Vanguard Admiral Shares Definition and Advantages

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Smart investors know that keeping expenses low is central to investing success and Vanguard Admiral Shares are one of the best tools to use to accomplish this objective.

Vanguard funds are known for their low-cost, no-load mutual funds, which are arguably the best investment types for do-it-yourself investors. However, investors should be aware that even no-load funds still have expenses. They should also be conscious of investment costs and should generally look for mutual funds with the lowest expenses.

But why are low expenses such an advantage in the world of investing and what does Vanguard Admiral Shares have to do with this cost advantage?

Find out how keeping costs low can help build your bottom line over time and how to use Vanguard Admiral shares as a tool in your investment portfolio.

Why Keeping Costs Low Is Smart for Investors

Keeping costs low with investing is a concept similar to minimizing expenses in a household budget. When you spend less money, you're able to keep more to yourself, thereby enabling your net worth to grow over time. It's the simple but time-tested rule of spend less, save more.

When it comes to mutual funds, the same concept applies. Lower expenses generally translate to higher returns. How does this work? Mutual funds charge expenses in a variety of ways:

  • A Shares: This mutual fund class charges what is called a front-end load, which is a percentage, often ranging from 3 percent to 5.75 percent, that is charged when purchasing shares.
  • B Shares: This share class charges expenses when selling shares, which is why the charge is called a back-end load. This charge can also be as much as 5 percent or more.
  • C Shares: These funds charge what is called a "level load," which means there is an ongoing fee, usually 1.00 percent, as long as you hold the fund. This increases the expenses of the fund and drags down returns, like the 12b-1 fee with B shares.
  • No-Load Funds: These funds do not charge any load but still have internal expenses.
  • Mutual Fund Expense Ratio: All mutual funds, even no-loads, have expenses that go to pay for operational costs and these expenses are expressed in the fund's expense ratio. For load funds, this expense is in addition to the load.

​Loads can make sense for investors using an advisor that does not charge an advisory fee directly to the client. In other words, for the advisor or broker that sells loaded mutual funds, part of their pay for advice comes from the load charge. Sometimes paying the load can make sense but it rarely makes sense to buy mutual funds with high expense ratios.

For example, when comparing two mutual funds with similar objectives but different expense ratios, the one with the lower expense ratio will generally have higher returns in the long run. 

Jack Bogle, Index Funds, and Admiral Shares

The fundamental idea of keeping costs low with investing is no doubt at the forefront of investment strategies and portfolio theory because of John C. "Jack" Bogle, the founder of Vanguard.

The reason why Bogle started Vanguard is at the foundation of why Vanguard Admiral Shares came into existence. While in college, Bogle wrote a thesis paper on how low-cost investing can produce superior returns in the long run. He started Vanguard Investments in 1974 based upon his low-cost investing theories. Soon after, the first index fund available to the public, Vanguard 500 Index (VFINX), was launched.

Today Vanguard is the biggest mutual fund company in the world in terms of assets held in their mutual funds and Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX) is the biggest mutual fund in the world.

How did Vanguard achieve such success? It's not because of slick advertising; it's because investors have gradually learned what Bogle knew from the beginning — that low-cost mutual funds, especially index funds, can outperform higher-cost funds over time.

Index funds are central to the story of Vanguard because index funds are passively managed, which is to say that they passively track an index, rather than actively researching, analyzing, buying, and selling securities. Since actively-managed funds are more expensive to operate they tend to lose in performance in the long run to the cheaper index funds. However, there are a minority of actively-managed funds that have historically outperformed index funds.

The fact that the majority of actively-managed funds lose to their benchmark index can be summarized in the common saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." In different words, if active fund managers have difficulty beating the index, why not just hold the same stocks of the index, keep management costs low, and win by simply matching the performance of the index?

To build upon the success of low-cost investing and index investing, Vanguard launched the Admiral Shares, which have even lower expense ratios than their Investor Shares.

Expenses, Minimums, and Advantages

The basic idea of Vanguard's Admiral Shares is to reward investors for higher balances by charging lower expenses on their lineup of mutual funds. Index funds and tax-managed funds for Vanguard Admiral Shares funds have a minimum initial purchase amount of $10,000; the minimum is $50,000 for actively-managed funds; the minimum is $100,000 for some sector funds; whereas the majority of their Investor Shares mutual funds have a minimum of $3,000.

The expense ratios of Admiral Shares are significantly lower than Vanguard Investor Shares. Although it may not seem like big cost savings, even a few basis points (hundredths of a percent) can add up over time.

For example, the Investor Shares of Vanguard 500 Index has an expense ratio of 0.14 percent, whereas the Admiral Shares version (VFIAX) has expenses of just 0.04 percent. That 0.10 percent difference equates to $10 for every $10,000 invested. That $10 adds up over a multiple-year time frame.

The primary advantage of buying Vanguard's Admiral Shares versus buying their Investor Shares, or other mutual funds with higher expenses, is simply the advantage of keeping more money to yourself and growing those savings over time. By one quick decision to buy Admiral Shares, rather than a more expensive share class, an investor can save hundreds of dollars over time. That decision can be classified as a "no-brainer" in the world of investing.

According to Vanguard, their Admiral Shares are 41 percent lower on average than their Investor Shares and they are 83 percent lower than the average mutual fund in the entire investment universe.

Vanguard also offers exchange-traded funds, known as ETFs, although these mutual fund alternatives have not been completely embraced by Bogle, who has labeled ETFs as a trend potentially dangerous to the average investor. However Vanguard, as of this writing, is the second largest provider of ETFs in terms of assets under management, second only to iShares by BlackRock.

Bottom Line: Since low costs are an advantage to investors, lower costs are even more of an advantage!

Converting Vanguard Investor Shares to Admiral Shares

Vanguard clients who want to covert their Investor Share funds to Admiral Shares can do this by making a simple request to Vanguard. In some cases, Vanguard will make the conversion automatically because they periodically evaluate client balances to determine if they qualify for conversion.

If you are a Vanguard client, and you believe you qualify for conversion and do not want to wait for automatic conversion, you should directly contact Vanguard. Before deciding on converting shares from Investor class to Admiral Shares, be sure that you not only exceed the minimum but you are confident you can maintain the balance above that minimum.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be misconstrued as investment advice. Under no circumstances does this information represent a recommendation to buy or sell securities.