The Differences Between ETFs vs. Mutual Funds

Joseph Meyer
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Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

Vs. Mutual Funds

ETFs vs. Mutual Funds is one of the most common investment choices people face. The investment funds tend to generate the most amount of confusion when choosing which one to pursue. The infographic below details the similarities and differences between mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.

In creation, ETFs vs. Mutual Funds begin with two different goals in mind. Mutual funds are built to provide shareholders a steady stream of profit and depend on other companies to grow their wealth.

Most mutual funds are managed by professional investment firms and are designed to achieve a particular goal, such as capital growth, income generation, or protection from illness and old age. The managers of the mutual funds choose the stocks, bonds, and other securities to match the objective.

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have a different purpose. Even though many ETFs invest in mutual funds, their primary goal is price-tracking, and they are priced and traded like stocks.

The advantages of the ETF are that they can be tailored to meet specific goals, and no one needs to pick the investments because they reflect the general market. ETFs can be bought and sold throughout the day like stocks. Bottom line: They are easier to control, more transparent and open to the masses; they may not be the right choice for everyone.

For a more detailed explanation of ETFs vs. Mutual Funds and their differences, check out the infographic below.

What is an ETF?

An Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) is a type of fund that is similar to a mutual fund but has a number of important key differences. ETFs act like mutual funds in that there is a manager in charge of selecting the right stocks, bonds, or other investment opportunities. But there are several important factors, aside from the selection of investments, that are different in ETFs even from the likes of mutual funds.

An ETF is traded during the day as opposed to being bought and sold once a day like a mutual fund. ETFs are listed on a stock exchange, like a stock, and can be traded like one: you can buy, sell, or short an ETF like you would with real stocks.

“Passive” Management

One of the main reasons why index funds have gained so much popularity lately is their inactivity. In other words, they have a passive management style. “Passive” means that their managers make minimal changes to their holdings, which allows the fund to avoid transaction fees and be more cost effective to run.

Instead of frantically shifting their investments and trying to second-guess the market, passive managers simply purchase the securities prescribed by the index they are tracking and see how their performance stacks up.

The biggest benefit of passive investing is that it cuts down on transaction fees and avoids the pitfalls of “active management.” Active managers are constantly adjusting their portfolios in an effort to outperform the index, but they often fall short.

Studies show that in the long run, passive investing strategies have outperformed active management by a wide margin. And even in a flat market, passive investing will still give you better results than any active money manager out there.

Tax Implications of Passive Management

Mutual funds have a variety of share classes designed to accommodate different types of investors. Some have separate classes of shares that charge front-end sales commissions but give the investors a sales load break on the back end. There are also those that contain shares with or without redemption fees.

Each class of share has unique tax implications for transactions within the share class. The different share classes of the same mutual fund can result in different tax treatments for the same transaction. How can you deal with this? Well, the simplest solution is to reframe your thinking about the tax consequences of a particular transaction.

In the current tax regime, a single share class will only attract one of the following:

  • Mutual Fund Distribution Tax
  • Capital Gains
  • Short Term Capital Gains
  • Long Term Capital Gains

ETF Fees

An exchange-traded fund (ETF) is made up of several stocks and priced as one value. A mutual fund is made up of several stocks and sold as individual shares.

The biggest difference between the two is in how they are traded. Mutual funds trade like individual stocks with both sales charges and bid-ask spreads. ETFs, on the other hand, trade as baskets of stocks that are priced once a day if there is a change in price or volume in a manner similar to a commodity such as oil. This is done via an exchange.

As a result, mutual fund trades cost more than ETF trades because they involve more transactions.

The bid-ask spread is the difference between the highest price someone is willing to buy an asset and the lowest price someone is willing to sell an asset.

This difference in cost does not stop at a single trade. It means you can buy and sell fewer ETFs to gain exposure to a particular asset class than you can mutual funds. This leads to another difference between mutual funds vs. ETFs: the average dollar-weighted expense ratio of the funds in each type.

The average expense ratio is calculated by adding up the annual expenses of all the funds in the group and then dividing by the total assets held. It is then expressed as a dollar-weighted average so that it takes into account differences in assets across the funds.

Broker Commissions

When it comes to mutual funds, commissions can cost you a lot. An ongoing business, therefore, such as “fee-based,” or “fee-only,” can protect you against commissions.

Fee-only advisors will invest your money based on the risks involved, the returns you expect, and your time horizon. Thus, they won’t be influenced in their investment decisions by commissions.

Fee-only advisors charge for their service based on the value they provide. Their services will be tailored to their client’s needs; they might invest your money with a mix of low-cost index funds and managed funds, depending upon your risk tolerance and needs. A fee-only advisor will send you regular performance reports and allow you to talk to him if you think you are losing money in the market. You will know exactly where you stand, and you will know exactly what you are paying for.

If you know what you are doing, are not paying a cent in commissions, and you don’t pay an adviser either, you will be paying exactly what it costs to maintain your account with your broker.

The Benefits of ETFs

Mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are very similar, but there are some significant differences between them.

First, a mutual fund is actively managed by a team of professional money managers who pick which stocks and bonds go in the fund. You buy shares of these mutual funds, and the manager makes the investing decisions for you. The manager might choose to buy some stocks, others bonds, or a combination of the two.

An ETF, on the other hand, is very similar to a stock. It trades like a stock, and it’s made up of a basket full of stocks or bonds. An ETF trades like a stock, but it’s actually a collection of a number of different stocks and bonds. This has a major impact on the return on investment.

While an ETF might also have a manager, the manager won’t make any actual decisions. Instead, the manager will act more like the custodian. Instead of picking stocks or bonds, the manager of an ETF will just keep a close eye on the investments and make sure they continue to be valid. The manager won’t make trades for the ETF that are unlike the expected outcome, and the ETF will trade like a stock.

Another major difference is that an ETF generally has a lower asset management fee than a mutual fund.

How and Where to Invest in ETFs

ETF and mutual funds are two types of investment vehicles used to hold your securities, commodities, and funds. The most obvious difference between the two is that an ETF is an investment fund that trades, on the stock market, just like a stock, while a mutual fund is a pool of money that is managed by a third-party. An investment company manages a mutual fund.

The biggest advantage of choosing a mutual fund is that you can have instant access to your investment, unlike an index fund where you may have to wait for your stock exchange to open. The downside is that mutual funds have high management fees, which are deducted from your investment.

Another disadvantage is that mutual funds make it impossible for you to invest in just one company or play the market. That’s why mutual funds are not recommended for long-term investment as the funds cannot be sold quickly.

Investors who purchase an index fund pay lower transaction fees and receive better overall return. Index funds also provide a lot of control. You can decide on when you want to sell the fund and when to withdraw money. Index funds are not only applicable for long-term investments, but also short-term ones.

Mutual Funds

Vs. Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

Exchange traded funds, also known as ETFs are an alternative way to invest in the stock market. Most clients turn to mutual funds when they want to invest in stocks because they are familiar with mutual funds. But ETFs are the new apps on the block.

Mutual funds are managed by an index fund manager that purchases shares in individual companies. The investors share in the profits of the stocks. Mutual funds have their positives, and they have their negatives.

The main positive when it comes to mutual funds is that they are very convenient. Investors only have to make a single purchase, and the money is divided out over a variety of companies as dictated by the manager. There is also tax protection. Investors only pay taxes when they sell the mutual fund as whole, and most of the time, the investors don’t sell the mutual fund. With that being said, there are a few significant downsides when it comes to mutual funds. The most significant downside associated with mutual funds is that they are illiquid. Investors can’t sell the funds within the same day, which means that they can’t take advantage of attractive stock prices.

What is a Mutual Fund?

A mutual fund is a type of a financial product that is made up of a number of different investments, in contrast to an investment fund, which is just a single investment. Mutual funds pool together investors’ money and then invest that capital into a large baskets of stocks, bonds, and other types of investments. The idea is that because there are so many investments in one fund, it becomes more likely that the fund will do well, although no one can predict the performance of the stock market. In contrast, someone who invests directly in stocks or bonds has less of a chance of winning big, but also less of a chance of losing a lot.

What is an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF)?

An ETF contains a basket of investments, just like a mutual fund, but an ETF can be bought or sold anytime during the day on stock exchanges, much like a stock. That’s why it’s called an “exchange traded fund.”

ETFs are also better than mutual funds, because they have lower fees. ETFs may not be a complete replacement for mutual funds, but they’re one way to get the advantages of mutual funds with lower costs.

“Active” Management

Vs. “Passive” Index

When you purchase traditional index funds or ETFs, the price you pay is based upon the price that the stock market is currently trading at. On the other hand, actively managed funds set their price based upon the perceived value of the fund.

There was a time when the fund that picked the stocks based on their expectations for return was the winning fund. Nowadays, active management is rarely the winning formula.

Since the early 80s, 82% of active mutual funds have failed to beat the market index after fees. What’s more important is that during that time, almost 98% of actively managed funds failed to beat the index over any period longer than 10 years.

Mutual funds are generally seen as more risky, as there is little predictability of their underlying assets. ETFs tend to be more transparent because the underlying assets are more clearly defined and they are easier to trade. Although ETFs have a predictable price, the actual underlying assets may still be more risky than a traditional mutual fund.

When comparing costs (expense ratios), ETFs have come out on top again and again. Traditional actively managed funds are significantly more expensive than ETFs.

Tax Implications of Active Management

One disadvantage of a mutual fund is the cost associated with active management.

Even the most experienced and skilled mutual fund managers can’t outperform the benchmark indexes over the long haul and therefore, would have to charge higher fees (active fund fee) to justify their existence. This extra expense would make you question the benefits of actively managed mutual funds over passive mutual funds.

On the other hand, index mutual funds have lower expense ratios, which results in higher returns. Since the risk of a fund is correlated to the market risk, a lower risk fund would have a lower risk than the index. This makes lower risk funds better for investors since the return is higher and the investor can gain exposure to the segments of the market that are more likely to outperform.

The riskiness of an ETF also depends on the ETF. There is a variety of ETFs that give investors access to different segments of the market.

While passively managed funds might be better for investors, some investors may prefer active management.

Mutual Fund Fees

When you buy into a mutual fund, you’re actually buying into a basket of securities. It’s the investment manager’s responsibility to locate these assets, and your return will depend on the performance of these investments. Unlike ETFs, mutual funds include management fees that are charged as a percentage of assets managed. Consequently, one of the biggest advantages of an ETF over a mutual fund is the lower fees.

The Benefits of Mutual Funds

Vs. ETFs

There are many differences between mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. Just as there are several types of funds, some similar, and some very different, it is equally difficult to categorize the various characteristics each of these share.

An even more difficult task is to decide which of these funds fits each person’s needs. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question, and what could be a very clear-cut decision for one person, might not be for another. Some of the main issues which should be considered when comparing mutual funds and ETFs are:

FIXED INCOME VS. EQUITY – There are two main types of funds: fixed income and equity. Fixed income funds are called such because the investments in the fund have a fixed income, which usually means a set interest rate. These funds are great when the main concern is capital preservation, as investments are not likely to fluctuate in value. Conversely, equity funds are usually designed for high-risk investment (usually long-term, with low correlation) with the hope of high rewards. Remember that equity funds do not guarantee a fixed rate of return.

How and Where to Invest in Mutual Funds

Vs. ETFs

The purpose of this article is to provide investors with an overview of how ETFs and mutual funds are similar and different. These items are actually one of the most popular investment options for many Americans and investors all over the world. It gives diversification into sectors, countries, and asset types.

The Differences Between ETFs vs. Mutual Funds – Is One Better than the Other?

Are you looking for an easy and reliable way to tap into the stock market? Whether you’re just starting out or are already an experienced investor, you’ve probably already heard of the popular investment vehicles – the mutual fund and the exchange-traded fund (ETF).

So what’s the difference? If you’re not sure which one of these investment options is right for you, you’re not alone. They’re two different beasts despite the fact that they can both claim to offer similar advantages. In this article, we’ll talk about how both types of funds work, as well as the pros and cons associated with each.

Mutual Fund

The mutual fund has been around for a while. Originally created in 1924, it was a way to allow investors to pool their money together and invest in securities through objectively managed portfolios and stocks.

Final Thoughts on The Differences Between ETFs vs. Mutual Funds

There are few differences between ETFs – or stock funds – and mutual funds. It is just as important to understand the benefits and ways of trading the ETF as it is to understand what mutual funds can do for you. The convenience of online trading is one of the major benefits of ETFs, and this convenience lies in the fact that the investor doesn’t need to hold the position – they just need to buy or sell the ETFs. They don’t have to choose individual stocks. Trading ETFs is as simple as buying or selling car stock. Mutual funds provide more opportunities for an individual investor because these ETFs offer the opportunity to invest in a wider selection of markets and cultures. When the investor buys an ETF, they are more likely to gain from larger surges of exchange rates and unusual shifts in market behavior. There may be times when mutual fund investment makes a bit more sense. There are more opportunities with mutual funds and they are a bit easier to manage. Mutual investment offers the investor more ways to grow wealth over an ETF.