When you invest in a mutual fund or ETF, the fund company charges you a fee for managing that basket of stocks or bonds. This is called the annual net expense ratio, usually expressed as a percentage. If you hold a steady $10,000 in a hypothetical fund with a 1% expense ratio, that would result in an annual charge of $100. These expenses are actually deducted daily day from the funds’ net asset value (NAV), and while the numbers can seem small they will compound quietly and relentlessly over time. Here is an illustration from the Vanguard website:
Vanguard has a long history of lowering their expense ratios as their assets under management grow, while the industry average hasn’t changed very much.
You don’t need to track every little change as an investor, but I subscribe to updates of their expense ratio change announcements anyway. Vanguard runs their funds “at cost”, so sometimes as their costs go up, the expense ratios can also rise a bit. I’ll try to keep this list updated, along with some brief highlights.
2015 Announcements and Highlights
- December 2015. Lower expense ratios for 53 mutual fund shares, including 21 ETFs.
- May 2015. REIT Index fund expense ratios went up. VNQ went up to 0.12%.
- April 2015. Total Bond Market ETF (BND) and Total Bond Market Index Admiral Shares (VBTLX) dropped to 0.07%.
- March 2015. Only one change: Lower expense ratio for Vanguard Convertible Securities Fund.
- February 2015. Lower expense ratios for 6 international ETFs.
- January 2015. Expense ratio changes for several actively managed funds.
- February 2014. Total US Stock ETF (VTI) was unchanged at 0.05%. Total International Stock ETF (VXUS) dropped to 0.14%. FTSE Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) dropped to 0.15%.
- January 2013. Target Retirement 2010-2055 Funds saw their expense ratio drop by a basis point to 0.16%-0.18%.
- May 2012. Vanguard REIT Index Fund, and Vanguard’s Short / Intermediate / Long-Term Investment-Grade Funds, Vanguard’s Short / Intermediate / Long-Term Treasury Funds, and a few other bond funds had expense ratio drops.
- April 2012. Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund, Total Bond Market Index Fund, 500 Index Fund, Balanced Index Fund, Extended Market Index Fund, Small-Cap Value Index Fund, Total Stock Market Index Fund, and Value Index Fund had share classes with expense ratio drops.
- February 2012. Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index, FTSE All-World ex-US Index, Total International Stock Index, and Total World Stock Index funds amongst others had share classes with expense ratio drops.
(Note that Vanguard chooses to delete their old announcements after about a year, so everything 2014 and before is now gone.)
In recent years as index funds have shot up in popularity, most of the major providers have introduced similar low-cost products (notably iShares, Fidelity, and Schwab). I think the competition is great and even Vanguard needs to be kept on its toes. However, with my own money, I think Vanguard has both the past history and better ongoing structure to keep costs low over the long haul. I have used both Fidelity Spartan funds and iShares ETFs as alternatives.