TD Ameritrade versus Vanguard - compare IRA, commissions, investing fees, trading tools, account differences, pros and cons. Which online broker is better?

Overview

If you currently have a brokerage account at Vanguard or TD Ameritrade, you may want to know what services are available at the other company. Depending on your trading habits, you may achieve a better deal by switching brokers.


Broker Fees

Broker Fees Stock/ETF
Commission
Mutual Fund
Commission
Options
Commission
Maintenance
Fee
Annual IRA
Fee
TD Ameritrade $0 $49.95 $0 + $0.65 per contract $0 $0
Vanguard $7-$20 $8-$35 $30 + $1.50 per contract $20* $20*


Services

Broker Review Cost Investment Products Trading Tools Customer Service Research Overall Rating
TD Ameritrade
Vanguard


Promotions

TD Ameritrade: $0 commission stocks/ETFs + get up to $600 cash.

Vanguard: no promotions.



Account Management Services

While many investors choose to open self-directed accounts at the two firms, TD Ameritrade and Vanguard both offer portfolio management for low fees. TD Ameritrade has a digital advisor that buys and sells ETF’s for just 0.3%. This option carries a $5,000 minimum investment. Traditional packages cost as little as 20 basis points per year, although they require at least a million dollars in assets. At $25,000, the price can be as high as 90 basis points, depending on the specific package chosen.

Vanguard hasn’t yet rolled out a robo advisor, but it does offer a traditionally-managed service at a robo price: just 30 basis points per annum. The company does require a very steep $50,000 to sign up for the service, however. There are no other packages available.


Range of Investment Vehicles

Vanguard customers can trade stocks, options, bonds, brokered CD’s, mutual funds, and ETF’s. As far as accounts are concerned, we found a wide selection of IRA’s plus a solo 401(k) option. The company provides 529 college savings plans and UGMA/UTMA choices as well.

We found these account types at TD Ameritrade, too. One weakness that Vanguard has here is that it no longer offers Coverdell accounts, while TD Ameritrade does.

As for financial instruments, TD Ameritrade offers all the products Vanguard does plus futures and forex. Both companies also offer annuities in partnership with insurance companies.


Mutual and Exchange-traded Funds

TD Ameritrade clients get ALL ETF’s without paying any commissions. The broker also offers over 4,200 mutual funds without transaction fees or loads. In total, there are nearly 13,000 mutual funds available for purchase.

Vanguard has a commission-free trading in about 1,800+ ETF’s. Over 70 of the funds are Vanguard products. Roughly a hundred fund families are on Vanguard’s no-commission list.

As for mutual funds, Vanguard offers around 7,100. Out of this selection, we found 2,900 with no transaction fee and no load.

During our investigation, we thought TD Ameritrade had much better fund resources on its website. Its mutual fund screener was easier to use and includes more search criteria.


Cash Management

Investors nowadays expect banking features with their brokerage accounts, and both Vanguard and TD Ameritrade have responded. There’s a wide difference in what’s available at what price, however.

TD Ameritrade offers checks and a debit card for free. They can be attached to an existing brokerage account (they don’t create a separate account). There is no minimum account balance. Even better, the company reimburses ATM fees that are incurred anywhere in the United States, and there’s no maximum to this great policy.

Vanguard customers need at least half a million dollars in assets to open the company’s hybrid investment-bank account. Named VanguardAdvantage, it is a separate account and carries a $30 annual fee. Although it is a type of brokerage account, Vanguard mutual funds cannot be traded in it. Why? We have no idea.

Additional orders of checks cost $9.95. This fee can be avoided if you have at least a million dollars in assets. TD Ameritrade charges nothing for checkbook reorders. ATM withdrawals at PNC Bank locations are free of charge with a VanguardAdvantage debit card.


Trading Tools

If you plan to place your own trades, you’ll definitely want to pay attention to this section. TD Ameritrade offers a well-designed website that is easy to navigate. There’s a trade bar near the bottom of the monitor. Called SnapTicket it is able to submit orders for stocks, ETF’s, and options. We really like the ability to display a small graph and monitor real-time data. A rapid version of the trade bar can submit orders using typed messages, such as b200ibm142.37 to purchase 200 shares of IBM at $142.37 or less.

If you don’t want to use the website, download thinkorswim, the broker’s desktop platform. It offers pro-level features, such as Level II windows, complex order types, direct-access routing, and much more. Charting on thinkorswim is very sophisticated with hundreds of technical studies.


TD Ameritrade vs Vanguard


TD Ameritrade doesn’t want to limit trading to a computer. It has recently launched a skill for Amazon’s Echo devices. While other skills only provide market data, TD Ameritrade’s can place trades.

Switching to Vanguard, we find a very different situation. The broker’s website is simpler than TD Ameritrade’s, and more difficult to navigate. There is no trade bar on the site, and all orders are placed on minimal web pages.

Charting is at a very basic level on the Vanguard site. There are a few graph styles, a handful of technical studies, and a 10-year maximum timeframe. We did like the inclusion of company events, and that’s about the only positive comment we can make here.

You probably have already guessed at this point that Vanguard doesn’t offer a browser platform, desktop software, or skill for Amazon’s devices.


Vanguard versus Ameritrade


Mobile Apps

We were more impressed with Vanguard’s mobile app. It offers Twitter feeds from Vanguard, check deposit, market indexes, a watchlist, and more. Vanguard mutual funds can be traded on the app, but not non-Vanguard mutual funds. ETF’s and stocks can be traded, but not options.


Vanguard mobile


Moving to TD Ameritrade, we get three choices. This could be narrowed down to two, as two of them have similar features. These are the trading apps, and they offer some very powerful features, such as advanced charting, and the ability to trade options, forex, and futures. Strong points on Vanguard’s app, such as check deposit and market indexes, are also present on TD Ameritrade’s. But TD Ameritrade goes further by offering trading in all fund families, plus a free broadcast of CNBC.


Vanguard or Ameritrade


Customer Support

As with some of the other categories, we’re going to see a pretty big difference here between the two firms. TD Ameritrade offers 24/7 service, whereas Vanguard is open Monday through Friday from 8 in the morning till 10 in the evening. There are no weekend hours.

For in-person service, TD Ameritrade offers more than 360 brick-and-mortar locations, one of the largest branch networks of any discount broker. Vanguard has zero.

For online customer service, TD Ameritrade offers a digital assistant named Ted who is able to answer many questions. If Ted can’t answer your question, there is also a human chat service. Surprisingly, Vanguard offers neither.


Promotions

TD Ameritrade: $0 commission stocks/ETFs + get up to $600 cash.

Vanguard: no promotions.



Recommendation

For ETF traders either broker is great. Their commission-free list is one of the best in the industry.

We also can suggest both brokers for large investors (defined as more than $1,000,000 in investable assets). At this level, Vanguard's and TD Ameritrade’s commissions are similar.

For portfolio management, we’re going to recommend TD Ameritrade. Although Vanguard’s human advisors cost the same as TD Ameritrade’s robot, Vanguard does not offer any branch locations, which means it’s not a traditional sit-down one-on-one relationship. Because TD Ameritrade does have numerous branch locations, you could probably get this type of individual guidance at a very reasonable cost.

If you plan to trade on your own, and won’t be investing large sums in funds, go with TD Ameritrade. Its commission schedule and software are worth it.


Vanguard vs TD Ameritrade Summary

Vanguard shines in a few areas, but TD Ameritrade triumphs in most.


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