This is my first post, and I would like to thank everyone on this board for helping other investors. I have learned a lot over the years reading many posts here. It is by far the best investment forum, and I appreciate the fact that it is non-political.
I started investing in late 90s when I opened an account at Waterhouse, which later became TD Ameritrade. All my investments are in Vanguard ETFs. 2 years ago, I opened solo 401k at Fidelity, for increased flexibility compared to SEP IRA. All new periodic contributions go to Fidelity, with annual IRA deposit to TDA. Vanguard ETFs are commission-free at TDA, and have been at Fidelity as well (they gave me some free trades which I only use occasionally for purchases - I don't trade and I re-balance with new contributions only).
I have read many books over the years, and many posts here, and I am sorry to say I honestly do not know the answer to this question: all else being equal - zero commission, same ER, same Vanguard fund/ETF, no trading - is MF better than ETF? I understand there is bid-ask-spread, but my purchases are few and infrequent being self-employed. In other words, would I be better off moving my TDA accounts to Vanguard just so I could exchange ETFs for Admiral MFs with the same ER? Is the dividend payment any different on say total bond mutual fund than on total bond ETF? I don't mind one-time move if it results even in small savings over time, but don't want to move just for the sake of moving to Vanguard.
My second question has to do with Fidelity. They are an excellent choice for solo 401k for many reasons, so I am not moving that account. They have now lowered ER on Spartan funds to match ER of Vanguard admiral funds and ETFs. So my question is this: do I continue using free trades to buy Vanguard ETFs (BND, VTI, VXUS - your basic 3-fund portfolio), or am I better off buying their Spartan funds? Their international does not have small cap, so I may continue buying VXUS as long as I have free trades, but the bond and total stock indexes seem to be identical to Vanguard admiral funds. So again, same question as before: is one better off long term in (Fidelity) mutual fund vs. (Vanguard) ETF?
I understand that the differences, if any, are minimal, and that this is just fine-tuning. I am looking for real-world experience of actual investors who held both MF and ETF over time and can tell the difference one way or another. The problem with books and articles written by Malkiel, Boggle etc. is that they generally recommend MFs over ETFs for average investor who is prone to trading, paying commissions etc., none of which applies in my case.
Thank you very much for taking your time to respond to my question.