Quick Look: The Best Index Funds
- Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX)
- Fidelity Total Stock Market Index (FSTMX)
- Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)
- Schwab U.S. Small-Cap ETF (SCHA)
- Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM)
The beauty of index funds is that you’ll get a neat package of bundled stocks. You don’t have to pay a money manager to choose your investments for you. This means that index funds typically give way to high returns and lower fees.
Pros and cons of index funds
The pros and cons of index funds should be carefully considered before you zip online and buy one.
They’re liquid. Liquidity in this case simply means that you can buy or sell at the end of the trading day at the fund’s net asset value. Though they’re not as liquid as stocks, which can be bought or sold at any time during the trading day, mutual funds are still some of the most liquid investment options available.
ETFs can be the best of both worlds, in that they offer diversification and can be purchased on margin like stocks and you can short sell them, too. They also trade at a price that is updated throughout the day, just like stocks. You’ll get real-time pricing every time you buy and sell.
Passive vs. actively managed. Less of your investment goes toward fees and expenses when you invest in index funds.
They’re tax-efficient. Index funds pay fewer dividends than actively managed mutual funds and they also have a low turnover rate. (Low turnover refers to the number of funds that have been replaced, or turned over, during a given year, which results in capital gains taxes.)
Low turnover equals low taxes, so index funds are a great place to park your money if you’re interested in lowering your tax bite.
Index funds don’t represent all sectors and industries. Indexes can favor only certain sectors.
You won’t be able to see huge gains or growth. Since index funds follow an index, they’re not going to see the type of gains you could see as a day trader.
They can be turbulent in times of volatility. Index funds were volatile during the Recession; a money manager may have been able to lessen the impact.
They can be overvalued. Overvaluation can occur when some stocks are priced too high. You can check the index fund’s price-earnings ratio and expected earnings check to see if an index fund is overvalued. It’s a good idea to take overvaluation into serious consideration before purchasing an index fund.
How to Choose Index Funds
Before you leap, look into a few things:
Do your research on the broker you’re considering. Read through more information about how to choose the best broker for you. Also, read everything you can online. Do customers talk about the broker you’re considering in forums? Have they had problems with the broker’s platforms? Frustrations with customer service?
Take that to heart, and maybe even a grain of salt. Oftentimes, these online brokers serve millions of customers. If there are 50 complaints and that’s it, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not so bad.
Take a quick look at some of our favorites below.
|Broker||Best For||Commissions||Account Minimum||Choose your platform|
||$4.95 volume discount available||$0||
Get started securely through Ally Investment's website
1 Minute Review
If investors are on the hunt for a bargain broker, Ally Invest could be the one. With low commissions across the board, Ally Invest (formerly TradeKing) stops potential investors in their tracks with its especially low mutual fund commissions. Commissions on stocks and ETFs are notoriously inexpensive as well, and for more active traders or those with larger account balances, commissions can dip as low as $3.95 per trade.
$3.95 per stock trade for Active Traders at Ally Invest
||$6.95 for fewer than 30 trades/quarter.||$0||
Get started securely through eTrade's website
1 Minute Review
E-Trade is best known for its user-friendly browser, desktop and mobile trading platforms and its extensive research and educational information. E-Trade may not have the lowest commissions compared to discount online brokers, but customers certainly get their money’s worth from E-Trade’s comprehensive offerings.
60 days of commission-free trades with deposit of $10,000 or more
||$0.005 per share minimum $1 and maximum 0.5% of trade value; volume discount available||$0 for cash account, or a margin account with $2,000||
Get started securely through Interactive Brokers's website
1 Minute Review
If you consider yourself a sure-footed professional trader, Interactive Brokers might be a major possibility for you, particularly if you’re adept at navigating tricky trading platforms (can you say 124 option indicators?) or have done more than just dipped your toe a “coupla times” into the complex world of international markets.
Lower minimum activity requirements ($3/month) and opening account minimum requirement ($3,000) for clients 25 and younger.
Check on commissions and fees. Just check on them so you can be amazed at the low fees you’ll find. The Vanguard 500 Fund, for example, has an expense ratio of just 0.12%. Low cost, indeed.
If you choose to go the route of active management instead of indexing, you pay for the possibility of outperformance. According to Morningstar, the average actively managed fund fees are approximately 0.78% in annual fees, whereas the average index fund annual fee is about 0.18%.
Are there some promotions going on with certain brokerage firms? A cash bonus? Something more? Obviously, that should not be the be-all, end-all of your decision, but if you qualify, that could be a very good thing.
Choose an index. The most popular index funds track the S&P 500, but there are several other indexes that are also used for index fund tracking (the Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index is one example).
Best index funds
Benzinga has compiled a list of a few of the best index funds, and they include the following:
Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX)
YTD return: 15.70%
5-year return: 9.71%
Expense ratio: 0.14%
Fidelity Total Stock Market Index (FSTMX)
YTD return: 2.34%
5-year return: 10.71%
Expense ratio: 0.02%
Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO)
YTD return: 14.46%
5-year return: 9.63%
Expense ratio: 0.03%
Schwab U.S. Small-Cap ETF (SCHA)
YTD return: 14.96%
5-year return: 6.55%
Expense ratio: 0.04%
Take a look at some of Benzinga’s picks for the best Schwab index funds.
Vanguard High Dividend Yield ETF (VYM)
YTD return: 11.14%
5-year return: 8.04%
Expense ratio: 0.06%
If there’s one takeaway, just remember that passively managed index funds can beat managed funds over time. If you’re interested in finding something you’d like to hold for the long term and won’t eat up your money through expenses, seriously consider index funds for your portfolio.