Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund tax distributions

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The Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund is a very suitable candidate for placement in taxable accounts. The index fund tracks the FTSE Global All Cap ex US Index. The addition of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) share class in 2011 and the 2010 inclusion of the fund in the series of Vanguard Target Retirement Funds should help maintain the fund's overall tax efficiency. The fund is often recommended as a core holding in a simple three-fund or four-fund portfolio.

Table 1. Summary
Fund Distributions.jpg Favorable tax factors Fund Distributions.jpg Unfavorable tax factors Fig. 1
A three fund portfolio

Historical gains distributions : Low
Foreign tax credit: Yes
Qualified dividends: Yes (avg. 72%)
Turnover: Very low
Stock Migration: Neglible
ETF shares : Yes

Dividends: Higher than growth indexes


The following tables provide long term data on the fund's history of both dividend and capital gains distributions. The first table also provides the historical distribution of qualified dividends and an estimate of the foreign tax credit. One should note that the fund has a fiscal year ending in October, so its reported distributions for a year reflect the prior year's December distribution of dividends and capital gains.

The second table provides a database of the fund's accounting figures: the annual level of realized and distributed gains; its level of unrealized gains and loss carryforwards; as well as the annual in-kind redemption gains the fund has realized. These figures highlight the level of a fund's tax liabilities.

Because both manager turnover of securities inside the portfolio and investor turnover of fund shares can affect the level of gains realization, a third table provides historical turnover ratios.


The following table provides a view of the fund's historical distributions expressed in terms of yields. We can see that the fund distributed modest levels of capital gains during its first five years of existence, but has not distributed a gain since 2001. Approximately 72% of dividend distributions have been qualified dividends, which under the current tax regime, are taxed at lower capital gains tax rates.

The fund has changed tracking indexes three times in its history. The transition years of benchmark changes are marked in red shading.

Table 2. Vanguard Total International Index Fund
[notes 1][notes 2]
Dividend Investor shares
Dividend Admiral shares
Dividend ETF shares
Short-term Capital Gains
Long-term Capital Gains
[2][notes 3]
Qualified Dividends
Foreign tax credit
[notes 4]
(FY) Annual Return - Investor
2016 2.95% 3.02% 3.02% 0.00% 0.00% 71.89% 0.22% 1.31%
2015 2.73% 2.80% 2.79% 0.00% 0.00% 69.36% 0.19% -4.89%
2014 3.16% 3.24% 3.24% 0.00% 0.00% 71.53% 0.38% -1.39%
2013 2.79% 2.87% 2.87% 0.00% 0.00% 66.97% 0.18% 20.37%
2012 3.17% 3.23% 3.23% 0.00% 0.00% 68.06% 0.21% 5.32%
2011 2.95% 2.99% 3.07% 0.00% 0.00% 70.74% 0.20% -6.54%
2010 2.52% - - 0.00% 0.00% 70.19% 0.24% 13.28%
2009 4.73% - - 0.00% 0.00% 69.75% 0.18% 31.41%
2008 3.07% - - 0.00% 0.00% 79.69% 0.01% -48.57%
2007 1.98% - - 0.00% 0.00% 78.44% n/a 32.47%
2006 1.71% - - 0.00% 0.00% 76.20% n/a 27.84%
2005 1.76% - - 0.00% 0.00% 80.51% n/a 19.91%
2004 1.54% - - 0.00% 0.00% 58.16% n/a 18.80%
2003 1.75% - - 0.00% 0.00% n/a n/a 28.94%
2002 1.70% - - 0.00% 0.00% n/a n/a -11.80%
2001 1.68% - - 0.00% 0.00% n/a n/a -24.01%
2000 0.05% - - 0.07% 0.31% n/a n/a -15.61%
1999 1.92% - - 0.00% 0.17% n/a n/a 29.92%
1998 2.13% - - 0.00% 0.10% n/a n/a 15.60%
1997 1.69% - - 0.10% 0.16% n/a n/a -0.77%
1996 1.57% - - 0.00% 0.26% n/a n/a 0.55%

  • FY 2013 - Fund transitioned to the FTSE Global All Cap ex US Index on 6/3/2013.
  • FY 2012 - Elimination of 2% transaction fee on redemptions of shares held < 2 mos. [5]
  • FY 2011 - Admiral shares and ETF shares, dividends annualized.
  • FY 2010 - Fund introduces admiral shares with lower $10,000 minimum investment.
  • FY 2010 - Fund transitioned to the MSCI ACWI ex USA IMI Index on 12/16/2010.
  • FY 2006 - Fund transitioned from the Total International Composite Index to the MSCI EAFE + Emerging Markets Index on 09/01/2006.
  • FY 2008 - Fund begins transition from fund of funds to direct ownership of securities. Transition completed in March 2009.
  • FY 2000 - annualized dividends, fund changed fiscal years.
  • FY 2003 - Introduction of 2% transaction fee on redemptions of shares held < 2 mos.
  • FY 2002 - MSCI transitions to "free-float" market weighting.
  • FY 1996 - annualized dividends, fund inception.

Accounting data

The accounting figures and associated ratios (tables 3 and 4) can help one visualize some of the major determinants of a fund’s tendency to distribute taxable gains. These determining features include:

Turnover: The rate at which a fund manager sells securities within the fund has a major effect on potential gains realization. Single digit annual fund turnover percentages result in a low rate of realized gains. Similarly, fund shareholders' sales flows have major effects on a fund’s distribution tendencies. Net flows into the fund have the following effects:

  1. Constant inflows allow a fund manager to purchase a wide range of price lots for shares. The manager can select high basis shares when forced to sell a stock (this may realize a loss). The manager can also select low basis shares when redeeming a stock in-kind (a non-taxable transaction that can remove an unrealized gain out of the portfolio.) This redemption technique is primarily employed with institutional creation and redemption of ETF shares.[notes 5] Net inflows mean that shareholders are not forcing the manager to liquidate assets (and realize gains or losses) in order to meet redemptions. Large outflows can force such liquidation.
  2. A large and growing net asset base serves to diffuse any realized capital gains across a large base of shareholders and reduces the per share gain distribution. Large outflows have the opposite effect; any gains realized are spread across a smaller asset base and result in higher per share distributed gains. [6]

The level of unrealized gains and carryover realized losses in a fund: Index funds defer gains realization and often accumulate significant unrealized appreciation, which if distributed, would be taxed; thus the unrealized gain/loss figure shows the potential gain (or loss) that would be realized if the portfolio was to be entirely liquidated. Any loss carryovers a fund possesses can be used to offset future realized gains (carryovers have an eight year expiration period).

Table 3.[7]

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Definition of terms
Net sales/redemptions
This statistic reveals whether investors are net buyers or sellers of the fund.
Realized gain/loss
A realized capital gain/loss is an increase (or decrease) in the value of a security that is "real" because the security has been sold by the portfolio manager. The capital gains/losses are "realized" by the fund, and any distributions to the shareholder as a result of realized gains (adjusted for any realized losses) are taxable during the tax year in which the security was sold. Realized losses can be used to offset realized gains in an attempt to reduce taxable gains. If realized losses are higher than realized gains, a fund can "carry forward" these excess losses to offset future gains. In-kind redemption gains are included as gains in this statistic. As these gains are not taxable, they must be deducted from the realized/gain tally to reflect the net gain/loss for the year. (see tax attributes for the net gain computation).
Distributed gains
A net realized gain will be distributed to shareholders as a capital gains distribution.
Unrealized gain/loss
An unrealized capital gain/loss (also called a "paper profit or loss") is an increase (or decrease) in the value of a security that isn't "real" because the security hasn't been sold. When a portfolio manager sells a security, however, the capital gains/losses become "realized" by the fund, and any realized gains (net of any losses) are taxable during the tax year in which the security was sold. Funds with low turnover rates, such as index funds, tend to have more unrealized gains than actively managed funds and are less likely to pass taxable gains on to investors. A fund's unrealized appreciation or depreciation figures are valuable because they can give an idea of whether a fund would need to distribute any gains if all of its securities were sold. Such information may help you determine your potential exposure to taxable distributions.
This statistic is volatile, and will increase or decrease depending on market returns.
Loss carryforward
Realized losses can be “carried forward”, over a set span of years, to offset any future net realized gains.
In-kind redemptions
Instead of selling securities, a portfolio manager may elect to distribute securities in-kind to redeeming shareholders. Unlike a sale, an in-kind transfer is not taxable. This technique is frequently used in the ETF creation/redemption process. For institutional redemptions, a portfolio manager can select low-basis securities to transfer (removing the embedded tax liability) from the portfolio.

Turnover statistics

Reference article: Average net assets

Table 4.[8]

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Definition of terms
Average net assets
Average net assets are derived from NSAR reports from the EDGAR database.
The dollar amount of fund shares sold by shareholders.
The dollar amount of fund shares bought by shareholders.
The rate at which the fund manager sells securities within the portfolio. The reciprocal of this number reflects the average holding period of the portfolio. Low turnover often results in low capital gains realization.
The redemptions/average net assets (R/ANA) ratio reflects how fund shareholders are turning over their holdings in the fund. It is analogous to the investment manager's turnover ratio.
The redemption/sales ratio (R/S) illustrates whether investors are net buyers or sellers of the fund. A ratio of less than 1 means that investors are net purchasers of the fund. A ratio more than one means investors are net sellers of the fund. The R/ANA and R/S ratios, viewed together, can signal market timing activity within a fund. For example a fund showing an R/ANA ratio of 400% and an R/S ratio of 1 (equal buys and sells) is likely being market timed by fund shareholders.

Tax rates

Mutual fund distributions will be taxed according to the tax laws governing the investment over the holding period of the investment, which are subject to change. The actual tax imposed will depend upon each individual's tax rate and the timing of purchases and sales. The federal tax rates applicable to mutual fund distributions and investor sales of securities for the period 2013 onward are outlined below. Keep in mind that investment income may also be subject to state and local taxation.

  1. Short-term capital gains distributions are made from realized gains on securities held for one year or less. Short-term gains are taxed at ordinary income tax rates up to 39.6%. Mutual fund short-term gain distributions are included in a fund's ordinary dividend distribution; therefore, capital losses may not be subtracted from these distributions when computing taxes.
  2. Long-term capital gains distributions are made from realized gains on securities held for more than one year. Long-term gains are taxed at 0% for taxpayers in the 10% and 15% tax brackets, at 15% for taxpayers in the 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35% tax brackets, and at 20% in the 39,6% tax bracket. They are reported on tax Schedule D along with any other capital gains, and can be reduced by capital losses.
  3. Qualified dividends are the ordinary dividends [notes 6] that are subject to the same tax rate that applies to long-term capital gains. They should be shown in box 1b of the Form 1099-DIV you receive.
  4. When you sell at a loss you will either offset capital gains which would have otherwise been taxed at your capital gains rate or you will offset income (up to $3,000 maximum per year) which would have otherwise been taxed at your marginal income tax rate, or both. If you offset capital gains that would have otherwise not been taxed at all (because your capital gains tax rate is 0%) then this part of the tax loss harvest may be an outright loss.
  5. The Affordable Care Act imposes a Medicare surcharge of 3.8% on all net investment income (NII) once the taxpayer's adjusted gross income exceeds $200,000 (single) or $250,000 (married); while this tax is not part of the income tax, it has the same effect on investors as a higher tax rate. The NII tax begins to apply to individuals falling in the 33% tax bracket. Thus the top effective marginal tax rate is 23.8% on qualified dividends and long-term gains, 43.4% on ordinary investment income.</blockquote

Filing status and annual taxable income - 2018 Ordinary income tax rate Long-term capital gain rate
Single Married Filing Jointly or Qualified Widow(er) Married Filing Separately Head of Household Trusts and Estates Collectibles and certain small business stock[* 1] Unrecaptured Section 1250 gain
$0-$9,525 $0-$19,050 $0-$9,525 $0-$13,600 $0-$2,550 10% 10% 10%
$9,526-$38,700 $19,051-$77,400 $9,526-$38,700 $13,601-$51,800 n/a 12% 12% 12%
$38,701-$82,500 $77,401-$165,000 $38,701-$82,500 $51,801-$82,500 n/a 22% 22% 22%
$82,501-$157,500 $165,001-$315,000 $82,501-$157,500 $82,501-$157,500 $2,551-$9,150 24% 24% 24%
$157,501-$200,000 $315,001-$400,000 $157,501-$200,000 $157,501-$200,000 n/a 32% 28% 25%
$200,001-$500,000 $400,001-$600,000 $200,001-$300,000 $200,001-$500,000 $9,151-$12,500 35% 28% 25%
$500,001+ $600,001+ $300,001+ $500,001+ $12,501+ 37% 28% 25%
  1. Collectibles are defined in 26 USC 408(m). Small business stocks are per Section 1202. Reference: Alistair M. Nevius (May 1, 2013). "Qualified small business stock". Journal of Accountancy.

In addition, there is a 3.8% Medicare tax rate on investment income in excess of an adjusted gross income of $200,000 ($250,000 for married filing jointly), and 0.9% on salary and self-employment income in excess of this level. See: ACA net investment income tax

Filing status and annual taxable income - 2018 Long-term capital gain rate
Single Married Filing Jointly or Qualified Widow(er) Married Filing Separately Head of Household Trusts and Estates Qualified dividends and other investments
$0-$38,600 $0-$77,200 $0-$38,600 $0-$51,700 $0-$2,600 0%
$38,601-$425,800 $77,201 - $479,000 $38,601-$239,500 $51,701-$452,400 $2,601-$12,700 15%
$425,801+ $479,001+ $425,801+ $452,401+ $12,701+ 20%

Tax analysis

The annual fund accounting figures show that the Vanguard Total International Index fund turnover ratio usually stays in single digits. The rise in turnover during fiscal years 2009 and 2010 was likely due to the fund's transformation over the period from a fund of funds into a fund directly holding securities, and during FY 2010 from its change of index benchmarks to the MSCI ACWI ex USA IMI Index [9] which added allocations to the Canadian stock market and small cap stocks to the fund portfolio. The MSCI ACWI ex USA IMI Index, being a total market index, can be expected to exhibit low, single digit turnover in future years. This low turnover can be attributed to the fact that stock migration out of a total international market index can come in only two dimensions:

  1. An individual company goes bankrupt and is delisted from the stock exchange;
  2. An emerging market country is reclassified from its status as an emerging market and is placed into a frontier market index.

Neither event is likely to generate large capital gains.

Shareholder turnover, revealed in the Redemptions/Average Net Assets (R/ANA) metric, shows that shareholders have historically turned over their holdings in the fund at 10%-20% annual rates, suggesting average holding periods of between five and ten years.

The fund has received net inflows every year of its history. The heavy inflows in FY 2010 partly reflect the policy decision to include the fund in the allocation of Vanguard Target Retirement funds. From 2010 onwards, the fund receives inflows from investors adding to these fund of funds (the fund has always been a holding in some of the Vanguard Life Strategy funds). Assuming continual net investment in these retirement accumulation portfolios should result in the continuance of future net inflows into the fund.

A look at realized net gains/losses shows that the fund realized net losses during the 2000-2001 and 2008-2009 bear markets. These losses produced loss carryforwards. Low fund and shareholder turnover has retained most of these carryforward losses as offsets to potential future gains. The introduction of ETF shares to the fund should also help increase its future tax efficiency, as the fund sees an increase in its realization of in-kind redemption gains. [notes 7]

The following table presents the federal tax cost on the fund's historical distributions (see second tab, table 6.) under two scenarios: the current favorable tax rate regime (2010-2012) and under a higher tax regime (with dividends taxed at marginal rates and long term capital gains taxed at a maximum 20%). Keep in mind that distributions can also be subject to state and local taxation, with marginal rates ranging from 0% to 10.3% (an average 5% state tax rate will add an approximate 0.10% to the annual tax cost of holding the fund.) The average is based on the results from 2004-2016, the period comprising the qualified dividend tax regime. The 2004- 2010 average dividend yield is roughly 0.5% higher than the long term (1996 forward) fund average yield. The fund distributed capital gains during the 1996-2003 period, averaging 0.02% per annum short term gains, 0.13% per annum long term gains.

The table does not include the capital gains cost associated with selling the fund at a gain. [notes 8]

Table 6

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  1. The dividend yield for FY 2009 reflects the move to individual stock investments as opposed to a funds-of funds structure. For FY 2009, net investment income per share and the ratio of net investment income to average net assets included $0.249 and 2.06%, respectively, of annual dividends received from Vanguard mutual funds in December 2008. From August 2008 through February 2009, the fund invested in a combination of Vanguard mutual funds and common stocks. Effective in March 2009, the fund’s equity investments were solely in common stocks.
  2. The 2014 dividend distribution includes a February 0.39% receipt from Vodaphone Group plc. in the form of cash and shares in Verizon Communications Inc.
  3. The foreign tax credit is estimated from annual reports, and the EDGAR NSAR reports by:
    1. Dividing the foreign tax paid by the average net assets of the fund.
  4. When a fund redeems ETF shares, it prepares a basket of securities that it exchanges in-kind to an institutional investor. The basket often includes a modest cash component for exact settlement. An astute ETF manager can use this as an opportunity to raise cash by selling some high basis stock for a realized loss.
  5. Fairmark says:

    A portion of your ordinary dividend may be nonqualified because it can include items like these:

    • Taxable interest. When a mutual fund receives taxable interest, the income gets paid out as a dividend. It's a dividend when it goes out of the mutual fund, but it wasn't a dividend when it came into the mutual fund, so it can't be a qualified dividend.
    • Nonqualified dividends. Your mutual fund may receive dividends that are nonqualified. For example, the mutual fund may sell shares just 35 days after buying them, but after receiving a dividend. The mutual fund has to hold the shares at least 61 days to have a qualified dividend. Any amount the mutual fund receives as a nonqualified dividend gets paid to you as a nonqualified dividend.
    • Short-term capital gain. When a mutual fund has a short-term capital gain, it pays this amount to the mutual fund shareholders as an ordinary dividend.
    • Holding mutual fund shares less than 61 days. You should also be aware that any dividend you receive on mutual fund shares held less than 61 days is a nonqualified dividend, even if the mutual fund reports that amount to you as a qualified dividend. You don't have to buy the shares 61 days before the dividend is paid, but the total amount of time you hold the shares (including time before and after the dividend) has to be at least 61 days.
  6. Almost all of the dividends distributed by Equity REITS come in the form of non-qualified dividends. Non-qualified dividends are taxed at marginal income tax rates.

  7. Because ETF share classes reduce transaction costs and bring tax benefits to the fund portfolio regardless of share class turnover (which can be quite high) we provide separate R/ANA and R/S ratios for the ETFs. We must approximate the average net asset figure for ETFs. One should also note that Vanguard includes share class conversions (investor/admiral) in the sales and redemptions totals for the fund. Vanguard does not quantify conversions. These non-transaction conversions inflate the reported shareholder ratios. The fund has experienced steady growth of the ETF share class, which makes up a growing portion of fund total assets.
  8. This table indicates the additional cost for the capital-gains tax when you sell, assuming that you pay taxes on the distribution and reinvest the after-tax portion of the distribution; since it is a one-time cost, the effect is annualized. For example, if you hold an investment for 30 years and lose 10% to taxes when you sell, that is equivalent to losing 0.35% every year. Thus, if you sell the fund, your cost will be the sum of the Table 6 and Table 9 costs. However, you would not pay the Table 9 cost on any stock which you either leave to your heirs or donate to charity, and thus may not pay that cost on your full investment. In particular, you might estimate your total tax cost by using the low-return line in Table 2; if stock returns are high, you will have a large taxable account and will reduce the tax cost by taking longer to deplete it or by not spending it all during your lifetime. Taxes are computed at a tax rate of 15% on long-term gains (except in the "rate rises to 20% column", which applies if that tax reduction is allowed to expire), and on qualified dividends (except in the "no QDI" column, which applies if the tax reduction on qualified dividends expires and the rate is 35%). The foreign tax credit is added to the dividend yield before computing taxes; for example, if a fund had $100 withheld in foreign taxes on dividends, and you pay $20 in taxes on the withheld dividends, you get a $100 credit for a net benefit of $80. Although not tabulated, keep in mind that investors in the lower tax brackets (15% or lower) pay lower federal tax rates on investment income for the period 2003 - 2012, and reap higher after-tax returns, outside of tax-exempt municipal bonds, in all asset classes.
    Table 9. Additional hypothetical tax costs (after taxable funds are sold)
    Fund Pre-tax Returns Distributions Tax Cost Annualized cost over 10 years Annualized cost over 20 years Annualized cost over 30 years 30-year cost if CG tax rate rises to 20%
    Any bond any all any 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
    Tax-efficient stock, low returns 5.00% 2.00% 0.30% 0.36% 0.30% 0.25% 0.33%
    Tax-efficient stock, medium returns 8.00% 2.00% 0.30% 0.63% 0.47% 0.37% 0.50%
    Tax-efficient stock, high returns 11.00% 2.00% 0.30% 0.84% 0.58% 0.43% 0.58%
    Tax-inefficient stock, low returns 5.00% 4.00% 1.00% 0.12% 0.10% 0.09% 0.12%
    Tax-inefficient stock, medium returns 8.00% 4.00% 1.00% 0.43% 0.33% 0.26% 0.35%
    Tax-inefficient stock, high returns 11.00% 4.00% 1.00% 0.66% 0.47% 0.35% 0.47%

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Dividend data EDGAR filings: N-CSR reports back to 2003 ; N-30D reports back to 1995
  2. 2.0 2.1 Capital Gains are derived from annual reports, and are calculated by dividing the dollar amount capital gain distribution by the average net assets of the fund.
  3. Data derived from Vanguard site.
  4. Data derived from annual reports.
  5. More Vanguard funds eliminate or reduce fees, Viewed 11/10/2012.
  6. Larry E. Swedroe, What Wall Street Doesn’t Want You To Know, 2001, pp.227-28. ISBN 0312335725
  7. Data sources EDGAR filings: N-CSR reports back to 2003 ; N-30D reports back to 1995
  8. Data sources Average Net Assets: EDGAR NSAR filings Turnover statistics:EDGAR filings: N-CSR reports back to 2003 ; N-30D reports back to 1995
  9. MSCI ACWI ex USA IMI Index Factsheet

External links