-Cap Index (NAESX)
    25% Vanguard Total International Stock Index (VGTSX)
    25% Vanguard Short Term Investment Grade Bonds (VGTSX)

    I just changed jobs and my new 403b doesn’t offer ANY Vanguard funds. Through my 403b I am able to invest in other mutual funds via a Schwab PCRA. Through the Schwab PCRA, I can purchase the above Vanguard funds; however, there is a $50 fee for each transaction that I’m not fond of.

    I’ve spent the day looking for Schwab alternatives with low ER that mirror the above Vanguard funds. I’ve found comparable funds for Large Cap, Small Cap, and International Funds:

    Schwab 500 Index (SWPPX)
    Schwab Small Cap Index (SWSSX)
    Schwab International Index (SWISX)

    I’m having a harder time finding a bond fund with a low ER. I want something similar to the above Vanguard option (Short term, low proportion of government bonds at about 10%). I’m somewhat naïve when it comes to researching bond funds and understanding all of the particulars. However, the only near comparable option I’ve found is:

    Prudential Short-Term Corporate Bond (PIFZX). ER is 0.53%.

    I have 3 options:
    1) Invest in the Vanguard Short Term Bonds through the Schwab PCRA. Minimum investment is $3000. I’d have to keep the money in cash / money market and then purchase this investment about every 6 months (incurring a total of $100 in fees per year).

    2) Invest in the Prudential Short Term Bond. ER is 0.53% vs. Vanguard’s of 0.2%. Prudential’s “management fees” are higher than Vanguard (0.40% vs. 0.18%), but I don’t understand the ramifications of this figure. This bond fund looks similar to Vanguard, but again, I’ve naïve.

    3) Keep searching for other bond funds.

    Have any suggestions regarding my options? Thanks in advance for the help.


    • jlcollinsnh says


      You have a simple math issue.

      —Subtract the Vanguard fees from the Prudential fees.

      —Take this difference and multiply it by the amount in your bond fund.

      —The result the how much extra Prudential costs you each year.

      —Compare that to the extra $100 annual cost to buy the Vanguard fund.

  73. Naomy says

    I got here from MMM’s blog (I’ve been obsessed) and I was hoping to find something that would help with investing in the Middle East. I am from around here so a lot of the investing options in these blogs do not directly apply, but I’ve been trying to read as much as I can to get a basic understanding of how they work.

    I am 31, debt free but still live paycheck to paycheck, mainly due to social pressure. No, not because I bought a car (I rent one though) or even spend the rest on myself but because here we live in multi-generation family homes and if you think trying to convince just your spouse to hop on the FI train is difficult, I don’t think you want to attempt convincing teenagers, parents, grandparents and who ever else passes through here about cutting expenses. I have a very small amount in a fixed deposit account, which is at least a start, but I am trying to make a plan for the longer term. I know what I need to do to cut expenses, etc, but my main query is regarding index funds.

    I know squat about investing. All I know is from what I’ve read in MMM and your blogs. This is because you guys explain it pretty well. But when you go off about 401Ks and the almighty Vanguard and all the numbers involved between the two…well then you lose me cause I can’t relate to it. Although I read a lot and am good at maths, all the info on your tax system only confuses me. Even the global Vanguard is out of reach but I am reading through their advice & guidance sections to learn.

    I am looking at some local index funds and would not mind risking half a paycheck to see where it takes me. The problem is, how do I know if an index fund seems good…on any level? Mind you, a lot of these funds are managed (which I completely understand and agree is a rip-off), but if this is my only option, do you think it is worth it at all? Does it depend on the numbers? Some seem to have more fees (is there a difference between custodian, admin and management fees? – do we pay them for using a thesaurus?), and the ones that have less fees require higher investment. How low is a low-cost index fund? How do I understand a good starting point from a bad starting point? I don’t even really understand how to evaluate the numbers from a fund’s performance over the years. I know it is a broad query but maybe you can help me navigate the seas of your blog for a reference.

    I also want to thank you for this great resource. You, MMM and all the members of this FI revolution.

    • John says


      I think it would be helpful if you said exactly which country you are in. Saying you are in the middle east is like saying you are in Africa…I’m sure the rules and laws are different in South Africa than they are in Nigeria.

      As for your basics, I think it would be wise to find the lowest cost world index fund available to you. In the US we are looking for index funds with fees under 0.2%. You may find in your country that 1% is cheap. I really don’t know.

      • Naomy says

        Oh sorry, it’s the UAE. I’m not expecting that you learn the market and tell me what is good obviously…I’m doing my homework and trying to understand all the options I have. I’m finding fees of 2% or 3% and mostly for the local market only. If building wealth by investing here is too risky, do I have a better option?

        • Naomy says

          I think I’m more thinking out loud. Even reading on investment is scaring me a little and although I will never know until I try, it feels good to be able to share the goal with others.

          Your posts are encouraging and coming back keeps me from slipping into the grind of wasting money.

  74. Jason says

    Hi Naomy,

    The options for purchasing low cost ETF’s are pretty limited in the UAE. The big banks are all charging huge fees to buy into any of their funds, so it would probably be best to avoid them. I only know of one way to purchase low cost ETF’s and that is through an international brokerage company like Saxo Bank. They have a branch in Dubai and will allow you to buy from all the major stock markets globally – this would include ETF’s. The biggest issue is that you will need a minimum of $10,000 USD to open a trading account with them (might be a good idea to call and confirm this though). If you are able to open an account with them you can purchase VTI (ETF version of VTSAX) or VT (For total global exposure, if you are into that) quite easily – the trading fee is about 25 USD. Kind of high but not astronomical enough to deter if you did lump sum investments.

    There are some issues with purchasing those nice low cost American based ETF’s that you should know about up front. Any non-citizen/resident of the US could/will be exposed to an estate tax for any amount over $60,000 USD (2014) that is held in US based ETF’s. This may not seem like a big deal today but as you build up your investments it might turn into a bigger problem for your spouse and or children in the future. There is kind of a loophole though… apparently you can avoid this tax by purchasing ETF’s from a non US Exchange. Vanguard has entities in many different countries and almost always has some sort of version of VTI and VT available. For example in Canada they have VUN (MER – 0.15%) or VXC (MER 0.25%) both are good for US and Global exposures. I’m sure there are other versions in Ireland and Australia too. There is a guy named Andrew Hallam that has done much more research on this than I so you may want to google him. He has a few books and a pretty informative website for expats looking to invest. Even if you are not an expat I think it still might be informative for you.

    Hopefully this helps you out a bit or at least steers you in the right direction.

    • Naomy says

      Thanks Jason, I will check out both Saxo and Hallam. I’m a uae national, and like you said, and for everything else I’ve run into, including NASDAQ, it seems you have to go through brokers/banks all of whom have lists of fees. I guess at the levels here, they are too high to make any investment worthwhile. Reading the other comments, I know that a lot of people have this issue in other countries.

      I did a skim around Saxo’s site, and did notice a footnote about tax implications based on “ETFs not registered in your local jurisdiction”. It’s annoying when you’re not worried about losing money on the trading floor…but worried you risk losing all of it on hidden fees and other costs.

      I did a similar study on fees just to open a plain ol’ bank savings account. There indeed is nothing like the transparency of the US market.

  75. Jessica says

    Hi Mr.Collins

    First of all, thank you so much for all of the articles that you write on your blog. I’ve been reading a lot about the index investing from your blog and I was hoping to get your opinion. I am Canadian 29 years old with no debt. I have full time job with a stable income and I’ve been saving a lot. I have my RRSP and TFSA all set up.

    I’m looking to buy Vanguard ETF and I choose VFV, VXC and VAB based on their past performance and predicted future. Although I am Canadian I don’t really have a lot of home bias as I realise that Canadian market is going down now. I would prefer the US market for the long run as I am willing to put these money for long term.

    I have 85% in stocks and 15% in bond
    VFV – S&P 500 Index 50%
    VXC – Global All Cap ex Canada Index 35%
    VAB – Canadian Aggregate Bond Index 15%
    I will put roughly $20,000 in these portfolio that I will buy from Questrade.

    Thank you

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Congratulations Jessica…

      It looks like you’ve done a fine job of taking the principles discussed here and applying them to your own unique situation. Well done!

  76. Allen says

    Hello Jim,

    Long time reader here.

    I’ve finally decided to sell my way too expensive condo ($630k with 7k Propty tax and 7.2k HOA) and it’s currently in Escrow processes.

    I’ll be left with about $400k cash and my plan was to dump it into VTSAX. I know from reading MMM and your posts that this shouldn’t even be a question but I still like to confirm with you (with the slow and downward shifting US market) – should I dump it all into VTSAX?

    I have zero debt after this sale and most of my retirement funds are in Vanguard 90% stock 10% bond retirement funds at work, and I plan to be FI in 4-5 years. I also have IRA and non tax shielded Vanguard accounts in VTSAX. And I was thinking to maximize my 401k and roth ira then dump the rest of the $400k into VTSAX.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Allen…

      and welcome!

      First, I’m not entirely sure I agree with: “(with the slow and downward shifting US market)”

      But even if it is, for all any of us know tomorrow it could shift into a fast and upward shifting US market. 🙂

      Of course if you have a crystal ball that allows you to reliably identify such things you certainly don’t need advice from the likes of me. You’ll shortly be more famous and more lionized than Warren Buffett. Richer too.

      Your other option to lump sum investing your condo sales proceeds is DCAing. Here’s my take on that:

      Congrats on being debt free!

      My wife and I both hold VTSAX in our IRAs, Roth IRAs and in our taxable account.

      Good luck!

      • Allen says

        you’re right Jim. I keep on telling my family and friends the same – no one can time the market. But did not realize I had fallen into this trap myself!

        I just ready your DCA page and I agree with it 100%. Thank you for nailing this down for me.

      • jlcollinsnh says

        It is a very alluring trap indeed.

        I’ve been on the slopes more times than I can count.

        Sometimes it just seems so obvious where the market is headed…

        …and then it heads somewhere else. 🙂 🙂

  77. seano-nz says

    Hi Jim

    I’ve recently come across your website, what a find it has been! Such an amazing series!!!! I’ve been doing a bit of research into investing in Vanguard from NZ which is where I live. Unfortunately its not cheap. I have one option where I can invest in the ETF through my US brokerage account or another one through a local investment company that offer the vanguard funds which I can directly save with at no cost (brokerage and international funds transfer fees).

    Unfortunately they are not cheap….

    The local managed funds company which allows New Zealanders to invest in some of the Vanguard funds charge from 0.3%-0.5% management fee in addition to the typical Vanguard fee.

    If I use my US brokerage account, I will be subject to expensive brokerage fees and overseas bank transfer fees so using this method I would have to invest my savings 1-2 times a year until I build up my holdings in an ETF to keep costs down. Then I can invest more regularly as my effective costs will go down as I build a larger position in the funds in the years ahead.

    Next problem is taxation…

    I will pay 15% tax on the dividends I receive from the funds which is okay. I also have to pay a foreign investment fund* (*FIF) tax (NZ tax for investing in overseas markets).

    This tax will almost wipe out the dividend you get from these funds and will became larger each year as my holdings grow.

    For example if I have $100,000 in the VTI and it makes a gain that year, in addition to the 15% dividend tax I will have to pay the foreign investment tax of $1400.

    As you know VTI pays a roughly 2% dividend.

    $100,000 investment
    $2,000 dividend income
    -$300 dividend tax (less)
    -$1,400 foreign investment tax (less)
    $600 after tax dividend payment

    This is a lousy 0.6% effective dividend after taxes.

    This foreign tax grows as my holding grows and I have projected out 10 years. My effective dividend after taxes is down to about 0.4% as that foreign tax portion grows.

    One more example to show how bad this tax is:

    $500,000 investment
    $10,000 dividend income (2% on $500k)
    -$1500 dividend tax (less)
    -$7000 foreign investment tax (less)
    $1500 dividend after tax
    0.3% effective dividend after taxation and fees

    Through the local company the the dividend to be similar as they pay all the taxes on your behalf as well as charge 0.3%-0.5% in a management fee. So instead of getting a nice 2% dividend you only get around 0.5% or so.

    I don’t think I can defer these taxes and they have to be paid each year. What are your thoughts on this situation and how do I factor in these costs for working out a potential FI date?

    Hoping you can give me some pointers on this situation. Or, do you know anyone on this side of the world investing at a low cost? I have joined the bogleheads forum where a few New Zealanders post but haven’t got a definitive answer on the best way to reduce the costs of this method living here or how much havoc this wrecks on your investments.


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Sean…

      What are my thoughts?: Yikes!

      As to how to factor in these costs, I think you already have: Calculate them and subtract them from your results.

      As to pointers on how to navigate this, I haven’t a clue. I know nothing about investing on your side of the planet.

      That said, perhaps one of my NZ readers will weigh in and be able to help.

      You might also post this comment here:

      Even though the title says “European” in the comments there is discussion from all over the world.

      Good luck!

      • seano-nz says

        Thanks Jim, I guess I’m in the dark how many years these costs could potentially add to FI. Would you still be pro total market funds if you had to pay such high fees and taxes along the way instead of the nice 2% clean dividend and 0.05% management fee that you can get in the US?

        • jlcollinsnh says

          Hi Sean…

          I think I would.

          It is worth remembering that low cost index fund didn’t exist before 1975 and fees for active funds were even higher than today. Yet money was made.

          As I’ve said elsewhere, I actually achieved FI before embracing low cost index funds. I was buying stocks with high commissions on the buy AND sell side, and active funds with high ERs. Of course, had I been smarter and embraced index funds sooner, the path would have been shorter and quicker. 🙂

          Here’s my rant on high 401K fees here in the US:

          Be sure to read Addendum #1.

          Of course, in your situation you don’t have the tax savings to soften the blow, but the attitude is the same:

          Hold your nose and buy anyway.

          Good luck, and thanks for reminding us Americans how lucky we are! At least with investing.

      • seano-nz says

        Thanks for that Damien. Had a good read of that post, just what I expected, no magic bullet for cutting costs here.

  78. Eugene says

    First thanks so much for this series – I stumbled upon it and have been hooked since.

    I was wondering – my company 401K is offered through Fidelity. Is there anything wrong with me opening an account through Vanguard so that I can take advantage of VTSAX, etc? I guess sticking with Fidelity would make things a little simpler maybe, and they have their Spartan fund, but from reading all your material it sounds like Vanguard is definitely the way to go and would be worth the little extra complexity of having accounts at both companies?

  79. Patrick says


    Thanks for all your work that you put into this blog. It’s a great series and opened my eyes and probably every others visitors too. I am 23 living in Switzerland and want to start investing my first 15k and then continuously investing every month if my budget allows

    I am interested of an ETF (I even think you mentioned it here in one of the comments). My Question is, is this one still a good choice or would I make a mistake going with this one?

    iShares MSCI World Minimum Volatility UCITS ETF

    TER 0,3% with 9.- for every transaction. My taxation situation is something I have to find out more about.

    Thanks, Patrick

  80. YoungInvestor says

    Hello Jim,

    Your series on investing helped clear up almost all the confusion I had on investing except I don’t know the Canadian alternative to VTSAX. In the previous comments, it was suggested that the VUS (0.15% MER) is the alternative because it covers the CRSP, the same index used in the VTSAX. However there is another fund, the VUN(also 0.15% MER) that is not “CAD-hedged” and I’m not sure of the difference it will make to my investment. Also there is a cheaper alternative to both of those ETFs: the VFV(0.07% MER) and VSP (0.07%) which cover the S&P 500. Is the lower market exposure because of the S&P 500 worth it for a better MER rate? And again you would have to tell me the difference between the CAD-Hedged VSP and its non CAD-Hedged sister the VFV. Also I’m considering buying the VCN or the VCE which cover FTSE Canada All Cap Index and the FTSE Canada Index respectively simply because they have the lowest MERs (0.06%) of all the equity funds. Can you tell me again if going for the lower MER in this case is better or sticking to the broader exposure offered by the American Funds? For more stats to make your suggestion, please visit Vanguard’s Canada link to see the list of all the funds they have available at

    My reason for a 100% investment in a VTSAX style fund is because I’m 19 years old and have the time to aggressively wealth build. I have 10K not invested after my expenses are taken into account and I don’t plan on using these funds on any expensive trinkets so I expect to keep this investment for the long term.


    • Free to Pursue says

      Hi YI. As a fellow Canadian investor, I’ll take a crack at this one. First, congratulations for #1 having $10,000 saved up and #2 choosing to invest it before you’re even in your 20s!

      Given that your ability to save and invest is your greatest asset, what matters most in your investment choices is to keep MER down (reduced fees = guaranteed benefit) and to choose funds with broad exposure (both of which you indicate as preferences – again, beautiful).

      It sounds like you may be falling into the pit of “decision overload” which can lead to inaction when it comes to investing. All funds you mention at MERs of less than 0.15% are excellent choices (VCN, VCE, VFV, VSP).

      Personally, I’ve gone with VCN and VFV. VCN because it covers the small, mid and large cap markets, which VCE does not and VFV because I don’t believe hedging (to control volatility associated with currency fluctuations) matters much when I’m looking decades ahead–though there are certainly differing views on this point.

      I’d also like to address the type of account you’ll be using to manage your investments. Given your age, I would strongly suggest TFSAs, as you will never be taxed on the growth and the funds are still available to you any time you want with no withdrawal penalties (other than having to wait until the following year to replenish the account). I would max out this account first every year for that reason. It’s the single best return guarantee you can get and as your salary increases over time and leads to you being in a higher income bracket for every new dollar earned, it will matter even more. Later on, there might be a RRSP vs TFSA discussion, but in most cases maxing out the TFSA is a no brainer, especially for savers.

      Additional note: I have all my retirement accounts with an online brokerage firm to keep transaction fees down to a minimum and to a fixed amount per transaction as opposed to a percentage when using other brokerage services. Again, any money not spent on fees is available for investment.

      • vdrn says

        Hi Free To Pursue,

        I’m thinking about having the same approach, holding VFV and VCN in all my accounts. I’m curious about the percentage you are holding of each? Also would you think that there is “magic” percentage number of VCN you should hold to help offset the currency fluctuations in VFV and maybe help average down the foreign withholding taxes (if you choose not to hold US listed ETFS) without loosing performance in your total portfolio?

        Many thanks

    • jlcollinsnh says

      What FtoP said. 🙂

      Proof once again, I have the smartest readers on the internet!

      Thanks, FtoP!

      • OverwhelmedCanuck says

        Hi Mr Collins, and any savy Canadian investors,

        I’ve been devouring this blog for the last month or so, and am almost ready to take action. The fears in the back of my head about my financial advisor were confirmed a few days ago when I found out most of the funds I am in are charging 2.5-3.17% MER’s (management expense ratio). So now it’s up to me to do better, but just like “Young Invester” above, I’m getting overwhelmed with the options available to me.
        I am a 30 year old Canadian who has both RRSP’s and TFSA’s.
        43k TFSA
        29k RRSP
        24k LIRA (locked in retirement account from a past employer)
        5k in stocks (I know… I know… I can’t beat the market)

        I am struggling between the ease of use TD e-series accounts, and the more self managed Questtrade ETFS. Below are a few relevant facts:
        – I save a portion of my income, but typically just do lump sum deposits a few times a year.
        – I am looking for an 80/20 possibly 90/10 split between stocks and bonds, just to give me a bit of security.
        – I currently use TD, so am comfortable with their interface, and am worried I will get overwhelmed with Questtrade.
        – My reading states I should stay with E-series funds until I have a substantial amount to invest then witch to ETF’s… what is this arbitrary amount? Is it per account, or on a whole?
        – I received a lump sum from my past employer (I was laid off) and am Doller Cost averaging those into my RRSP and LIRA, this will end in the next 6months or so. Will I be charged a short term holding fee or any extra fees if I close the accounts because the money technically isn’t in those accounts yet? Would it be better for me to hang on to these accounts until the DCA is over and they monies have been invested for a period of time to avoid the extra fees?
        I am currently looking at the TD e-series funds (Candian index 0.33%, US Index 0.35% and Canadian Bond Index Fund 0.5%)
        With Questtrade, I am lost… there’s just too many options. Between your blog, Canadian Couch Potato, MMM and guest posts from Mr Frugal Toque, I have multiple ETF’s that need more research:
        VAB (Canadian Aggregate Bond – management fee 0.12% MER 0.13%),
        VUN (US total Market Index – management fee 0.15%, MER 0.16%)
        VXC (Global All Cap ex. Canada Index – management fee 0.25%, MER 0.27%)
        VCN (Canada All Cap Index – management fee 0.05%, MER 0.06%)
        VFV (S&P Index – management fee 0.08%, MER 0.08%)
        VCE (Canada Index – management fee 0.05 % MER 0.06%)

        Any advice for this overwhelmed Canuck would be greatly appreciated!

  81. david says

    I find that ishares has a much larger offering than Vanguard here in the UK. Im looking to keep it simple but want to diversify across bonds/ real estate as well. Is there any general downside to ishares that I’m not aware of or are these two (Vanguard being the other) interchangeable and you just prefer to go the V route?

  82. Selena says

    Thanks for these posts. Would you mind helping me make a decision? I know you are not my financial advisor, but I’d like to know how I sound…
    Through my school, we can use CALSTRS Pension 2 for our 403(b), to invest in VITSX (Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Institutional Shares). However, they charge 0.25% as net administrative fee in addition to Vanguard’s 0.04% as expense ratio (total 0.29%). I am considering moving to TIAA Cref, TISPX (S&P 500 Index Instl) which charges 0.06% of expense ratio. I am in my 50’s and have less than 30K in 403 (I know it’s a shame). Should I move to TIAA Cref? Keep the current one in CALSTRS and open a new at TIAA? Move all to TIAA? Or…? We have some awful vendors and for many teachers, it’s a taboo to talk about retirement..
    Thank you for any insights, suggestions, fingerwagging, hugs. :o)
    PS: If you think my question is off-topic, would you respond to my email, please?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Selena…

      If you can buy the S&P 500 index fund TISPX with no charges other than the .06% ER, that would be my choice.

      About 80% of VITSX is made up of the S&P 500 and while the other 20% in small and mid size companies tends to give it a small performance advantage over time, I’d rather have the assured .23% cost savings each year.

      • Selena says

        Thank you for the reply! Unfortunately, I found out that under a 403(b) plan, TIAA Cref charges 0.30% ER, so I will keep my account in CALSTRS. It’s disheartening….

  83. Kenyon says

    I have loved this blog for a couple of years now and periodically refer back to it. I have a Roth IRA with Vanguard that currently is operating under a target retirement fund (VTIVX). I’m youngish, so I’d like to be a little more aggressive and move it to a total stock market index fund. But, for some reason VTSAX does not appear to be an available option. Is VTSMX the next best alternative as this post seems to recommend? Much thanks!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Kenyon…

      I’m glad you like the blog and appreciate you being a longtime reader. But your question makes me tear my hair in frustration.

      As clearly as I can, in the post, I point out that VTSAX and VTSMX hold exactly the same total stock market index portfolio.

      Where did I go wrong?

      • Kenyon says

        It’s not you, it’s me. I’m just super type A and want to be extra sure. Thanks for humoring me anyway! I’ll try to refrain from asking double checking questions in the future.

  84. scottrocious says

    Thank you for the stock series! I am totally new to investing, and it is empowering to know that I don’t have to leave my 401k plan up to some automatic planner. That being said, I have an allocation question based on my lack of understanding in “value” vs. “growth” indexes. I’ve read definitions and comparisons, but it’s not as straight-forward to me as the small vs. mid vs. large market caps are.

    Question 1: How does the “value” vs.” growth” index difference come into play when allocating?
    Question 2: Can you just match percentages to effectively get a blend?
    Question 3: Is choosing fewer stocks advantageous simply due to paying fewer fees?

    I have each specific Vanguard option (i.e. large cap value, large cap growth, and same for mid and small caps), BUT I also have Schwab’s S&P500 available, Small cap, and International available.

    I am thinking Schwab’s S&P500 and possibly some Schwab Small Cap would be a lot simpler than trying to go with Vanguard’s 6 different options. Hence my question #3, with 2 selections vs. 6 selections.

    Finally, I didn’t want to burden folks with full names and tickers of the indexes, but if it clarifies things I would be happy to do so.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      1. “Value” companies tend to be larger, established firms often paying dividends. Ideally bought at some discount. “Growth” companies tend to be smaller firms that are reinvesting their earnings to fuel future growth.

      2. Yes, but why bother? The S&P 500 Fund will have both.

      3. Choosing fewer stocks would result in fewer transaction commissions. But the number of stocks held in a mutual fund has nothing to do with the fees it charges.

      • scottrocious says

        For #3, I actually meant number of mutual funds I am investing in, not number of stocks in a mutual fund. Thanks for the clarifications.

      • jlcollinsnh says

        Ah, got it.

        Since fund fees are a percent of the amount invested, holding a large number of funds would only increase the fees to the extent that some were higher fee than others.

        Make sense?

  85. Nate says

    Good afternoon. I am 34 years old and I am looking to start the process of transferring (1035 exchange) my current variable annuity (funded by Grandma when she passed away) from its current location (1.95% fee +$30 annually) to a Vanguard Variable Annuity (avg of 0.54% fee).

    Of the seventeen available portfolios, do I go with the VVA-Ttl Stock Market Idx (Fund No. 0604)? To me, that appears closest to the VTSAX and it has an annual fee of 0.45%.

    The other options –>
    VVA-Balanced, VVA-Capital Growth, VVA-Conserv Allocation, VVA-Diversified Value, VVA-Equity Income, VVA-Equity Index, VVA-Growth, VVA-High Yield Bond,
    VVA-International, VVA-Mid-Cap Index, VVA-Moderate Allocation, VVA-Money Market, VVA-REIT Index, VVA-Short-Term Invest-Gr, VVA-Small Company Growth, VVA-Total Bond Market Idx

    As always, thank you!

  86. Tina Quijano says

    Mr. Collins,

    I was referred to your site by Budgets Are Sexy a few months ago. You directed me towards your stock series and I am slowly investigating and moving our investments in VTSAX. Wish you could have been a fly on the wall when I spoke to our financial advisor! I set up my first account with Vanguard myself! I have recently connected with Personal Capital. That was/is eye opening to have all my accounts linked. I can now see the big picture and where I need to make changes. It took some time to link the accounts but was well worth it. I have one area in which I need guidance. My husbands’ 401K has no Vanguard options and mostly target funds. My choices are listed below:
    State Street S&P 500 Index Fund
    Voya Large Cap Growth Portfolio
    Goldman Sachs Mid Cap Value I
    State Street S&P 400 Index Fund
    Victory Munder Mid-Cap Core Growth
    State Street Russell 2000 Index Fund
    Dodge & Cox Interntl Stock
    State Street MSCI EAFE Index Fund
    Oppenheimer Intl Small Co Fund
    American Beacon Lrg Cap Value
    JP Morgan US Small Company
    Principal Global Real Estate
    Met Life Stable Value Fund
    State Street Bond Market Index Fund
    Western Asset Core Plus Bond I
    FranklinTempleton Global Bond
    BlackRock Infl Prot Bond Fund 0% 0%
    AB High Income Fund

    What would you tell your daughter to select? Any feedback you can provide would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for all that you do!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Tina…

      First, congrats on your great progress!

      Provided the expense ratio is appropriately low as it should be for an index fund, of that group I’d suggest she go with State Street S&P 500 Index Fund.

  87. Stephonee says

    Thanks for this! I’ve been trying to figure out if what I did in my HSA was a good idea, and this was exactly what I needed (especially the addendum about the S&P fund). Though my HSA has Vanguard funds available in it, for some reason, none of the ones available are the Total Stock Market Index in any of its various forms. (The Total Bond index is there, but I’m not yet 30, so I’m avoiding bonds for a long while yet.)

    At the time I invested the money, I chose to do 50/50 VIIIX and VWIAX out of the funds that are available to me in the HSA. Reading this, and finding out that VIIIX is an institutional S&P fund, I think I may move all the VWIAX money into VIIIX and just stick with that in the HSA from here on out. VIIIX has a lower expense ratio, and I think keeping it simple and sticking to the S&P 500 (at least until they somehow start offering the total market fund!) will be the best thing going forward.

  88. Rudy Leyva says

    Hi Mr. Collins,

    Or if anyone else can help I would appreciate it.

    I just enrolled in my new company 401k and not sure what fund to select. Below are my choices, any help will be greatly appreciated. Also being that I have a 10 year retirement plan in action will 100% be invested in the fund you recommend?

    Thanks a lot I really appreciate it


  89. jlcollinsnh says

    Hi Rudy…

    Nothing personal, but I kinda hate questions like yours.

    It indicates that you haven’t read very far in the blog or book and just want to be told what to do without understanding the why. And without the why, the first time the market drops or someone else suggests a different path, you’ll likely jump off course.

    That said, from those listed I’d choose VINIX and possibly add VBTLX depending on my allocation needs.

    I strongly suggest you carefully read this stock series or, for a more condensed version my book, to understand the why.

    Good luck!

  90. Christian says

    First time commenter! YAY! I love you Mr. Collins! Still barely learning all this.
    So my employer has Fidelity :'(
    BUT they do offer VIIX. Thats good. (Large-Cap)

    But there is only one Mid-cap with a low-ish fee offered: FSMAX (0.045% fee, and short term trading fee of 0.75%) I have no idea what “short term trading” means.

    And there is NO Small-cap offered at all. So what do you think the ratio should be between these two?

    Should I even bother with FSMAX? Should I just use VIIX and forget the rest?

    Hope someone can offer a little insight.
    I just wanna retire early!! Is that so much to ask?! hahaha

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Christian!

      First, VIIX trades in futures and I would avoid it. Your plan probably offers a fund that tracks the S&P 500 or the Total Market (I’d go with one of those), but this isn’t it.

      FSMAX would be the better choice of these two you mention. But I don’t know what they mean by “short term trading” either. You’ll have to ask your plan manager.

      Good luck.

      • Christian says

        Roger that, cap’n! Thanks for the warning about VIIX. I’ll give Fidelity a jingle. I’m trying to read as much of this blog as possible. And I read your book already. You really make it accessible for greenhorns like me 🙂 I guess I’ll need to ready it a few more times

        Muchas Gracias, Señor!

  91. Ryan says

    Hi Uncle Jim,

    I just read your book and it’s put me on the path to simplify our investments. Thank you for putting that together! My work provides a 401k with select Vanguard funds. Is “Employee Benefit Index” an equivalent to VTSAX? I can’t seem to find the information anywhere.


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Ryan…

      Glad it helped.

      But regarding your question, I have no idea what an “Employee Benefit Index” is. 🙁

      • jlcollinsnh says

        Hi Samantha…

        Based on the link you provided, this is an index fund that tracks the S&P 500 index and, as such, I would be fine with it.

        Very odd that they don’t provide the ER and I can’t find VLCSII on the Vanguard site….

        • SAMANTHA HAUG says

          I know I am not sure why either. My husband did reach out to Charles Schwab his 401k carrier and the ER is .02%, confirmed. so i think we will stick with that. Thanks for your help!

  92. Jack says

    Hi Jim,
    In India where I live, the only index fund I have as an option is Goldman Sachs CNX 500 fund. It is based Nifty 500 index comprising of 500 companies. How do I decide whether to invest in it or not?

  93. Samantha says

    Hi – i am wondering if you are still answering questions in your blog. I am about halfway in your book and reading online at work. i am struggling STRUGGLING with choosing my 401k allocations, I’ve read the comments section a million times. I am not sure what is best. People have done it either way!

    100% in VIIIX

    or 81% VIIIX/6% VMCPX /13% VSCIX

    Expense Ratios:
    VIIIX .02 / VMCPX .05% / VSCIX .07%

    I know I should keep it simple, but I would love your advice. Thank you in advance!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Samantha…

      Hope you are enjoying the book!

      VIIIX is the institutional S&P 500 fund and the combining of it with the other two is an attempt to duplicate the total stock market fund VTSAX.

      As much as I like VTSAX, I wouldn’t bother. I’d personally go 100% VIIIX. It is a great and very low cost option. In fact, because it is so low cost I’d even recommend you hold this 401k even if/when you leave your employer. Ordinarily, I suggest rolling to an IRA.

      This might help you decide:

  94. Ravi says

    Hello, Thanks for you book – enjoying it. I have been working for 15 years, but have a poor record with investments in stock market. Only in the last couple of years, I’ve moved most of my 401k/IRAs in funds similar to VTSAX.

    Last month, I sold a real estate investment(I got lucky here) and have ~$500k in cash. I want to invest the amount in VTSAX and VBTLX to achieve following investment goals:
    1. Kids(8 and 1) college – 2 x 150k in today’s dollars – will probably be needed in 8 years and 16 years respectively.
    2. Rest is for retirement (can be put away for 25+ years).

    My questions:
    1. Should I deploy the $500k in steps(25k/month) over 2 years or should I do it one shot? I’m worried about timing. Specifically, I want to do this:
    Start deploying $25k/month. If anytime during the next 2 years, there is a 10% drop, I plan to deploy 1/2 of the remaining amount in a one time move. And then, appropriately scale down the monthly amount to last the remaining months. Repeat the same for every additional 10% drop.
    2. What ratio of VTSAX and VBTLX should I choose?

    Let me know your thoughts.

  95. Jonathan says

    What would your opinion/thoughts be about holding VTSAX and tilting it towards small cap using VSIAX? I am 29 years old and perfectly fine with volatility. Thank you for the help!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Jonathan…

      As it happens I was discussing this very thing just yesterday with a friend of mine.

      We were looking at the charts and VSIAX has outperformed nicely over most periods in the last ten years, especially in this last run up since the election.

      This is typical with small caps in a bull market, but they also tend to get hit harder in a bear. Plus sometimes they just go out of fashion for extended periods.

      For these reasons I prefer VTSAX, which has some small cap exposure, over the S&P 500 index funds. And it is also the reason I don’t feel the need to add more with VSIAX.

      You might think of it like hot sauce. How much you use depends on how spicy you want the ride to be.

      Just as I counsel using bonds to smooth the ride at the expense of long-term performance, those with a more aggressive bent might use VSAIX to (potentially) juice returns at the expense of a wilder ride.

      Good luck!

      • Jonathan says

        Thank you Jim! So happens I do like hot sauce……now I just need to figure out how much to put on. Your response gives me good food for thought.

  96. Leia says

    Hi Jim,

    I love your blog! Thanks for doing this. I just bought your book and I’m trying to set myself up to be able to retire early (if needed) due to unforseen health reasons. I’m starting late due to my job and extended training (I’m 38 now, started earning real cash at 35). My question is, my employer only has a 457b (no 401k) which they will mostly match, and they use Fidelity. The only index fund I have access to is FXSIX (which looks like it indexes the S/P 500, not the total market). There is no bond index fund. There are only 2 bond funds which look pretty limited. I’ve copied my options below. Would you recommend doing 100% FXSIX in this case?

    The FXSIX has an expense ratio of 0.035% with a management fee of 0.022%, compared to 0.67% expense ratio with the 2040 fund I used to be 100% in. However, I’m nervous about not having any bond options, and no international exposure.

    The good news is, this is *only* $35K/yr (with employer contribution) and I can contribute around $75K/yr to a separate, taxable account at Vanguard and can put some money in bonds there to make up for it (maybe 10%? 20% I’m open to recommendations). There’s also a backdoor roth IRA as well which I will be doing yearly. I’ve got some serious time to make up for, and I have to set myself up to be able to retire early if needed. I do have partial disability insurance but I found restrictions when I looked into it, and I can’t get more because I’m apparently “uninsurable,” so I need to be my own insurance. That’s why I’m doing this. So, any advice you have on these investment options would be golden!

    Thanks in advance! 🙂 and happy New Year!

    Blended: Freedom 2005, 2010, 2040, 20-etc. Freedom K income (FFKAX).
    Stock: Fid 500 Index Inst (FXSIX), Davis NY Venture Y (DNVYX), Baron Growth Inst (BGRIX), Fid Equity Income K (FEIKX), Fid Growth Co K (FGCKX), Fid Low Priced Stk K (FLPKX), Perkins Mid Cp Val T (JMCVX), VM Mid-CP Core Gr Y (MGOXX), Harbor Sm Cp Val Is (HASCX), Fid Diversified Intl K (FDIKX), Oakmark Eq & Inc Inv (OAKBX).
    BONDS: MIP CL 1, Metwest Tot Rtn Bd P (MWTSX)
    Short term investments: FMMT Retire Gov II (FRTXX)

  97. Jason says

    Great post! I have read your book and I appreciate index fund investing strategy.

    So VTSAX is comprised of approximately 81% large cap, 6% mid cap, and 13% small cap stocks. All of the investment literature I’ve read states that small cap allocation represents greater risk, greater return. If your investment horizon is longer, say 20+ years, don’t you want greater exposure to small and mid cap? Based on the risk/return profile below, I would think you want a greater % allocated to small/mid cap funds?

    (I pulled 3 “blend” Vanguard Admiral Shares, small/mid/large cap and Google Finance was the source of the data.)

    “All” return (Nov 24, 2000-Jan 4, 2017)
    Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VSMAX) – 178.46% standard deviation: 14.81%
    Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VIMAX) – 228.61% standard deviation: 13.47%
    Vanguard Large-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VLCAX) – 109.09% standard deviation: 12.27%
    Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX) – 85.07% standard deviation: 12.51%

    10 year return (Jan 5, 2007-Jan 4, 2017)
    Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VSMAX) – return: 93.65% standard deviation: 19.85%
    Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VIMAX) – return: 85.48% standard deviation: 17.93%
    Vanguard Large-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VLCAX) – return: 64.95% standard deviation: 15.36%
    Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX) – return: 65.86% standard deviation: 15.79%

    5 year return (Jan 6, 2012-Jan 4, 2017)
    Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VSMAX) – 76.96% standard deviation: 13.07%
    Vanguard Mid-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VIMAX) – 79.54% standard deviation: 11.45%
    Vanguard Large-Cap Index Fund Admiral Shares (VLCAX) – 68.57% standard deviation: 10.41%
    Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX) – return: 80.64% standard deviation: 10.64%

  98. Tavis Ricksecker says

    Hi Jim,

    I have learned much from reading this far in the stock series. I have a question perhaps you could help with. I have a governmental 457 plan that I am maxing out, but its through VALIC which adds 0.8% expense ratio to all funds in the plan. I need help picking the fund to go with. I cannot buy VTSAX through this fund. My target retirement is about 15 years from now. I would prefer 100% equity, I like the idea of index investing but the only index fund is through valic and it is subpar. Vanguard funds are available, just not VTSAX. My choices are:

    VSTIX (valic stock index) – 0.34%+0.8%=1.14% expense ratio. 100% equity, tracks s&p500 but underperforms compared to vanguards
    VWELX ( vanguard wellington) – 0.26%+0.8*=1.06% expense ratio. 60% equity, 40% bonds. Actively managed fund. Historically has performed very well
    VWNFX – Vanguard Windsor II – 0.34%+0.8%=1.14% expense ratio. 100% equity but not an index, actively managed fund, but at least its vanguard
    VASGX – Vanguard lifestrategy growth – 0.15%+0.8%=0.95% expensee ratio. 80% equity, 20% bonds. Composed of VTSAX, VGTSX, VTBIX, VTIBX. A bit more international exposure than I would like.

    All have downsides IMO. I lean towards VSTIX even though its valic and they seem to be subpar, just because it is a 100% equity index. The Wellington is very tempting to me though it has way more bonds than I would like at this time but its cheaper than the VSTIX and has a stellar track record. The Windsor I just dont know enough about. The VASGX seems good except it has more international exposure than I would like and also more bonds than I would like. What would you do in my situation? Obviously the 0.8% surcharge by Valic is awful and changing 457 administrators would be awesome and perhaps possible but in the meantime, where to turn? Thanks so much.

    Tavis Ricksecker,
    Bishop, CA

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Travis…

      First, I think your thought process on these is spot on and, since this is a personal decision, I’d follow that to the end choice.

      Second, since you asked my opinion, I’d likely go with VASGX. Lowest cost. Nice spread of index funds in it and 80/20 is an aggressive allocation which is what I’d want.

  99. John says

    Hi Jim,
    Thank you for all your insights! I’ve been binge reading your stock series and other blog posts, along with other bloggers like Mad Fientist, Mr Money Mustache, and so on. Having recently stumbled upon one of Mad Fientist’s podcasts, I have been reading, listening and learning as much as i can over the last couple weeks and happened to find my way here along the journey, so needless to say i’m new to the game. I only wish I would have ventured into this community sooner in life. Now that I’m in my mid-30’s, married with two young kids and in the middle of building a new house, I’m questioning so many past financial decisions.

    Anyway, my first step was going to be reevaluating my employer provided 401k allocation (currently ~$95K in one of their “lifepath 2045” portfolios, .15% fee). I’m limited in options, but thinking of following your recommendation of 80-90% in the S&P 500 stock index fund (.05% fee) since VTSAX isn’t available, with the other 10-20% in bonds, but that is where I’m not sure which route to take. They offer two options:
    Intermediate-Term Bond Fund (.24% fee, benchmarked against Bloomberg Barclays Intermediate US Govt/Credit TR)
    Long-Term Bond Index Fund (.10% fee, benchmarked against Bloomberg Barclays US Government Bond Long TR).

    Thanks in advance for any advice you may have! And can’t wait to read more of your series!

  100. TQ says

    Mr. Collins,

    I have an inherited traditional IRA ($22,000), Pacific Funds Portfolio Optimization Growth (PODCX.O)($3,000), and cash and cash equivalents($1,000) with an investment advisor. I am attempting to move my assets to Vanguard. I am able to transfer in kind the traditional IRA. Unfortunately, the Pacific Funds account cannot be transferred to Vanguard. Should I leave the the Pacific fund with my current investment advisor or liquidate the asset and
    transfer over as cash to Vanguard.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated!

    Thank you in advance for your time,


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi TQ…

      If PODCX is held in a taxable account and you have a gain, you may have a capital gains tax to pay. But those are low and your balance is only $3000. So I’d make the switch.

      Plus, if you follow my advice, your holding period for VTSAX will be forever. Might as well start now.

  101. Twaing says

    Hi Jim,

    I’m 33 and I’ve finally saved up the $10,000 in checking to buy into the VTSAX and will subsequently add as I can. I’ve got a couple of questions. The first is how often should I buy more VTSAX? Just whenever I’ve got extra money? The second is about my workplace retirement accounts. I have two 401(a) accounts with Fidelity. My work does not offer any kind of match, they just make monthly contributions. One is a target date retirement fund and the other is a hodge podge of stuff. Together, they currently total about $25,000. I looked for the Vanguard options you recommend, but can’t find that they’re offered anywhere for me to switch into. What should I do with the two retirement accounts?

    Thanks for your help.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Twaing…

      Yep. I tell my daughter to put as much as she can into VTSAX whenever and as often as she can. Ignore it otherwise. The holding period for this investment is forever, drawing on it only in retirement. And then slowly using the 4% rule.

      As for your 401k, it is hard for me to know. But it sounds like the target fund is the best option. A good exercise is to scan down the ERs looking for the lowest. That’s where you’ll find the index funds, if any.

  102. Ved says

    Hi Jim and fellow canadians,

    This question is more directed to Canadian investors but maybe you have an input on this, Jim. I’m thinking about having this approach, holding VFV(S&P500) and VCN(ALL CAPS CANADA) in all my accounts. I’m curious about the percentage you would hold of each? Also would you think that there is a “magic” percentage number of VCN you should hold to help offset the currency fluctuations in VFV and maybe help average down the foreign withholding taxes (if you choose not to hold US listed ETFS) without loosing performance in your total portfolio?

    Many thanks

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Ved…

      My understanding is that the Canadian stock market is heavily tilted toward the energy sector and is very small looking at the world stage.

      So, to the extent you buy the Canadian market, you are betting energy stocks will out perform.

  103. Sri says

    Hello Jim,

    I am 31 and very new to investing, but your blog has been a huge help. I am extremely frugal by nature, so saving is not a problem at all, but I was just too ignorant of the efficient investing strategies till a couple of months ago (unfortunately). My question is about my 457b account–my work doesn’t offer a 401k, only 403b and 457b with no match. I don’t make enough money to max out both, so I decided to just invest in the 457b for now. I’m assuming that was a reasonable idea? The 457b account is with Fidelity and they have only 3 Vanguard funds to choose from: VFTNX, VSCPX, and VGSNX (the REIT fund). Since there isn’t a fund that tracks the S&P 500, I really don’t know how to apply your advice. I would really appreciate it if you could please help me with the allocations. Thank you so much!


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Sri…

      The options you have are a REIT, a small cap fund and a social values fund. So each is specialized.

      Which is best depends on your inclinations and what else you already own. For instance, the REIT might make sense if you wanted to emphasize some RE and already have a broader index. The social fund might work if it matches your values and is worth the extra ER to you.

      Personally, I am an aggressive investor and so would go with the small cap fund. It is likely to provide the best return over time, but with a lot of volatility. But that’s me. 🙂

      Hope this helps.

      • Sri says

        Thank you so much, Jim. I had a question about VTSAX. Would you recommend reinvesting the dividends or getting the dividends in cash? Which is easier/better for tax accounting or does it not matter? Thanks!

        • jlcollinsnh says

          That depends on whether you are building wealth or living on it. The tax treatment of dividends is the same whether you reinvest or take them as cash.

          • dj says

            What is the best long-term strategy for dividends, reinvest vs move to cash and then reinvest later? What about tax loss harvesting?

  104. Lynette says

    Thank you Jim for sharing all your insight and advice! A friend told me about and that led me to buying your book.
    I am based in Singapore and was wondering how best to effect your strategies in my local context. While Vanguard has an office in Singapore, it’s not a open to retail investors and after much searching, I discovered I could possibly buy VTSAX through Citibank Brokerage.. fees at 0.35%! I am still doing some research and will let you know if there is any success.
    I am not sure there are any readers out there based in Singapore but if there are, would be happy to connect.

  105. Tabatha says

    Hello. I am new to the investing. I noticed that the mid-cap and small-cap Vanguard funds have much higher historical returns for a slightly higher expense ratio. Is there a reason why you think those are not as preferable as the total stock market funds?

  106. Christopher says

    Hi Jim,

    I recently came into 50K. I opened a Vanguard account and placed 30K into VTSAX and 20K into Lifetime 2060(did this before I read the website). Should I switch it all to VTSAX? I don’t need the money for another 20 or so years, if that matters. Also, will I pay taxes on a yearly basis on the returns if I have it on reinvest dividends?


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Chris…

      Doesn’t take much reading on this site to know what funds I recommend.

      As for dividends, if you hold the fund in a taxable account you will pay tax on them regardless of whether you reinvest them or take them as cash.

  107. John says

    Hi Jim,
    I have a Robinhood account that is 70% VTI, 10% VXUS, and 20% individual stocks. Would you recommend that I stop contributing to Robinhood, and create a Vanguard individual investor account to only purchase admiral shares going forward (are there any advantages of buying directly from Vanguard instead through Robinhood)? My concern is having too many brokerage account during tax time, but I also don’t know how the future of Robinhood will be like. Also what do you think about VOO (Vanguard S&P 500 ETF) and VTV (Vanguard Value ETF)? Thank you!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi John…

      I am unfamiliar with Robinhood, but I see no advantage to having them (or anyone else) between me and my Vanguard accounts. I hold my Vanguard funds directly with Vanguard.

      While I have a slight preference for the total stock market fund, as I say in the post VOO is fine.

      VTV, as a value fund, invests only in that one part of the market. As such it is too narrow for my tastes.

  108. Chris says

    Hi Jim,

    Thank you so much for providing these resources. Prior to reading the stock series, I had all of my holdings in a Target Date Fund (2055) with 0.6% ER. However, my company does offer the VINIX (0.04% ER), but significantly more expensive price per share. Should price per share be considered at any point during one’s investment horizon?

    After reading through the contents on your site and the comments of others, I have since switched my allocations to 100% VINIX for future contributions, but was wondering whether it would be a good idea to transfer the current Target Date holdings to the VINIX as well. What would be the pros/cons of this?

    Thank you for your time.

  109. Kristin says


    Thank you again for all of this great information! I’m always referencing it since finance is not my forte. I have an HSA and am only able to use TD Ameritrade. They have some commission free ETF’s but they also have Vanguard ETF’s and Vanguard Mutual Funds. There are no commission free Vanguard options options though. I only have $3000 available to invest at this time. What option would you recommend or what are the differences if you don’t want to make a recommendation? A commission free ETF, a Vanguard ETF (I’m looking at BND) or a Vanguard Mutual Fund (I’m looking at VBMFX)? I am aware of the expense ratio differences but I am not sure if the commission free ETF’s would be a better option if I could find one with low expense ratio, SPDR total stock market seems to be a comparable option but I’m unsure. If you could offer any helpful information I would appreciate it. I am also trying to research and figure it out.

    Thank you!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Kristin…

      If the commission free ETFs are index ETFs that track either the total stock market, S&P 500 or total bond market (depending on if you want stocks or bonds), any of those should be fine.

      But if the commissions are low, as many are these days, you could just go with the Vanguard options.

      Make sense?

      • Kristin says

        Mostly it makes sense, yes. I guess my confusion about whether I should maybe not go with Vanguard is because TD Ameritrade (if I understand their fees correctly) will charge me a fee to purchase Vanguard ETF’s (6.95 for each purchase) and mutual funds (49.99 for no load mutual funds) vs. there is no fee for purchasing the commission free ETF’s so I was unsure whether it would more financially beneficial to avoid those fees if I could find a commission free ETF with a low expense ratio and tracked total stock market or if it was still better to get Vanguard but the Vanguard ETF fee isn’t terribly high if I’m only purchasing once a year.

  110. Chris says

    Hi Jim,

    I was wondering why one would consider purchasing a mutual fund (VTSAX) vs. ETF (VTI) during the Wealth Accumulation phase. Aren’t mutual funds subject to capital gains depending on the fund manager’s activities? Should taxes not be a priority in this phase?

    I currently have a lump sum I would like to invest into a taxable account with Vanguard. Based off the readings, VTSAX was an automatic choice, but when ETF options popped up I found myself unsure why VTSAX would be a better selection over VTI.

    Thank you for your help.

      • Chris says

        Hi Jim,

        Thank you for reply. I guess I am wondering what the differences are between purchasing mutual funds vs. ETF as assets get reallocated when one enters into the Wealth Preservation stage and/or when assets are traded or sold. What considerations should be factored in if ERs are the same such as VTSAX and VTI? What fees, costs, tax implications, etc. should be considered during this decision?

        Thank you for your time.

        • jlcollinsnh says

          ETFs were designed to facilitate trading in that when you buy or sell the trade happens almost instantly on the market.

          When you buy or sell a fund, the trade closes at the end of the trading day and at the end of day price.

          Since we are not traders around here, this difference is mute.

          ERs can be slightly different and ETFs sometimes cost commissions to buy or sell. Tax implications are the same.

  111. Scott says

    If people would just do your advice, invest in VTSAX and be done with it, they would avoid one of the great costs of investing…the behavioral or psychological mistakes (buying high/selling low during market corrections, buying and selling in and out of individual stocks due to some news segment on tv and missing out on large runs due to fear, etc.).

    I am in disagreement with the VBTLX portion at this stage of the bond game though. True, it will allow for a lessening of volatility in the overall portfolio, but there is a better way, for greater returns…

    Purchase, and hold to maturity, INDIVIDUAL bonds, laddered from 1 year to 7 (or 5 in this bond environment). I am averaging about 3.75-4% Yield to Worst returns in my bond ladder portion of my portfolio in early 2018 (I hold about 40-50% individual bonds). I can almost guarantee that the VBTLX will not be returning that much in the foreseeable future. In fact, with low yields, it is returning negative numbers. Remember the first rule of investing: Never lose money. The Second rule is: Refer to to the First Rule.

    Also, in my opinion, in this current bond environment, VBTLX holds too many long term bonds and even intermediate bonds, which, in a market crash or major correction could lose significant value if held in the VBTLX bond fund as opposed to holding the same individual bonds. I have chosen to own about 90% of my bonds with 5 year or less maturities, so interest rate risk is much less than VBTLX. Just thought it would be worth mentioning. Otherwise, I agree with the VTSAX/VBTLX mix you recommend! 😉

    It is not difficult to buy bonds on the Vanguard site, and one can call for help if they are not comfortable with the transactions.

    Just thought I’d give that perspective in lieu of buying VBTLX. It is imperative, though, that if buying bonds, to hold short term bonds and to hold them to maturity.

  112. Neil says


    I understand that you love VTSAX because it has low fees and a wide coverage of the U.S. equity market by containing “small-, mid-, and large-cap growth and value stocks.” If, however, you’re assuming that the market will always go up over the long-term, that as investors we will/should stay in for the long-term, and that our goal is create as much wealth as we can during this period, then why not invest in VMGMX or VSMAX, for example, and get more bang for one’s buck?

    VSMAX has a net expense ratio (“NER”) of 0.06%, with an average annual performance (“AAP”), since inception, of 9.54%. VMGMX has a 0.07% NER and an AAP, since inception, of 14.98%. In contrast, VTSAX sports a slightly lower NER, at 0.04%, but an AAP, since inception, of “only” 6.98%. The main differences are that VSMAX and VMGMX focus only on small- and mid-cap stocks, respectively, have a risk potential of 5 (to VTSAX’s 4), and carry slightly higher fees. If the goal, however, is maximizing returns, and we “know” the market will always go up, why not choose index funds such as VSMAX or VMGMX instead of VTSAX, especially if we’re starting out in our wealth-building phase of life? If the added risk potential of VSMAX or VMGMX are an issue, perhaps these could be options for the wealth building phase. Then, as we near retirement, perhaps switch to VTSAX and VBTLX?

    Any thoughts?


  113. Jim says

    Hi Jim,
    Love the website and the book. Long time reader, first time commenter here 🙂 .
    I’m a big fan of the Vanguard funds as well. While I’m now in the total stock, bond, international funds in my IRA, following of the post for people who don’t have enough for the Vanguard minimums – I have used the Vanguard Target Retirement Date funds (Gross Expense ~.15%) as they have a $1,000 minimum and invest in the Total Stock Market Fund. For another alternate investment, I also used the Schwab Total Stock Market Index (SWSTX) – Gross Expense .03% and *at the moment* it looks like a $1 minimum initial investment.

  114. Stephanie says

    i have been reading your book (it’s amazing, thank you) and I’m very new to all of this. I want to allocate my funds like you suggested in my 401k, unfortunately I don’t see VTSAX as one of the options…they have VINIX, is this one similar?

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Stephanie…

      …glad you like the book.

      VINIX is the institutional shares version of Vanguard’s S&P 500 Index fund. As such it is slightly different than VTSAX, ~80% of VTSAX is made up of the S&P 500. It is an excellent choice.

  115. Lon Fabila says

    M1 Financial offers the Vanguard ETF versions of your two recommendations. They are a fairly new company that charges no fees or commissions when buying or selling on their platform. Do you know much about this company? Do you think they could be a safe alternative to buying directly from Vanguard? It’s noted on their website that they are a member of FINRA/SIPC, not sure if that maters much.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Lon…

      I am unfamiliar with M1, but perhaps one of the readers here have some perspective to offer.

      • Lon Fabila says

        Thank you Jim. One last two part question, I have a traditional IRA, Roth IRA and a Non-Qualified Account that I will be transferring. Is it advisable to set up all three accounts with the 75% VTSAX 25% VBTLX model or because they all are in the same portfolio, should I use the tax friendly accounts for the VBTLX funding and the non-qualified account for the VTSAX? Will this really make any difference?

  116. kc chung says

    Hi mr Collins

    I’m writing from Singapore, I’ve been reading your blog ever since I hear your talk at Google campus. Make so much sense for someone who is financial illiterate like me.
    Keep it simple.
    I would really like to start investing in Vanguard Index Fund. There is Vanguard outpost in Singapore, I’ve tried to reach out to them, they are yet to reply. I suspect for Singapore they don’t entertain individual investors. I’m not sure how else to invest in them, as I do not want to go through a broker company. Wish you can advice.

  117. Celeste says

    Just finished your book and loved it — thank you! Quick question — we’re in the wealth accumulation phase and I’m looking to streamline my investments. My 529 plan offers two funds that look like they fit the bill, but I’m confused about which would be best — Vanguard’s Strategic Equity Fund (VSEQX) with total annual fund operating expenses of 0.18%, or an S&P 500 style Equity Index with total annual expenses of .01%. They both sound like good options, but where should I look to further split hairs when deciding between them?

    I greatly appreciate your time and expertise — your work has been of tremendous benefit to my family!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Celeste…

      ..glad you liked the book!

      The two funds you are considering are very different animals.

      The S&P 500 index fund would be my choice. It is an index fund, the S&P 500 is a great index to track and the ER at .01% is wonderfully low.

      VSEQX is an actively managed fund (which I don’t recommend), has a much higher ER (which while reasonable as active funds go is still 18x(!) higher than the other) and it is focused on mid and small cap stocks (which tend to be more volatile than the S&P 500)

  118. Radznf says

    Hi Jim,

    Finding your blog has been nothing short of life changing. I’ve moved away from Vanguard Target Date Funds (VFFVX – 2055) to 100% VTSAX.

    For my employer’s SIMPLE IRA plan, they use American Funds. While I hate the high front load & ERs, I don’t foresee this changing anytime soon. With that being said and trying to make the most out it, with a 3% match do you think transferring from AAMTX (equivalent to VFFVX) to AGTHX (American Funds The Growth Fund of America) would make sense and be a relatively close apples to apples comparison with what I did with my Vanguard portfolio?


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Radznf…

      Of those two, AGTHX sounds like the better choice.

      But, depending on just how high those front loads and ER are, I might skip this SIMPLE IRA altogether.

      A 3% match is nice, as is the deduction and tax free growth. But loads can run to 5-6% and once you withdraw the money you’ll pay taxes then.

      No easy answer here, and only you can decide. But I’d think about it carefully.

  119. Danny says


    Just wanted to clear some things up because I would like to do this. Do I open a Vanguard General Investing account and not a retirement IRA account? Also, let’s say I build up to 10k with an ETF, do I sell that and then I am able to move it over to VTSAX? Thank you very much and your series is awesome.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Danny…

      You can open a regular account or an IRA or both with Vanguard. Depends on what you want.

      VTI is the ETF version of VTSAX, so if you prefer you can own it. You can switch it to VTSAX when you reach 10k if you like, but in a regular account this will be a taxable event. In an IRA it is not.

      You could also start with VTSMX, the investor shares version. Once that reaches 10k Vanguard will (but check) switch it to the lower cost VTSAX. This is not a taxable event.

      Glad you like the Series!

      • Danny says

        Thank you for the quick reply. So which account am I supposed to get to dump as much money as possible because doesnt an IRA have a contribution limit? Sorry I am very new to this.

          • Danny says

            Im trying to understand the reason for doing that. Why would I move the IRA into the regular brokerage account when I could have put the money into the brokerage account in the first place?