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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Vanguard funds - Admiral shares, Investor shares, ETFs (and Institutional shares)

When we started to get serious about going down the path of FIRE about 6 years ago we realized pretty quickly that investing in Vanguard index funds was the way to go.

But invest in WHAT exactly?

Terms such as VTSAX, VBTLX, admiral shares, investor shares were thrown around and, to the uninitiated, this might be information overload when all we are looking for is a simple guideline on what is what.

This won't be a crash course in what is a Mutual Fund or ETF (exchange traded funds). Neither this is going to be a debate over index funds v/s ETFs. Vanguard provides a detailed analysis in the differences and similarities between ETFs and mutual funds. 

To put it very simply, to the average personal (individual) investors - meaning regular Joe and Jill such as you and me - Vanguard offers 2 share classes (or variants) of passive, index funds and often times an ETF for the same underlying benchmark or sector that fund is tracking.

We'll look at the different options to invest in the S&P 500 through Vanguard.

The lowest cost option is the Admiral shares. But their minimum investment is typically $10,000.
Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares is the name of the fund. VFIAX is the ticker.
Fun fact: All mutual funds tickers end in an "X".

Investor shares have a higher ER, at least twice of the Admiral shares, and their minimum investment is typically $3,000.
Vanguard 500 Index Fund Investor Shares is the Investor share fund for tracking the same S&P500 (you can reach it by clicking on the Investor share hyperlink given on the Admiral shares' page on the Vanguard site highlighted in green in the above screenshot); VFINX is the ticker.

If you don't have $3,000 lying around, Vanguard has an option for you.
The Vanguard S&P 500 ETF; ticker VOO.
The ER for this is 0.04%, same as the Admiral fund.
Notice that the ticker doesn't end in an "X" as ETFs are akin to stocks.

Since the ETFs are essentially treated as stocks, there is a bid/ask spread and premium/discount.

Also, Investor shares can be easily converted to Admiral shares once you meet the minimum threshold. Vanguard takes care of that. As far as I know, to move ETFs over Admiral shares you'll have to sell your ETF and buy Admiral shares. If you have a taxable account you will have tax implications when you sell your ETFs.

NOTE: I'm not a tax expert and you should consult a tax professional if you have questions. Materials presented here are for informational purpose only.

Vanguard also has funds to track the same underlying S&P 500 for its institutional investors.
ER are lower than Admiral shares and look at the minimum - $100M!! These are, as the name suggests, for institutional (pensions; insurance companies, hedge funds and such) investors.
Vanguard Institutional Index Fund Institutional Plus Shares; VIIIX

Now there you have it: Go forth and invest!


  1. My wife's coworker has some money in a Vanguard account and she was saying that it's just sitting there doing nothing because she didn't have the $3,000 minimum. I never even thought to have my wife recommend the ETF for her. Thanks!

    1. Glad to be of help! The only thing is to remember that even though ETFs can be traded as stocks, they SHOULDN'T be!