The 9 Best Index Funds for Young Investors (4 From Vanguard)

Get your portfolio off the ground on the right foot at a young age with passive, buy-and-hold index investing. Here we’ll look at 9 of the best index funds for young investors.

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In a hurry? Here’s the list:


John Bogle, founder of Vanguard and considered the father of index investing, said “invest early and often.” Many don’t realize how powerful that statement and approach is until it’s too late. One of the main regrets I have in life is not investing earlier, and not investing smarter when I did start. For far too long I erroneously believed that I was part of the 1% who could trade stocks in the short-term and beat the market. Years later I finally accepted the truth that stock picking doesn’t beat the market for the vast majority of investors, especially over long investing horizons.

Thankfully, if you’ve arrived here, you probably already know that fact. Investing in broad indexes drastically lowers portfolio volatility and risk, especially when incorporating multiple asset types. Below we’ll explore 9 of the best index funds for young investors for long-term growth.

VOO — Vanguard S&P 500 ETF

VOO is Vanguard’s ETF to track the S&P 500 index, comprised of 500 of the largest companies in the United States. The S&P 500 index is a proxy for what is referred to as “the market.” VOO has an expense ratio of 0.03%.

ITOT — iShares Core S&P Total U.S. Stock Market ETF

If you also want some exposure to small- and mid-cap stocks, which have outperformed large-caps historically, this total market index fund from iShares is great. The fund holds over 3,500 stocks. This ETF seeks to track the S&P Total Market Index and has an expense ratio of 0.03%.

VT — Vanguard Total World Stock ETF

Prefer to invest globally? Vanguard’s Total World Stock ETF is roughly half U.S. stocks and half foreign stocks. This ETF seeks to track the FTSE Global All Cap Index, delivering global diversification with equities. The fund contains over 8,500 stocks and has an expense ratio of 0.08%.

IXUS — iShares Core MSCI Total International Stock ETF

If you live in the U.S. and have home country bias and want to dial in your ex-US stock allocation manually instead of using the global market weight with VT, you can do so with IXUS, the iShares Core MSCI Total International Stock ETF, which seeks to track the MSCI ACWI ex USA IMI Index. In other words, this ETF is composed of all stocks outside the United States. One might opt to build their 100% stocks portfolio using 80% ITOT and 20% IXUS, for example. IXUS has an expense ratio of 0.09%.

MGC — Vanguard Mega Cap ETF

If you only want the largest household name companies in your portfolio but still want global diversification, Vanguard’s Mega Cap ETF holds roughly 250 of those. Think Apple, Amazon, Google, Johnson & Johnson, etc. In theory, these large companies should have lower volatility than smaller companies, meaning these stocks are usually more “stable.”

VIG — Vanguard Dividend Appreciation ETF

Want a dividend focus in your portfolio? This ETF tracks the NASDAQ US Dividend Achievers Select Index, formerly known as the Dividend Achievers Select Index, which is comprised of companies that have increased their dividend payment for 10 consecutive years. VIG has an expense ratio of 0.06%.

NTSX — WisdomTree 90/60 U.S. Balanced Fund

A special mention on this list is NTSX. This fund from WisdomTree employs what’s known as leverage, a way to enhance market exposure without additional capital outlay. Leverage of “2x” or “200%,” for example, would mean your $10,000 investment gets you $20,000 of market exposure. This can obviously magnify both gains and losses.

I’m obliged to suggest reading up on the potential pitfalls of using leverage before blindly buying in, but I think this fund in particular is a comparatively “conservative” use of leverage. Moreover, young investors can afford to be more aggressive and employ leverage early in their investing horizon. NTSX was also conveniently built with tax-efficiency in mind, so it’s suitable for a taxable account. I hold it in my own taxable brokerage account.

This fund essentially takes a traditional 60/40 stocks/bonds portfolio and applies 1.5x leverage, achieving 90/60 exposure. It does so by holding 90% S&P 500 index stocks and 10% 6x bond futures. You can read the fund’s prospectus for more details. Theoretically, this fund should deliver close to or above market returns with lower volatility and smaller drawdownsHere’s how this strategy would have performed historically versus the S&P 500:


AGG — iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF

If you have a low risk tolerance or a short time horizon, you’ll probably want some bonds in your portfolio. Bonds and stocks are uncorrelated, meaning when stocks go down, bonds tend to go up, and vice versa. This relationship tends to be conveniently amplified during periods of market turmoil. Because of this, bonds can drastically lower a portfolio’s volatility and risk. A popular low-risk asset allocation is 60% stocks and 40% bonds, called the 60/40 Portfolio.

The iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF is a good choice for a single, simple bond holding, providing broad diversification across the entire U.S. bond market. This ETF seeks to replicate a market-weighted U.S. bond index, containing both government/treasury and corporate bonds. With AGG, young investors don’t have to worry about deciding on a specific bond type or duration. At the time of writing, AGG has an expense ratio of 0.04%.

GOVT — iShares U.S. Treasury Bond ETF

If you’re like me, you might prefer treasury bonds over corporate bonds, since they are a superior hedge for stocks. Moreover, if you’re investing in a taxable brokerage account, interest from treasury bonds is tax-free at state and local levels. The iShares U.S. Treasury Bond ETF seeks to track the ICE U.S. Treasury Core Bond Index, a market-weighted index for U.S. treasury bonds. Think of this fund as AGG above minus corporate bonds. This fund has an expense ratio of 0.15%.

Where to Buy These Index Funds

M1 Finance is an excellent choice of broker to buy these index funds. It has zero transaction fees and offers fractional shares, dynamic rebalancing, and a modern, user-friendly interface and mobile app. I wrote a comprehensive review of M1 Finance here.

Disclosures: I am long VOO and NTSX.

Interested in more Lazy Portfolios? See the full list here.

Disclaimer: While I love diving into investing-related data and playing around with backtests, I am in no way a certified expert. I have no formal financial education. I am not a financial advisor, portfolio manager, or accountant. This is not financial advice, investing advice, or tax advice. The information on this website is for informational and recreational purposes only. Investment products discussed (ETFs, mutual funds, etc.) are for illustrative purposes only. It is not a recommendation to buy, sell, or otherwise transact in any of the products mentioned. Do your own due diligence. Past performance does not guarantee future returns. Read my lengthier disclaimer here.

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Analytical and entrepreneurial-minded data nerd, usability enthusiast, Boglehead, and Oxford comma advocate.