Money 50: Best mutual funds and ETFs

NEW YORK (Money Magazine)

Use these recommended mutual and exchange-traded funds to construct a portfolio that’s built to last.

When Money magazine introduced the MONEY 70 list in 2007, the investing landscape sure was different. Exchange-traded funds were just coming onto the scene, and the merits of the strategy guiding them and index mutual funds were still the subject of great debate.

Fast-forward to today. ETFs, which are baskets of securities that you can buy and sell throughout the day, are now part of the mainstream. And indexing has won the argument. Only one in four actively managed U.S. stock funds has beaten this approach over the past five years, raising doubts about whether you need to sift through scores of funds to create a diversified and effective portfolio. That is in part why we overhauled the list.

Welcome to the new MONEY 50. In addition to being more concise, the list is organized differently. Rather than grouping funds based on the types of stocks or bonds they own, the new MONEY 50 categorizes funds based on how you might use them.

For instance, do you plan to use them as building blocks for the core part of your portfolio? Or will you hold them in small doses, to customize your strategy?

Despite those changes, the purpose of the list remains the same: to help you build a balanced portfolio that will get you to your most important financial goals, such as putting your kids through college or achieving a comfortable retirement.

We reconfigured the list into three broad categories, based on how elaborate you want your portfolio to be.

Building-block funds. This category, which contains 14 low-cost index funds and ETFs, is designed to help you assemble your core portfolio, which you're likely to hang on to for years and which represents the bulk of your assets.

Why just index funds? Low-cost indexes offer the purest and cheapest exposure to broad swaths of the markets, which you'll want for your core. Studies show that most active managers fall short of their benchmarks because of the higher fees, trading costs, and timing errors associated with frequent trading.

You should be able to construct a well-diversified portfolio with as few as three or four of the broad-market index funds found in the building-block section.

Custom funds. Even a well-diversified core portfolio may not be enough to meet all of your needs. You may prefer to keep a small stake in actively managed funds, for instance, in hopes of earning a bit more return. Or perhaps you want to further diversify your portfolio by using alternative assets, such as real estate or commodities.

This section includes 32 choices that allow you to craft a more specialized mix. If you are closing in on retirement and are seeking to boost income through dividend-paying stocks, you might choose SPDR S&P Dividend ETF.

Younger, more aggressive investors might opt for a fund that holds bargain-priced small-cap stocks, such as Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF. Because of the added risks, limit your stake in these specialized funds. The bulk of your portfolio belongs in your core.

One-decision funds. Prefer to leave the work to the pros? Then avoid the first two categories altogether and opt for the third: all-in-one funds, which include two target-date retirement series and two balanced funds.

All these portfolios give you instant and sufficient diversification. But with target-date funds, the asset mix becomes more conservative as you approach retirement. Balanced funds, by contrast, maintain a constant allocation, typically around 60% to 65% stocks and 35% to 40% bonds. If you're unlikely or unwilling to monitor and tweak your portfolio over time, your best bet is a target-date fund that suits your age.

Making of the MONEY 50

MONEY ignores last year's hottest funds and instead looks for solid long-term performers with these important traits:

Low fees: Below-average expense ratios are a good predictor of better-than-average performance.
Average expenses for actively managed MONEY 50 funds: 0.91%
Average stock fund 1.41%

Long tenure: Good returns don't mean much if the manager responsible for them is no longer around.
Average tenure for a MONEY 50 manager: 11.5 years
For fund industry 5.7 years

Strong stewardship: You want fund managers who put the interests of shareholders ahead of their own. We use Morningstar stewardship grades for that.
Percent of actively managed MONEY 50 funds graded A or B: 62%
Percent of all actively managed stock funds graded that high: 16%

NOTE: For funds that do not receive any stewardship grade from Morningstar. MONEY relies on its own assessment. SOURCE: Morningstar

Building-Block Funds

Large-Cap Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
SWPPX Schwab?? S&P 500 Index Fu... Blend 0.09% +2.55% +14.36% $100
SWTSX Schwab Total Stock Market... Blend 0.10% +3.27% +14.72% 100
Mid-Cap/Small-Cap Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
IJH iShares Core S&P Mid-Cap ... Blend 0.12% +5.35% +15.58% N.A.
IJR iShares Core S&P Small-Ca... Blend 0.12% +3.77% +16.17% N.A.
Foreign Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
FSIIX Fidelity Spartan?? Intern... Large Blend 0.20% +8.30% +6.19% 2,500
VGTSX Vanguard Total Internatio... Large Blend 0.22% +7.85% +4.83% 3,000
VFSVX Vanguard FTSE All-World e... Small/Mid Growth 0.37% +7.83% +5.88% 3,000
VEIEX Vanguard Emerging Markets... Emerging Markets 0.33% +8.29% +1.67% 3,000
Specialty Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
VGSIX Vanguard REIT Index Fund ... Real Estate 0.24% +1.08% +15.68% 3,000
Bond Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
VBMFX Vanguard Total Bond Marke... Intermediate Term 0.20% +1.20% +4.23% 3,000
VBISX Vanguard Short-Term Bond ... Short Term 0.20% +0.76% +1.97% 3,000
VIPSX Vanguard Inflation-Protec... Inflation Protected 0.20% +2.58% +4.13% 3,000
VTIP Vanguard Short-Term Infla... Inflation Protected 0.10% +1.12% -- N.A.
VTIBX Vanguard Total Internatio... World 0.23% +2.07% -- N.A.

One-Decision Funds

Fund Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
PRWCX T. Rowe Price Capital App... Balanced 0.71% +3.94% +12.59% 2,500
VWELX Vanguard Wellington??? Fu... Balanced 0.26% +1.84% +10.64% 3,000
TRRBX T. Rowe Price Retirement ... Target Date 0.67% +4.15% +9.80% 2,500
VTTHX Vanguard Target Retiremen... Target Date 0.18% +4.26% +10.76% 1,000

Custom Funds

Large-Cap Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
PRF PowerShares FTSE RAFI US ... Value 0.41% +1.67% +14.21% N.A.
SSHFX Sound Shore Fund Investor... Value 0.93% +2.38% +13.96% 10,000
PRFDX T. Rowe Price Equity Inco... Value 0.67% +0.52% +11.67% 2,500
POGRX PRIMECAP Odyssey Growth F... Growth 0.63% +4.64% +15.20% 2,000
TRBCX T. Rowe Price Blue Chip G... Growth 0.74% +7.31% +17.07% 2,500
Mid-Cap Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
DEFIX The Delafield Fund Value 1.21% -0.09% +9.09% 1,000
CAAPX Ariel Appreciation Fund I... Blend 1.13% +5.76% +15.28% 1,000
WEHIX Weitz Series Fund Hickory... Blend 1.22% +4.64% +14.56% 2,500
POAGX PRIMECAP Odyssey Aggressi... Growth 0.63% +8.41% +20.62% 2,000
PRDMX T. Rowe Price Diversified... Growth 0.91% +7.85% +16.23% 2,500
Small-Cap Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
RYPNX Royce Opportunity Fund In... Value 1.17% +2.38% +12.81% 2,000
VBR Vanguard Small-Cap Value ... Value 0.09% +3.96% +15.09% N.A.
BERWX Berwyn Fund Blend 1.20% +3.68% +12.80% 3,000
WAAEX Wasatch Small Cap Growth ... Growth 1.21% +8.34% +15.69% 2,000
Specialty Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
PID PowerShares International... Dividend 0.54% +4.05% +7.31% N.A.
SDY SPDR?? S&P Dividend ETF Dividend 0.35% -0.16% +13.86% N.A.
CSRSX Cohen & Steers Realty Sha... Real Estate 0.97% +1.31% +14.97% 10,000
RWX SPDR?? Dow Jones Internat... Real Estate 0.59% +6.66% +10.19% N.A.
IGE iShares North American Na... Natural Resources 0.48% +3.63% +3.35% N.A.
Foreign Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
DODFX Dodge & Cox International... Foreign Large Blend 0.64% +7.50% +7.99% 2,500
OAKIX Oakmark International Fun... Foreign Large Blend 0.95% +8.05% +9.73% 1,000
VWIGX Vanguard International Gr... Foreign Large Growth 0.47% +8.68% +7.42% 3,000
PRMSX T. Rowe Price Emerging Ma... Emerging Markets 1.24% +8.09% +2.36% 2,500
Bond Style Expense Ratio YTD Return 5 yr Return Initial Investment
DODIX Dodge & Cox Income Fund Intermediate Term 0.43% +1.02% +4.97% 2,500
HABDX Harbor Bond Fund Institut... Intermediate Term 0.57% +2.57% +4.66% 1,000
VFSTX Vanguard Short-Term Inves... Short Term 0.20% +0.84% +2.66% 3,000
LSBRX Loomis Sayles Bond Fund R... Multisector 0.91% -0.54% +6.95% 2,500
SPHIX Fidelity?? High Income High Yield 0.72% +1.69% +7.51% 2,500
VWITX Vanguard Intermediate-Ter... Muni Natl Intermediate 0.20% 0.00% +4.56% 3,000
VMLTX Vanguard Limited-Term Tax... Muni Natl Short 0.20% 0.00% +1.92% 3,000
TPINX Templeton Global Bond Fun... World 0.91% +0.32% +4.47% 1,000
FNMIX Fidelity?? New Markets In... Emerging Markets 0.90% +2.10% +6.22% 2,500
Notes: Five-year returns are annualized. Templeton Global Bond fund has a 4.25% sales load. While Money Magazine recommends all target retirement funds in the T. Rowe Price and Vanguard fund families, data listed are for T. Rowe Price Retirement 2020 and Vanguard Target Retirement 2035.

Sources: Morningstar and fund companies (Sources for original listing in January/February 2014 issue of Money Magazine: Lipper and fund companies)

Data as of 10:11am ET

Join the Conversation
Most Popular

Mortgage & Savings

Terms & Conditions apply

NMLS #1136

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.