What Are Vanguard Index Funds? What You Need To Know To Invest

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Vanguard is an unquestioned industry leader in no-load mutual funds and low-cost ETFs. But what are Vanguard index funds, and why are they so popular with investors?

First, it helps to understand what an index. Put simply, it’s a grouping of stocks based on certain criteria. For example, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is an index that tracks 30 “blue chip” stocks. Index funds are mutual funds that map to a specific market index, such as the DJIA, S&P 500 and Russell 2000.

Some funds invest in an entire index, while others only invest in a sampling of a given index. In either case, index funds give investors a diversified portfolio that is managed on their behalf.

Vanguard’s index funds are known for being cost-effective and bringing consistent long-term returns that outperform peer-group averages. Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in looking deeper into a Vanguard index fund stock:

What Are the Best Vanguard Index Funds?

Vanguard has dozens of index funds, suited to all types of investors. Some feature low minimum investment amounts, whereas others require more money. Here’s a Vanguard index funds list of some of the best and most popular investment options:

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Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFIAX)

This broad index fund is a low-cost way for investors to enter the U.S. equities market. It is based on the S&P 500 index, meaning it invests in 500 of the country’s largest companies across multiple industries.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.04%
  • Average 10-year return: 13.85%

Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTSAX)

The Total Stock Market Index Fund is a well-diversified, low-cost fund that exposes investors to the entire U.S equities market.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.04%
  • Average 10-year return: 13.78%

Vanguard Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBTLX)

The Total Bond Market Index Fund focuses on investment-grade bonds such as mortgage-backed securities and U.S. treasuries.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.05%
  • Average 10-year return: 3.80%

Vanguard Explorer Fund Investor Shares (VEXPX)

If you want a higher-risk investment, the Explorer Fund Investor Shares provides exposure to more than 500 small- and mid-sized companies that appear to have growth potential.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.45%
  • Average 10-year return: 14.15%

Vanguard Dividend Growth Fund (VDIGX)

This fund focuses on dividend-paying stocks. It provides income for investors through high-quality companies that have the ability to produce strong yields.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.27%
  • Average 10-year return: 13.15%

Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund Admiral Shares (VTIAX)

The VTIAX focuses on companies in developing, emerging economies. It is also available as an exchange-traded fund.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.11%
  • Average 6-year return: 5.13%

Vanguard U.S. Growth Fund Investor Shares (VWUSX)

This is Vanguard’s oldest growth fund and specifically focuses on blue-chip companies that tend to be strong performers within a variety of industries.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.38%
  • Average 10-year return: 18.44%

Vanguard Long-Term Corporate Bond Index Fund Admiral Shares (VLTCX)

This corporate bond index fund focuses on long-term bonds issued by industrial, utility and financial companies with maturities greater than 10 years. Interest-rate changes affect the value of these long-term bonds, so investors might experience occasional price fluctuations depending on the market rates.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.07%
  • Average 10-year return: 8.14%

Vanguard Intermediate-Term Corporate Bond Index Fund Admiral Shares (VICSX)

Similar to the long-term corporate bond index fund, this intermediate-term fund also invests in industrial, utility and financial companies, but with a focus on bonds with maturities of five to 10 years. Though their terms are shorter, intermediate-term bonds are also subject to fluctuating values based on current interest rates.

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  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.07%
  • Average 10-year return: 5.70%

Vanguard Real Estate Index Fund Admiral Shares (VGSLX)

Real estate can be a great thing to invest in when it looks like the stock market might be in for a downturn. This fund invests in real estate investment trusts that typically buy hotels, retail centers and office buildings.

  • Minimum investment amount: $3,000
  • Fees: 0.12%
  • Average 10-year return: 8.68%

Once you’ve reviewed a list of the best Vanguard Index Funds, connect with an advisor to help you navigate your options and choose which funds work best for you. If you’re ready to invest, here’s a helpful guide on how to go about it.

How To Invest in Vanguard Index Funds

There are multiple ways you can invest in Vanguard index funds, including the following:

  • Directly through Vanguard
  • Through a retirement account
  • By buying and selling Vanguard index funds on the open market using their ticker symbols

Choose the Right Index Fund

Before you select an index fund, take a look at a list of Vanguard index funds and consider these metrics:

  • Minimum investment: the minimum amount you can invest to buy the fund
  • Price per share: how much a single share costs
  • Average return: the percentage gain or loss over a set period of time
  • Fees: what you will have to pay Vanguard for managing the fund

You can choose to invest based purely on the above metrics, or you can invest in something you believe in. For instance, some index funds focus on companies that consider environmental, social and corporate governance issues, better known as ESG. These funds tend to invest in stocks that prioritize social responsibility and sustainability.

Another Option

Invest toward a target. For example, the Vanguard Target Retirement Funds are designed to help you invest for retirement based on factors such as your age and financial needs. These can be particularly beneficial to those who want a low-cost, passive retirement platform because Vanguard index funds are re-balanced periodically to account for that target retirement date.

How To Open a Vanguard Account

Once you know which index fund you want, it’s time to open a Vanguard index funds account. Just like with other bank accounts, you’ll need to provide the following information:

  • Name, mailing address and other identifying information
  • Current employer’s name and address
  • Payment information:

The process can be completed entirely online by taking the following steps:

  1. Go to Vanguard.com.
  2. Decide which mutual funds you want to buy.
  3. Choose the type of account (e.g., general investing, retirement, college savings).
  4. Fund your account electronically.

You can begin investing three to seven days after opening your account. Keep in mind that because mutual funds are purchased on the stock exchange, you might not be able to complete your initial transaction purchases until the stock market is open.

Should You Invest In Vanguard Index Funds?

One benefit of investing in a Vanguard index fund is that it doesn’t need to be actively managed. At the same time, it might not have some of the soaring yields of other, higher-risk options. Because you are tied to a specific index, you could experience dramatic losses if that index drops.

Index funds are an excellent addition to a diversified portfolio — as long as you balance them out with other types of investments. As with other investments, be sure to consult with your financial advisor before putting money into index funds to help ensure the best results.

This article has been updated with additional reporting since its original publication.

Our in-house research team and on-site financial experts work together to create content that’s accurate, impartial, and up to date. We fact-check every single statistic, quote and fact using trusted primary resources to make sure the information we provide is correct. You can learn more about GOBankingRates’ processes and standards in our editorial policy.

About the Author

Barbara A. Friedberg, MBA, MS, brings decades of finance and investing experience. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from the University of Cincinnati, a Master of Science degree in administration and counseling from Miami University, and a Master of Business Administration degree in finance from Penn State University. Her work has been featured in U.S. News & World Report, Investopedia, Yahoo! Finance, GOBankingRates, InvestorPlace and many more publications.

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