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ETFs vs index funds: how to choose between them

The chosen index may track large companies like the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) or track one sector of the market like the Nasdaq composite, which is primarily made up of technology companies. An index fund can even track bonds like the S&P Aggregate Bond Index. An index fund is any investment fund that is constructed to track the components of a financial market index (including Get Backed any ETFs that are index-aligned). Index funds must follow their benchmarks without reflecting market conditions—and orders can be executed only once a day after the market closes—so they have much less liquidity and much less flexibility than ETFs. Another benefit of ETFs is that—because they can be traded like stocks—it is possible to invest in ETFs with a basic brokerage account.

  • Bogle was a staunch defender of traditional index funds that track broad market indexes like the S&P 500, the total U.S. stock market, the total U.S. bond market and international indexes.
  • Over the last 10 years ending in December 2020, more than 65% of actively managed funds have underperformed their benchmarks, according to BSE India.
  • Like index funds, ETFs also function by pooling money from investors to buy assets.
  • Investing in an index fund or an ETF that tracks the Nifty 50 doesn’t protect you from all or any losses, but it does reduce the risks and volatility you’d experience if you only held a few individual stocks.
  • Asset allocation/diversification does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss.

When this sale is for a gain, the net gains are passed on to every investor with shares in the fund, meaning you could owe capital gains taxes without ever selling a single share. Compared to value investing, index fund investing is considered by financial experts as a rather passive investment strategy. Both of these types of investments are considered to be conservative, long-term strategies. Value investing often appeals to investors who are persistent and willing to wait for a bargain to come along. Getting stocks at low prices increases the likelihood of earning a profit in the long run.

ETF vs Index Fund—Differences

For example, as with shares of common stock, ETFs trade in the secondary market. Investors may purchase and sell them during market hours, rather than be dependent upon forward pricing, where the traditional mutual fund’s price is calculated at net asset value (NAV) after the market close. For instance, ETFs can be structured to track a market-weighted index, like the S&P 500, or other assets like an individual commodity, a collection of securities, or a specific investment strategy. The aim of ETFs is to follow the market, whereas other investments like mutual funds aim to beat the market.

  • Total stock market funds, for example, track the performance of every publicly traded company in the United States, meaning at the moment, they track nearly 4,000 U.S. companies.
  • Spousal benefits can begin as early as age 62, but the amount would be permanently reduced if started before the spouse’s full retirement age (which is 67 for people born in 1960 and later).
  • The Information is provided “as is” and the user of the Information assumes the entire risk of any use it may make or permit to be made of the Information.
  • While you will pay capital gains taxes on any gains you realize when you sell shares of an index fund or an ETF, you do not pay taxes when the holdings in the ETF portfolio are adjusted by managers.

This can greatly decrease the likelihood your portfolio will be adversely impacted by big market swings. Both ETFs and index funds can be very cheap to own from an expense ratio perspective — you can easily find funds that cost less than 0.05% of your investment per year. Tariq Dennison, is a RIA focused on international clients and portfolios.

To decide between ETFs and index funds specifically, compare each fund’s expense ratio, first and foremost, since that’s an ongoing cost you’ll pay the entire time you hold the investment. It’s also wise to check out the commissions you’ll pay to buy or sell the investment, though those fees are usually less important unless you’re buying and selling often. For long-term investors, passively managed index funds tend to outperform actively managed mutual funds.


An FoF puts money in another fund, which could be both active or passive. However, when it comes to passive investing there are two options available to investors – ETFs and Index Funds. So, underperformance by active funds possibly Triple screen trading system significantly boosted passive funds. Easily research, trade and manage your investments online all conveniently on and on the Chase Mobile app®. Morgan online investing is the easy, smart and low-cost way to invest online.

ETFs that are actively managed are made up of assets chosen by the fund manager, who creates and puts together the ETF and may adjust which stocks it buys and holds based on the market. Keep in mind that actively managed ETFs may come with higher fees. The Information has not been submitted to, nor received approval from, the US SEC or any other regulatory body. Some funds may be based on or linked to MSCI indexes, and MSCI may be compensated based on the fund’s assets under management or other measures. MSCI has established an information barrier between equity index research and certain Information.

Liquidity, or the ease with which an investment can be bought or sold for cash, is an important differentiator between ETFs and index funds. As previously mentioned, ETFs are bought and sold like stocks, meaning you can buy or sell them anytime the stock market is open. Long-term investors who are saving for retirement should use tax-advantaged retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs. The primary difference between ETFs and index funds is how they’re bought and sold. ETFs trade on an exchange just like stocks, and you buy or sell them through a broker.

What Is the Difference Between an ETF vs. Index Fund?

In nearly all cases, it is the need to sell securities that triggers taxable events in index funds. The in-kind redemption feature of ETFs eliminates the need to sell securities, so fewer taxable events occur. Both index funds and ETFs can help you create a well-diversified portfolio. For example, an ETF based on the S&P 500 will give you exposure to hundreds of the country’s largest companies. This may influence which products we review and write about (and where those products appear on the site), but it in no way affects our recommendations or advice, which are grounded in thousands of hours of research. Our partners cannot pay us to guarantee favorable reviews of their products or services.

However, in an IRA, no tax ramifications from trading would affect the investor. When an index fund investor wants to redeem an investment, the index fund may have to sell cloud stocks stocks it owns for cash to pay the investor for the shares. Index funds work by accumulating money from investors to buy the assets of the benchmark the fund is tracking.

Smart beta investing combines the benefits of passive investing and the advantages of active investing strategies. The goal of smart beta is to obtain alpha, lower risk or increase diversification at a cost lower than traditional active management and marginally higher than straight index investing. It seeks the best construction of an optimally diversified portfolio. The passive investor who may be opportunistically inclined will relish the greater flexibility that this vehicle affords.

Minimum investments

On a 5-year rolling basis, the difference in returns can be several percentage points at times, but not enough to say one clearly has a better risk-managed India portfolio than the other two. The reason I consider INDA still the winner here is that it surpassed PIN in average trading volume back in 2015, and since then PIN and INDY have been averaging trading volumes less than 1/20th that of INDA. Jack Bogle is often given as an example of a legendary investor whose disdain for exchange-traded funds was just as legendary. However, many overlook some important nuances, namely that he was not against all ETFs; just some of them and how they were used.

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Should circumstances change the adjustment of one’s allocation, then tactical changes are easily accomplished. Additionally, the cost of an ETF can be lower than its mutual fund counterpart, a difference that can affect performance as well. Another important consideration that bears on performance is investor behavior. What follows is a basic discussion of the main attributes of each and under what circumstances one would use them.

Index Fund vs. ETF: An Overview

Leveraged ETFs can also be inverse, which means that they move in the opposite direction of the underlying index. If you don’t care about trying to seize upon every opportunity the trading day presents, then you may be best off with index funds. Trading ETFs without learning the ins and outs of how trades work can leave you vulnerable to extra costs.

By contrast, index mutual funds just try to match the market benchmark. One major difference between ETFs and index funds is how they’re traded. ETFs can be bought and sold throughout the day, while index funds can only be traded at the price point set at the end of the trading day.

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