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John Bogle Is Wrong About ETFs

And it's certainly better than the one too many people use, which is to jump into a mediocre, actively managed fund with high fees after it's had a good year, and then panic and sell if it falls.

But there are four problems with this argument. The first is that you can also pursue this strategy using an exchange-traded fund. The biggest difference is just that it will be easier to trade. If you fear that trading is going to end up destroying value, then don't do it. Leave your fund alone.

The second problem is that even if you want to follow Bogle's index strategy, you may well be using an online broker to manage your money, and that broker may charge you a trading fee to invest in a Vanguard fund anyway. Many people manage their finances through an online broker for the simple reason that it is very convenient. You can make an investment when you actually have the time, such as when you're in the office and stuck on hold.

And when you invest through an online broker, you have all your money in one place. You get to make investments easily when money comes in, and that isn't always easily predictable from month to month. For those people, an index ETF may work as well as an index mutual fund. Contrary to what Bogle suggested, buying and holding an index ETF is little different from buying and holding an index mutual fund.

The third problem is that it is harder to move money in mutual funds, even if a rival company offers a better deal. If you have your money at Vanguard, and Fidelity cuts its prices, switching is time-consuming and involves paperwork. But if you have an account with an independent broker and buy ETFs instead, you can shop around at the click of a mouse.

But the biggest problem with Bogle's argument is none of the above. It's that not everyone wants to follow his index strategy anyway.

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