The Best U.S. Bond ETFs

The fixed-income exchange-traded funds on this list earn Morningstar’s top rating in 2024.

Tori Brovet 1 March, 2024 | 4:09AM
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Bond ratings illustration

Do investors need bonds in their portfolios?

The question is a personal one. Investors with goals in the three- to 10-year range—say, buying a new home, starting a business, or retiring within the next decade—likely do need them. So do those who are already retired. Bonds are also favored by investors who may not be comfortable with being 100% invested in stocks, no matter their time horizons.

Exchange-traded funds that focus on fixed-income securities can be excellent ways for investors to get exposure to bonds. Here are a few reasons:

  • Many ETFs are transparent—most track indexes with very specific duration and credit-quality traits—and offer few surprises.
  • The best ETFs are low-cost, which is even more important when investing in bonds than in stocks: Every extra point paid in expenses is one less point in return, and returns are typically tougher to come by with bonds than with stocks.
  • ETFs are easy to buy and sell.

A good place to start your search for the best bond ETFs is with the Morningstar Medalist Rating. ETFs that earn our highest rating of Gold are those that we think are most likely to outperform over a full market cycle.

Here’s the list of the best bond ETFs in three main groups: core bond funds, short-term bond funds, and specialized bond funds.

5 Best Core U.S. Bond ETFs to Buy Now

These ETFs all land in one of the intermediate-term bond Morningstar Categories and earn our top Medalist Rating of Gold with 100% analyst coverage as of February 2024.

Fidelity Total Bond ETF FBND
iShares Core Total USD Bond Market ETF IUSB
iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF AGG
Vanguard Tax-Exempt Bond Index Fund ETF VTEB
Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF BND

The highly rated ETFs on this list would be fine choices to anchor the bond portion of an investor’s portfolio, assuming the goals for the money are more than five years away.

IShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF and Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF are classified as intermediate-term core bond ETFs by Morningstar, which means they invest in a blend of U.S. investment-grade bonds, including government, corporate, and securitized debt. Fidelity Total Bond ETF and iShares Core Total USD Bond Market ETF qualify as intermediate-term core-plus bond ETFs; in addition to investing in investment-grade U.S. bonds, these funds have more flexibility to also buy corporate high-yield bonds, bank loans, and emerging-markets debt.

Last, Vanguard Tax-Exempt Bond ETF is the top-rated municipal-bond ETF that Morningstar covers. It’s a good option for those who are investing in taxable accounts and are in high tax brackets.

If none of these ETFs fits the bill for you, you can find additional top-rated ETFs in The Best ETFs and How They Fit in Your Portfolio.

7 Best Short-Term U.S. Bond ETFs in 2024

These ETFs all land in the ultrashort bond or short-term bond categories and earn our top Medalist Rating of Gold with 100% analyst coverage as of February 2024.

J.P. Morgan Limited Duration Bond ETF JPLD
Pimco Enhanced Short Maturity Active ESG ETF EMNT
Pimco Enhanced Short Maturity Active ETF MINT
Schwab Short-Term U.S. Treasury ETF SCHO
SPDR Portfolio Short Term Treasury ETF SPTS
Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Bond ETF VCSH
Vanguard Short-Term Treasury ETF VGSH

The top-rated ETFs on this list are good choices for those who are looking to invest in bonds but expect to tap into these investments in the next few years.

Both Pimco Enhanced Short Maturity Active ETF and Pimco Enhanced Short Maturity Active ESG ETF qualify as ultrashort bond ETFs. The ETFs in this category favor high-quality bonds with durations of less than 1 year.

Vanguard Short-Term Corporate Bond ETF falls into our short-term bond category, while both Schwab Short-Term U.S. Treasury ETF and Vanguard Short-Term Treasury ETF land in our short government category. As the category’s name suggests, short-term government ETFs focus exclusively on short-term bonds issued by the U.S. government, while short-term bond ETFs can invest in high-quality corporate bonds as well as government bonds. In both cases, the ETFs favor bonds with durations in the 1- to 3-year range.

6 Best Specialized U.S. Bond ETFs

These ETFs all land in one of Morningstar’s specialized bond categories and earn our top Medalist Rating of Gold with 100% analyst coverage as of February 2024.

Schwab U.S. TIPS ETF SCHP
T. Rowe Price Floating Rate ETF TFLR
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Corporate Bond ETF VCIT
Vanguard Long-Term Bond ETF BLV
Vanguard Long-Term Corporate Bond ETF VCLT
Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities ETF VTIP

The top-rated ETFs on this list are what we’d call “satellite” holdings in a bond portfolio. In other words, they aren’t core holdings, but an investor might hold these ETFs to round out a bond portfolio, make a tactical move, or serve some other specialized interest.

The list includes the two best bond ETFs for inflation protection: Schwab U.S. TIPS ETF and Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities ETF. Both land in our inflation-protected bond category and invest in securities that adjust their principal values in line with the rate of inflation, which may hold appeal for some investors (particularly retirees).

The remaining funds on the list favour different types of bonds (corporate bonds, floating-rate securities). Those funds with long durations, such as Vanguard Long-Term Bond ETF and Vanguard Long-Term Corporate Bond ETF, are very sensitive to interest-rate changes and very volatile by bond-fund standards. They can be used as a way to benefit from falling interest rates or as a tool for matching long-term liabilities.

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Securities Mentioned in Article

Security NamePriceChange (%)Morningstar Rating
Fidelity Total Bond ETF44.52 USD0.18Rating
Schwab US TIPS ETF™51.51 USD0.37Rating
Vanguard Long-Term Bond ETF69.43 USD0.32Rating
Vanguard Long-Term Corporate Bd ETF75.37 USD0.23Rating
Vanguard Short-Term Infl-Prot Secs ETF47.84 USD0.19Rating

About Author

Tori Brovet  is a content development editor for Morningstar.

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