Novice and young investors alike can reduce some of the daunting element of investing and the associated expenses by embracing exchange traded funds (ETFs). More to the point, investors can make their investing experience easier and more profitable by embracing cheap ETFs.
Fortunately for frugal and new investors, the universe of cheap ETFs is expanding at a rapid rate. There are even two U.S.-listed ETFs with no annual expense ratios at all and another that even offers a rebate on its fees.
In other words, investors who want to save money on fund fees — and they should all want to do that because fees adversely impact long-term returns — have plenty of cheap ETFs to consider, and it is reasonable to expect that list will continue growing as fund issuers continue tussling for investor assets.
For rookie investors seeking the combination of easy-to-understand concepts and cheap ETFs, these are some of the best funds to consider.
Expense Ratio: 0.03% per year, or $3 on a $10,000 investment.
Broad or total market funds such as the Schwab US Broad Market ETF (NYSEARCA:SCHB) are excellent starting points for new investors, and the good news is many of these are easy to understand. Plus, most of these funds are inexpensive. Just look at SCHB. With annual fee of just 0.03%, SCHB is one of the cheapest ETFs in the U.S.
“There are a few benefits of weighting by market cap. This approach incorporates the cumulative knowledge aggregated in stock prices to size its positions,” said Morningstar in a recent note. “It keeps costs low because it doesn’t require fundamental research analysts or skilled stock-pickers, who can be expensive to hire. While the market doesn’t always get things right, it has done a good job valuing stocks over the long haul.”
While SCHB holds 2,443 stocks, a much deeper bench than the S&P 500’s, investors should expect it to perform in line with broad market benchmarks over long holding periods. And this cheap ETF gets even cheaper for Schwab clients because they can buy and sell SCHB on a commission-free basis.
Expense Ratio: 0.07%
Many new investors are apt to skew toward large-cap fare. While those investors should be careful to not allocate too much of their portfolios to domestic large caps, there is something to be said for novice investors embracing the most familiar, domestic, big companies. The Vanguard Mega-Cap ETF(NYSEARCA:MGC) is a cheap ETF with umbrella exposure to the largest U.S. companies.
This cheap ETF holds 264 stocks with a median market value of $137.4 billion. MGC’s top 10 holdings, which include Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), combine for just over 26% of the fund’s weight.
Due to the emphasis on mega-cap stocks, MGC can sport different return profiles than traditional broad market funds. Over the past three years, MGC topped the S&P 500 by about 200 basis points, but the cheap ETF’s annualized volatility was the same as the S&P 500’s.
Expense Ratio: 0.08%
One of the most frequent mistakes made by novice investors is to be under-allocated to or outright ignore international assets. Some of that is derived from the home-country bias investors of all skill levels struggle to shake. Some of that is also attributable to the assumption that international funds are more expensive than their domestic counterparts.
That is generally true, but there are still plenty of cheap ETFs in the international equity space. The iShares Core MSCI EAFE ETF (CBOE:IEFA) is a prime example of such a fund. IEFA was created as a cost-effective alternative to traditional MSCI EAFE tracking funds. Today, this cheap ETF has over $63 billion in assets under management, making it one of the largest international ETFs in the U.S.
This cheap ETF focuses on developed markets, so its volatility should not scare off novice investors. IEFA’s three-year standard deviation of 10.69% compares favorably with the category average. Japan and the U.K. combine for 41.48% of the fund’s geographic exposure.
Expense Ratio: 0.04%
Factor-based strategies, such as growth or value, are not as daunting as they may appear to novice investors. In fact, cheap ETFs like the SPDR S&P 500 Growth ETF (NYSEARCA:SPYG) are actually very straightforward. SPYG tracks the S&P 500 Growth Index, meaning it is home to domestic large-cap stocks with the growth designation.
As has been widely noted, growth has been the place to be over the course of this bull market. Nearly 60% of the S&P 500 resides in SPYG, but there are some important sector differences to consider. For example, this cheap ETF is overweight the technology and consumer discretionary sectors relative to the S&P 500, which is common among growth funds.
Microsoft and Amazon combine for 13.42% of this cheap ETF’s weight. Over the past three years, SPYG beat the S&P 500 by more than 1,000 basis points while being only slightly more volatile than the benchmark equity gauge.
Expense Ratio: 0.06%
Novice investors should remember the advantages of diversification, and even young investors should not have portfolios constructed entirely of equities. Fortunately, there are plenty of cheap ETFs in the fixed-income universe, and that includes corporate bond funds. Funds such as the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays Corporate Bond ETF (NYSEARCA:CBND) usually feature better income profiles than aggregate bond or Treasury funds.
This cheap ETF tracks the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Corporate Bond Index. That benchmark is “designed to measure the performance of the investment grade corporate bond market which includes publicly issued, investment grade, fixed-rate, taxable, U.S. dollar-denominated corporate bonds issued by U.S. and non-U.S. industrial, utility, and financial institutions,” according to State Street.
CBND holds nearly 5,900 bonds, giving it one of the deepest benches among cheap ETFs in the bond space and has a 30-day SEC yield of 3.63% with an option-adjusted duration of 7.36 years. Nearly 91% of CBND’s holdings are rated A or Baa.
Expense Ratio: 0.08%
Recently, and somewhat quietly, the WisdomTree U.S. LargeCap Fund(NYSEARCA:EPS) joined the ranks of cheap ETFs with a fee cut that took its expense ratio down to 0.08%. That is enough to make EPS one of the least-expensive smart-beta funds on the market. Due to its unique weighting methodology, EPS can be an alternative or complement to some of large-cap, cheap ETFs highlighted above.
The $263 million EPS ETF follows the WisdomTree U.S. Large Cap Index. That index is fundamentally weighted and includes U.S. companies that “have generated positive cumulative earnings over their most recent four fiscal quarters prior to the index measurement date,” according to the issuer.
Historically, when EPS tops the S&P 500 on an annual basis, the WisdomTree does not do so by staggering margins. What is important is the frequency with which EPS does beat cap-weighted benchmarks. From 2013 through 2018, this cheap ETF beat the S&P 500 in four of those six years, mostly with comparable volatility.
Expense Ratio: 0.08%
Dividend ETFs usually have higher fees than traditional equity funds, but there are plenty of dividend funds that are also cheap ETFs. The iShares Core Dividend Growth ETF(NYSEARCA:DGRO) is one example. DGRO, which soon turns five years old, tracks the Morningstar US Dividend Growth Index and holds 479 stocks.
DGRO’s underlying index requires member firms to have dividend increase streaks of at least five years, and those companies cannot have payout ratios exceeding 75%. The financial services and technology sectors combine for over 35% of DGRO’s weight.
One of the primary advantages of dividend growth ETFs for any investors, new or experienced, is not only the income stream offered by these funds, but the historical tendency of dividend growth strategies to be less volatile than standard equity funds.
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