Which investing platform is best for you?

March 18, 2021

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Vanguard and Fidelity are two top online brokerages offering self-directed trading accounts, automated accounts, IRAs, cash management accounts, and much more. Both brokerages allow you to avoid account minimums on standard brokerage accounts and trade commission-free stocks, ETS, and options.

While Vanguard and Fidelity provide similar account types, they offer unique account minimums, account features and fees structures. 

Vanguard has just about everything for every type of investor. As a supplement to its account and investment offerings, the brokerage provides investor education resources, financial tools and calculators, investment research, and investing news and market insights. In other words, there's no shortage of resources for both hands-on and hands-off investors.

Fidelity also holds its own in the online brokerage arena. With its combined offering of commission-free trading accounts, automated and advisor-assisted accounts, retirement planning resources and much more, the company has positioned itself as a top investment app. 

Keep reading to learn more about each option.

Vanguard began its operations in 1975. The investment app offers individual and joint brokerage accounts, IRAs, 529 plans, cash investment options, small business retirement plans, and more.

Among its investment products are stocks, ETFs, options, bonds, mutual funds, and CDs. But Vanguard mainly stands out due to its commission-free stock, ETF, and option offerings. While these investments don't have any account minimum requirements, its mutual fund minimums typically range from $1,000 to $10,000.

In addition, you'll mainly run into fees for mutual funds, certain ETFs, and options contracts. For instance, most of Vanguard's mutual funds have a $3,000 minimum requirement. Options contracts cost $1 per contract.

Vanguard also offers investment research and expert analysis documents (you can access these even if you don't currently have an account). The brokerage's "News & Perspectives" section keeps you in the loop on all things finance.

If you're more of a hands-off investor or prefer professional guidance, the app's Vanguard Digital Advisor or Vanguard Personal Advisor Services accounts could be right for you. Vanguard Digital Advisor — which has a $3,000 minimum and 0.15% annual fee — solely provides automated portfolio management. 

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, which carries a $50,000 account minimum and 0.3% annual fee, includes both automated investment management and one-on-one advisor access. But unlike Vanguard Digital Advisor, this account gives you unlimited access to a fiduciary Vanguard advisor.

If you're looking for retirement accounts, Vanguard's account selection includes traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k) rollovers, individual 401(k)s, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs. Its IRAs also offer multiple investment types, including Vanguard's "All in One" Target retirement funds and more than 200 commission-free ETFs and mutual funds. 

Vanguard also offers education savings plans, UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts, and trust administration and investment management services. You can set up the Vanguard mobile app on Google Play or iOS devices.

Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, Fidelity dates back to 1946. The

online brokerage
offers a vast suite of wealth-building products, including brokerage accounts, automated and managed accounts, cash management accounts, IRAs, 529 plans, trusts, and custodial accounts.

Fidelity offers both individual and joint taxable brokerage accounts. Like Vanguard, the app charges $0 commissions on stocks, ETFs, and options, and you don't need a minimum account size to trade on your own. It also has more than 3,400 no-transaction-fee mutual funds (mutual funds without commissions or sales charges).

In addition to Fidelity's offering of more than 7,000 stocks and ETFs, the investment app stands out due to its zero-

expense ratio
index mutual funds. Index funds often come with an expense ratio, or management fee, that's deducted from your balance every year.

For research-oriented investors, Fidelity offers market insights and commentary through Fidelity Viewpoints. It also relies on investment research from multiple sources, including Thomson Reuters StarMine.

Fidelity provides several trading tools for more advanced traders. Its Active Trader Pro platform includes real-time market insights, advanced portfolio monitoring tools, and more. And the app's stock and ETF screeners help you narrow down your investment decisions.

The app's Fidelity Go and Fidelity Personalized Planning and Advice accounts could be a better fit for hands-off investors or beginner investors. Fidelity Go specializes in personalized, automated investment management, while Fidelity Personalized Planning and Advice combines automated management with human advisor access (similar to Vanguard Personal Advisor Services).

Fidelity Go doesn't have an account minimum, but you'll need at least $25,000 for Fidelity Personalized Planning and Advice.

As for retirement accounts, the app currently offers traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, rollover IRAs, Roth IRA for Kids accounts, self-employed 401(k)s, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, and investment-only accounts.

The Fidelity mobile app is available on both iOS and Google Play devices. 

Vanguard and Fidelity provide similar services with competitive account features, but the two differ when it comes to fees, trading tools, and investment research.

Vanguard is a good option for active traders, passive investors, and beginner investors looking to build wealth in one or multiple account types. If you'd like to trade on your own, the app's $0 commission brokerage accounts could be a great place to start. Its Digital Advisor and Personal Advisor Services accounts could be great for passive investors, but the $3,000 and $50,000 minimums may be a bit high for some.

You should consider Fidelity if you're looking for a wider range of trading tools and platforms. Both Fidelity's research offerings, active trading platforms, and investment analysis tools make it easier to inform your investment decisions.

In addition, Fidelity is hard to beat when it comes to cost. Many of its accounts have no minimum requirements, and the brokerage offers multiple zero-expense-ratio index mutual funds.

Both Vanguard and Fidelity offer $0 account minimums and commission-free trading for standard brokerage accounts. But you'll generally need less when it comes to Fidelity's minimum requirements for automated accounts and mutual funds. 

Rickie Houston is a wealth-building reporter at Personal Finance Insider who covers investing, brokerage, and wealth-building products.