Total Stock Market Index Funds: VTSAX, Plus 3 More Like It

Should you buy total stock market index funds?

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Total stock market index funds can be a smart way for investors to gain exposure to nearly all of the publicly traded stocks on U.S. stock exchanges, all in one fund. Some investors may choose a total stock market fund as a convenient way to invest in a diverse mix of stocks rather than trying to achieve the same mix by purchasing several funds.

Total Stock Market Index Fund Definition

A total stock market index fund is a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) that invests in a basket of stocks that passively tracks the performance of a broad stock market benchmark, such as the Wilshire 5000, the CRSP US Total Market Index, Russell 3000, or the Dow Jones U.S. Total Stock Index.

Like S&P 500 Index Funds, total stock market index funds are market-cap weighted. Stocks of companies with the largest capitalization receive higher allocation than those with mid and small capitalization.

The top companies in these indexes include big U.S. companies like Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), and Microsoft (MSFT).

Benefits of Investing in a Total Stock Market Index Fund

Here are the primary benefits of investing in a total stock index fund:

  • Core Holding: Total stock market index funds make good core holdings in a portfolio of mutual funds. In a core-and-satellite portfolio strategy, an investor will invest in multiple funds, with a core that receives the highest allocation, and the satellites, which receive smaller allocations.
  • Simplicity: Investors can gain access to nearly the entire U.S. stock market in one low-cost fund.
  • Diversification: Total stock market index funds typically hold thousands of stocks of various market capitalizations. Investors can achieve diversification in one fund. Most total stock index funds hold 3,000 or more stocks.
  • Tax Efficiency: Since index funds have very little turnover, they generally produce fewer capital gains distributions to investors, compared to actively managed funds. This makes a total stock index fund potentially a good holding for investors with taxable brokerage accounts.

Best Total Stock Market Index Funds

Since index funds passively track a benchmark index, the best funds are generally those with the lowest expense ratios. This is like buying generic goods. If you are comparing two items, and they have the same ingredients, it makes more sense to buy the cheaper one.

Total stock index funds should track an index that exposes investors to thousands of U.S. stocks.

With those criteria in mind, here are some of the best total stock index funds on the market:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Admiral Shares (VTSAX): Opening to investors in 1992, VTSAX is among the first index funds to capture the total market. This fund tracks the CRSP US Total Market Index. With an expense ratio of 0.04 percent and exposure to more than 3,500 stocks, it makes a solid core holding for a diversified mutual fund portfolio. For exposure to the same stocks and a lower expense ratio of 0.03%, investors can buy the ETF version, Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI).
  • Fidelity Total Market Index Fund (FSKAX): With an expense ratio of just 0.015%, FSKAX is currently the leader for lowest expense ratio among total stock index funds. This mutual fund tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Total Stock Market Index, which represents approximately 3,000 U.S. stocks.
  • Schwab Total Stock Market Index (SWTSX): For a mutual fund, SWTSX has an extremely low expense ratio of 0.03%. The fund tracks the Dow Jones U.S. Total Stock Market Index, which includes approximately 3,000 U.S. stocks.
  • iShares Russell 3000 Index Fund (IWV): With IWV, investors gain access to the Russell 3000, which covers about 3,000 US stocks. Although the expenses of 0.20% for IWV are a bit higher than those of a few other total stock index funds, IWV is among the largest ETFs of its kind with over $7 billion in assets.

The Bottom Line

Total stock index funds can be appropriate for investors who are looking for a mutual fund as a standalone investment or as a core holding in a diversified portfolio. Potential investors should keep in mind that, although total stock index funds provide broad diversification, they still have market risk similar to that of other stock investments.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an expense ratio?

An expense ratio measures how much of a fund's assets are used for operating purposes. The expense ratio reduces a fund's returns to its shareholders, so it's an important consideration when it comes to where to invest. Actively managed funds have significantly higher expense ratios than passively managed ones.

What is an ETF?

An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is a security that tracks a sector, index, commodity, or another asset. ETFs are sold on a stock exchange and typically have a low expense ratio because they're passively managed.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services or advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.