Vanguard vs. Interactive Brokers: Comparing Top Discount Brokers

By Jordan

Making your first investment is as easy as it has ever been, but you'll need to open a brokerage account to buy stocks, funds, and other investment products. Vanguard and Interactive Brokers are two commonly used online discount brokers that bring Wall Street right to your computer or mobile device. Here's how they compare for investors who want to invest for the long haul.

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Trading costs and commissions

Price isn't everything, but it is important. The following table compares standard commission prices to trade stocks, options, ETFs, and mutual funds through both brokers.

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Source: company websites.

It's highly possible that you pay a lower average rate than shown here. Vanguard gives discounts to customers who keep at least $50,000 in Vanguard's ETFs and mutual funds. Interactive Brokers has a tiered commission schedule, which can result in trading costs that are lower than its fixed commissions detailed in the table.

Importantly, Interactive Brokers requires a minimum monthly amount of commissions -- you'll pay at least $10 a month, even if you don't place a trade. Minimums may make it less attractive for investors who don't trade as much.

Commission-free ETFs and NTF funds

Investors who buy more funds than individual stocks might want to look at each broker's commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds. Vanguard and Interactive Brokers waive commissions and transaction fees on a select list of ETFs and mutual funds, which means you won't pay a commission every time you buy or sell.

Source: company websites.

Account minimums

You don't need a lot of money to start investing. Vanguard doesn't have a minimum initial deposit or account size requirement. Interactive Brokers generally requires a $10,000 minimum initial deposit to get started. However, people who want to open an IRA account can get started with just $5,000. If you're younger than 25, Interactive Brokers drops the minimum to just $3,000.

Trading platform

We at The Motley Fool tend to think of ourselves as investors rather than traders, the difference being that we invest in great companies with the intention to hold them for years. We don't advocate high-volume trading -- if we buy it, we want to hold it for a very long time.

For this reason, we don't have a strong opinion on the quality of any given trading platform. Besides, we tend to think that the quality of a trading platform is subjective to the individual. Both Vanguard and Interactive Brokers make it easy to make a trade, which is really all we ask of a trading platform.

A fancy trading platform makes it all too easy to get sucked into the emotional swings of every price fluctuation. We prefer to simply buy and hold, and let others carry the stress. Image source: Getty Images.

International stocks and ADRs

If international stocks are important to you, Interactive Brokers and Vanguard can be a great fit.Both brokers enable you to buy American depositary receipts (ADRs) listed in the United States, which means you can invest in foreign companies via ADRs as if they were an ordinary domestic company.

If you want to trade stocks on international stock markets, Vanguard and Interactive Brokers can do that, too. Be advised that Vanguard charges a $50 fee on top of a commission for trades in foreign markets, whereas Interactive Brokers also charges a higher commission that varies by country and stock market.

Research quality and tools

One perk of opening a brokerage account is that you get access to additional research and tools just for having an account. Both brokerages have plenty of common tools such as stock and fund screeners, heat maps, and instant news from leading providers. Vanguard also offers access to third-party research from Standard & Poor's and First Call. Interactive Brokers' customers are rewarded with analyst upgrades and downgrades, research and news from Morningstar, and a "Daily Lineup" that includes the day's must-know headlines, just to name a few of its research solutions.

We could go on and on here, but the point is that you'll find plenty of opportunity to stay informed and get a second opinion on your investments as a customer of either brokerage.

Mobile app reviews

Thanks to mobile trading apps, you can trade anywhere that you have internet access or phone service. Here's how each brokers' users and clients rated their mobile capabilities on iOS and Android (as of 12/06/2016).

Source: Relevant app stores.

Picking a winner: Vanguard vs. Interactive Brokers

Either broker could be a great fit. If you prefer Vanguard's funds, the ability to invest in its ETFs commission-free may give it the advantage. If you trade stock options, then Interactive Brokers' low pricing might sway you to their side.

The best broker is inevitably the one that fits your personal portfolio and trading needs. While The Motley Fool doesn't endorse any particular broker, we can help you make the best decision for you. Head on over to's Broker Center to compare the leading brokerage services on criteria that are most important to you.

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Jordan Wathen owns shares of Interactive Brokers. The Motley Fool recommends Interactive Brokers. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.