Vanguard vs. TD Ameritrade (2020): Brokerage Review and Comparison

Vanguard vs TD Ameritrade: Broker Comparison

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Vanguard is well-known in the investing industry for its mutual fund investing prowess and benefits for large accounts.

TD Ameritrade, though smaller than Vanguard, has a few additional products and services geared toward long-term investors. As a full-service online broker, TD Ameritrade caters to both passive and active investors, while Vanguard is structured mostly for passive investors and investing.

Further, TD Ameritrade offers several different ways to trade with a variety of platforms. Their thinkorswim platform is great for beginners, and perfect for learning the ropes if you’re interested in active day trading.

TD also publishes more educational content, often considered the industry gold standard when it comes to keeping investors informed. This helps investors gain more confidence and sharpen their trading skills. TD Ameritrade offers more asset classes to trade, almost all of which can be done via their mobile app.

Highlights of Vanguard Vs TD Ameritrade


  •  Lower offerings overall for anything but retirement accounts.
  •  High account balances get the most rewards and lower fees through Vanguard.
  •  Basic education and screeners are available, but most of the research is geared towards long-term investments.
  •  Customers cannot get support outside of trading hours Monday through Friday.
  •  Investors cannot access any streaming data through desktop or mobile application.

TD Ameritrade

  • As a full-service brokerage, TD Ameritrade allows you to trade stocks, ETFs, options, mutual funds, forex, and futures.
  • Commission-free trades include stocks, ETFs, some mutual funds, and some options with a $0.64 per contract fee.
  • Access the thinkorswim platform for customizable charts and dashboard screens, which include watchlists, news, education, resources, stock tips, and so forth.
  • More education offerings than most other brokerages with TD Ameritrade Network and daily stock commentary.
  • 24/7 customer support helps clients get answers to all kinds of questions, but you’ll be charged $44.99 for broker-assisted trades.

Trading Experience: Vanguard vs TD Ameritrade

Vanguard works mostly with larger accountholders and offers more benefits to retirement investors who want low-cost mutual funds. Trading technology is quite outdated with Vanguard, however. With no streaming quotes or real-time data, you have to do your research first before using their system to set up a simple trade.

In addition, you cannot set up complex options trades unless you work with a live broker. These broker-assisted trades have a fee of $50.

TD Ameritrade investors can trade on multiple platforms, including the award-winning thinkorswim platform. This desktop application is very customizable and allows you to choose your own layout, trading defaults, news defaults, color schemes, and so forth.

There are also customization features on the website itself. For example, you can use the My Dock tool on the website to create a dashboard with all of your favorite stock news, tips, charts, and more.

You can place all kinds of orders across platforms, whether desktop or mobile. In addition, TD Ameritrade has a special order routing algorithm that should improve prices with excellent trade execution. You can set up trades straight from streaming data on all platforms as well.

You should use Vanguard if you like:

  •  Mutual funds and long-term investing options
  •  Have a larger account over $500,000 and can take advantage of tax incentives
  •  Don’t require streaming data or quotes

TD Ameritrade’s platform is better for those who want:

  •  Trading across all asset classes with complex options and spreads
  •  Commission-free stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, and options
  •  Streaming real-time quotes and data on all platforms
  •  Access to a downloadable, customizable platform called thinkorswim
  •  Price improvement through TD Ameritrade’s custom smart order router

Mobile Platform and New Technology

You can find mobile apps available for Vanguard on Android, iOS, and Kindle Fire. Since they were recently developed, they have an easy-to-use interface that is less clunky than the website.

However, the most recently added tool was a mobile check deposit. The apps still don’t allow you to enter complex trades or get real-time streaming data. They are best used for checking your portfolio and managing your retirement portfolio.

There are two mobile apps available with TD Ameritrade. The TD Ameritrade Mobile App is the main one and offers a simpler take on the functions of the website.

You can make simple trades, check on your portfolio, and set up watchlists from streaming quotes. However, the TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader app gives you access to the thinkorswim platform, making it one of the best ways to trade on the go.

Screenshot of TD Ameritrade Thinkorswim Platform

You can sync up your customized charts, market scans, and watchlists across desktop and mobile platforms. There are also tools available for complex options order. You can stream helpful videos from the TD Ameritrade Network as well.

Vanguard’s mobile options include:

  •  Apps for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire
  •  Limited capabilities for trades, no streaming quotes or watchlists
  •  No chat capabilities or helpful tips

TD Ameritrade offers better mobile technology including:

  • Convenience, easy-to-use trading platforms on two mobile apps, including TD Ameritrade Mobile App and TD Ameritrade Mobile Trader.
  • Access to the thinkorswim platform on mobile.
  • More options for complex trades, watchlists, custom charts, and so forth.
  • Better education tools and streaming videos available.

Education, Research, News, and Stock Trends

Vanguard’s education center is severely lacking. Many of the videos are old, and while they produce some webinars, most of the content is aimed at retirement and long-term investors.

With no streaming news and little research for options besides options chains, clients can use a few screeners for stocks and ETFs to base decisions. However, their main strength is retirement calculators and planning tools.

In comparison, TD Ameritrade offers a ton of education resources, screeners, and streaming news features that you can customize in a dashboard. The thinkorswim platform offers an impressive number of tools with company profile pages, advanced earnings analysis, FRED data, customizable charts with social sentiment, back testing, and corporate calendar news.

Screenshot of TD Ameritrade Network

The TD Ameritrade Network offers streaming financial broadcasts from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM ET and includes all kinds of market analysis. Customers receive a written analysis and commentary every day, and you can use thinkMoney each quarter to gain some insider advice from the top brokers at TD Ameritrade.

You can also use the virtual trading simulator with TD Ameritrade to try out different strategies with absolutely zero risk. You get $100,000 in practice money along with access to a margin account, and you can use Mobile Trader on your phone to simulate trades as well.

There are also a ton of unique tools on TD Ameritrade, such as Social Signals, which uses a real-time streaming feed to show you brand-relevant tweets. You can even see this in a chart form. Ultimately, it’s easier to manage your risk with TD Ameritrade’s tools.

If looking for retirement help, Vanguard offers the following:

  •  Simple webinars on long-term investing and retirement planning
  •  Basic retirement calculators and mutual funds research
  •  Some research for options chains
  •  Stock screeners and ETF screeners

For those who want more education and a ton of streaming news, tips, and quotes, TD Ameritrade offers a robust education center with plenty of tools, including:

  •  thinkorswim platform with over 400 technical studies available for customized charting
  •  Plottable FRED data and advanced earnings analysis
  •  Social Signals to chart social sentiments from different brands
  •  Access to TD Ameritrade’s exclusive broker insights, daily commentary, and videos

Mutual Funds and Retirement

Vanguard offers retirement planning and over 16,000 mutual funds to choose from with some requiring no transaction fees. How does TD Ameritrade stack up?

TD Ameritrade offers 4,000 no-transaction-fee mutual funds. There are also 11,000 low-cost mutual funds available with expense ratios of 0.50% or less. The Portfolio Planner Tool allows retirement savers to get a complete look of their performance and look for ways to balance out risky investments.


When it comes to security, Vanguard offers customers the ability to secure their logins with strong passwords and will issue a security challenge if the login isn’t recognized.

Yubikey in a Laptop

It also supports Yubikey that checks your hardware and uses a multi-factor authentication key.

TD Ameritrade verifies your account through text messages or a phone call. They may issue a security challenge if you try to login through an unrecognized device.

Customer Support

With 24/7 support, TD Ameritrade wins this category hands-down. In addition, support is offered in a variety of languages including Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese. There are also live help features in the desktop and mobile app versions.

Vanguard offers phone support Monday through Friday, during trading hours only. It’s difficult to get in touch with customer service if you don’t have a direct line to a broker, which will cost you. Higher account balances have a dedicated account manager, and there aren’t any local branches like with TD Ameritrade.

FAQs About Vanguard and TD Ameritrade

Does TD Ameritrade Require an Account Minimum Like Vanguard?

While Vanguard requires that you pay a $20 maintenance fee unless you invest $10,000 in Vanguard ETFs, TD Ameritrade does not charge any fees or require a minimum balance. In fact, you don’t even have to pay an annual IRA fee with TD Ameritrade.

Do You Have Access to Your Own Broker with TD Ameritrade Like Vanguard?

You can place a trade with a broker at TD Ameritrade for $25 per trade. Vanguard’s fee is determined by the account size and varies depending on the type of trade. The fee ranges up to $50.

Can You Trade on the Forex with TD Ameritrade?

You can access forex trading on the thinkorswim desktop platform from TD Ameritrade. Vanguard also allows you to trade on the forex through their website platform.

Which Costs More: Vanguard or TD Ameritrade?

TD Ameritrade customers do not pay any commissions on stocks and ETF trades. However, Vanguard has a different fee schedule that includes $7 per trade and $7 plus $1 per contract for options.

There are also several fees and higher costs if you have a lower account balance. For example, Vanguard charges $7 for the first 25 trades on ETFs and mutual funds, but then traders are charged $20 for all trades after this discount.


If you trade in derivatives, TD Ameritrade costs $0.65 per contract for options. However, you’ll pay $1 for every options contract in addition to a base charge of $1, $7, or $20 depending on your account size.

Larger accounts have less cost for fees. Traders with less than $50,000 in their accounts must pay $20 plus $1 for every options contract.

TD Ameritrade clients can access over 13,000 mutual funds, and 4,200 of these do not have any load or transaction fees. If there is a transaction fee, you’ll pay $49.99 with TD Ameritrade.

In contrast, Vanguard offers over 16,000 mutual funds, and if you purchase Vanguard funds, you won’t be charged a transaction fee or load fee.

If you do find a mutual fund with a transaction fee, you’ll pay $35 standard for account balances under $50,000. Accounts with higher balances pay only $8 or $20 for mutual fund transactions.

Overall, you’ll save more money with TD Ameritrade when it comes to commissions and fees. However, retirement accounts with large balances may benefit more from Vanguard’s low-cost mutual fund fee schedule.


In this match-up, we rank TD Ameritrade higher than Vanguard in almost every category. While Vanguard offers more mutual funds and lower transaction fees for these funds, most of the tools and trading platforms will not help beginner investors or DIY traders.

Vanguard offers retirement planning, but TD Ameritrade offers significantly more tools and education so that investors can trade on their own and build better portfolios. Most accountholders with Vanguard will need to work with a broker to get the most return on their portfolios, which comes at a higher cost as well.

In addition, TD Ameritrade does not have any commission fees on stocks and ETFs, and it’s much cheaper to trade options. Investors have access to more charting tools and options with thinkorswim than with anything currently being offered on Vanguard.

Note: Charles Schwab announced November 2019 that it will be taking over TD Ameritrade in 2020, transitioning all services over to the Schwab platform over five years. However, there is currently an antitrust lawsuit against the Schwab-Ameritrade merger.

About Author

Tim Fries Tim Fries is the cofounder of The Tokenist. He has a B. Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tim is also the co-founder of Protective Technologies Capital (