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How the Big Three stack up
Compare our undercover shopper's results from Vanguard, Schwab and Fidelity.
August 16, 2005: 4:07 PM EDT
By Walter Updegrave, MONEY Magazine
Ken's investment plan from Vanguard
Asset allocation
  
High-yield bonds 8% 
Intermediate-term bonds 10% 
Short-term bonds 12% 
Foreign stocks 14% 
Mid- and small-cap stocks 16% 
Large-cap stocks 40% 
12 funds (11 Vanguard)  
Three index funds  
Nine actively managed  
Ken's investment plan from Schwab
Asset allocation
  
Cash 5% 
Bonds 15% 
Small-cap stocks 15% 
Foreign stocks 20% 
Large-cap stocks 45% 
Schwab doesn't make mutual fund recommendations unless you also open a brokerage account.  
Ken's investment plan from Fidelity
Asset allocation [5]
  
Foreign stocks 3% 
High-yield bonds 5% 
Mid- and small-cap stocks 19% 
Intermediate-term bonds 20% 
Large-cap stocks 53% 
10 funds (five Fidelity, five other fund companies). All actively managed.  

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Here are the plans that the Big Three came up with for the benefit of our shopper, Ken, who wants to retire early at 57 and still be able to fund college educations for his two teenaged children. Did they come through? See for yourself.

Vanguard: Personal Financial Planning Service

Start: Call 800-547-3332 or go to the Personal Investors section of www.vanguard.com, click on Account Types and Services, then Advice, and then Work with a Financial Planner.

Fill out the 16-page Personal Profile questionnaire online or print and mail it. You'll work with a Vanguard adviser by phone.

How much does it cost? $1,500 [1]

Projected results: Real return: 5.6% = Nominal return 9.8%[2] - Inflation assumption[3] 4.2%

After running Ken's income, expenses, assets and liabilities through dozens of historical scenarios, Vanguard concluded that Ken had an 89 percent likelihood of being able to both fund his children's education and retire at age 57 as he wished.

The analysis also pointed out that in a worst-case scenario, Ken could run out of money at age 72.

What we liked: No pressure to sign up for other Vanguard programs or move assets to Vanguard.

What we didn't: The planner didn't base the original analysis on a retirement age of 57 as Ken had requested. MONEY told Ken to go back to Vanguard and ask the planner to rerun the numbers, which the planner readily did.

Schwab: Personal Financial Plan

Start: Call 866-671-2331 to reach a Schwab rep who can provide a copy of the 28-page Fact Finder you must fill out to begin the planning process.

You will usually work with a Schwab planner by phone, although in some cities you have the option of working with a planner in a Schwab branch office.

How much does it cost? $2,000[4]

Projected results: Real return 4.7% = Nominal return 7.7% - Inflation assumption[3] 3.0%

Using Monte Carlo computer simulations that put Ken's finances through a wide range of possible scenarios, Schwab's plan estimated that Ken had an 80 percent chance of being able to retire early at 57.

But the plan also concluded that Ken would have to come up with $225,000 more if he wanted to pay all his kids' college expenses. It also recommended that Ken and his wife increase their life insurance coverage.

What we liked: Planner spent more time with Ken and dug deeper into his finances than the others.

What we didn't: Ken felt he was being pushed toward Schwab's ongoing advice service, which emphasizes investing more than planning advice and charges an annual fee. He had to insist on a one-time financial plan.

Fidelity: Retirement Income Planner

Start: Call 800-544-5230. Fidelity customers have the choice of using the Retirement Income Planner tool at no charge via the Web or through a Fidelity consultant.

If you're not a Fidelity customer, you can still get a plan for free but only by working with a consultant by phone or at a branch office.

How much does it cost? $0

Projected results: Real return 7.0% = Nominal return 9.2% - Inflation assumption 2.2%

Fidelity estimated that if Ken pays his kids' college expenses and retires at age 57, there is a 90 percent chance that his assets will last to at least age 92.

What we liked: Because the plan is part of an online tool, you can revise and update whenever you wish.

What we didn't: Ken had to go back to Fidelity repeatedly before he got the type of advice he was looking for.

Notes: [1] $1,000 or less if you're a Vanguard customer. [2] 9.2% in retirement. [3] Higher inflation rate applied to some expenses. [4] 1,400 to customers who have signed up for certain other Schwab services. [5] Based on Morningstar categories for recommended funds.

Next: Five questions to ask

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