The Fidelity ZERO Total Market Index Fund (FZROX) and the Schwab Total Stock Market Index Fund (SWTSX) are two of the largest “total market” index funds in existence and easily two of the most popular among individual investors. SWTSX and FZROX are the core of many investor portfolios and many investors compare FZROX vs SWTSX in order to decide which should be the foundation of their portfolio.
A quick reminder that this site does NOT provide investment recommendations. Fund comparisons (such as this one) are not conducted to identify the “best” fund (since that will vary from investor to investor based on investor-specific factors). Rather, these fund comparison posts are designed to identify and distinguish between the fund details that matter versus the ones that don’t.
The Short Answer
FZROX and SWTSX are extremely similar, except for one major difference which is that FZROX can only be bought and/or owned at Fidelity (which is a non-starter for many investors, including myself even if my accounts were at Fidelity).
The underlying benchmark indices that these funds track are technically different (Dow Jones US Total Stock Market Index vs Fidelity US Total Investable Market Index), but they are identical is most respects. Consequently, the risk and return of FZROX and SWTSX is nearly identical and I consider these two funds equivalent and interchangeable.
The Longer Answer
Historical Performance: FZROX vs SWTSX
SWTSX was launched way back in 1999, while FZROX was launched on August 2, 2018. Since that time, the two funds have had near identical performance: 8.23% vs 8.02% on an annualized basis. Over those years, the cumulative performance differential has been only been about 1.2%!
Differences Between FZROX and SWTSX
Both the SWTSX and FZROX only include stocks of US-domiciled companies.
The two funds have different numbers of holdings (as of 11/30/2022); SWTSX holds 3,516 stocks versus FZROX’s 2,822 stocks. However, the market cap weighting of the funds are identical.
The sector weights of each fund are identical, with many sector weights within .10% of each other!
Factors to Consider
FZROX grabbed headlines when Fidelity announced it, due to the 0% expense ratio. While zero expenses is great, it is only .02% less than SWTSX. So even though the difference in expenses is infinite in relative terms, its only three basis points. At a certain level (such as this one), differences in expense ratios do not matter. Since these portfolios are essentially identical, I would most likely lean towards SWTSX.
In my view, the most important factor to consider when evaluating SWTSX vs FZROX is the fact that FZROX cannot be bought or owned outside of Fidelity. Personally, this is a non-starter for me as there are reasons to transfer assets to other custodians, such as transferring one’s accounts or making a donation. Some investors may not value flexibility as much, but they should be aware of this limitation.
ETFs are free to trade at many brokers and custodians, although many still charge commissions and/or transaction fees to buy/sell mutual funds. As mentioned, FZROX can only be bought and/or held at Fidelity. So if an investor account is at Fidelity, it is free to trade FZROX but trading SWTSX will cost money.
To my knowledge, Schwab does not participate in the pay-to-play arrangements that would allow their mutual funds to trade for free on many platforms. So only accounts at Schwab can trade SWTSX for free and accounts outside of Fidelity cannot trade FZROX at all.
Investors looking for an ETF may want to consider VTI (read our review of VTI vs FZROX here). There is a bid-ask spread when trading ETFs, but this spread is typically less than .01% for SWTSX and individual investor trades will not generally be large enough to “move” the market. In the case of VTI, individual investors should not have a problem trading.
Tax Efficiency & Capital Gain Distributions
Both FZROX and SWTSX routinely make capital gains distributions, so they should be fairly equivalent in terms of tax-efficiency.
Final Thoughts on FZROX & SWTSX
FZROX and SWTSX are nearly identical in most respects. Personally, I would not spend too much time trying to divine which fund is “better.”
That being said, investors should not consider FZROX unless their account is at Fidelity. If my accounts were at Fidelity, I might consider FZROX in a tax-exempt or tax-deferred account. However, I would never buy FZROX in a taxable account due to the inability to transfer the assets (without realizing a potential gain) out of Fidelity if I wanted to move my accounts, donate the shares, etc. Therefore, I believe SWTSX is the better choice for most situations, although investor may want to look at similar ETFs too.