ETF vs. Mutual Funds: What Are the Differences?

by Derick SullivanJanuary 27, 2023


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice. You should consult with an attorney or other financial professional to determine what may be best for your individual needs.

When it comes to investing, there are many different options to choose from. Two of the most popular types of investments are ETFs and mutual funds. But what are the differences between these two investment options–and which is right for you?

Here, you’ll get a full breakdown of the key differences between ETFs and mutual funds, so you can decide which type of investment is best for you.

What are ETFs and mutual funds?

Both types of investment products offer benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to understand how they work before you invest.

ETFs (exchange-traded funds) are baskets of stocks bought and sold on an exchange.

On the other hand, mutual funds are managed by investment professionals who buy and sell stocks according to a defined set of criteria.

You can use ETFs and mutual funds to invest in various assets, including stocks, bonds, and commodities. They also offer an affordable path to diversification through real estate.

However, ETFs tend to be more transparent than mutual funds, meaning you can see individual stocks in the basket. Mutual funds are also more expensive to manage than ETFs. As a result, mutual funds typically have higher fees than ETFs, including a load (a fee paid to brokers for their efforts) and management fees (paid to the investment management firm).

When deciding which type of product to invest in, consider your financial goals and risk tolerance. An actively managed ETF may be a good choice if you want lower costs while diversifying your portfolio. However, if you’re willing to pay for a portfolio manager, an actively managed mutual fund may be a better option.

Related: Why ETFs Are A Good Choice For A Properly Diversified Portfolio

How are ETFs and mutual funds structured?

ETFs and mutual funds are both structured as investment vehicles that allow investors to pool their money together to buy a basket of individual securities.

A fund manager typically manages mutual funds, while ETFs are usually passively managed, meaning they track an underlying market index. Both types of funds can be bought and sold on stock exchanges and are typically aimed at outperforming benchmarks like the S&P 500 index.

One key difference between ETFs and mutual funds is that ETFs trade like stocks, meaning they can be bought and sold on a stock exchange throughout the day.

On the other hand, mutual funds are priced only once per day after the markets close. If you want to sell your fund shares in a mutual fund, you must wait until the day’s end.

The market price of an ETF often differs from its net asset value (NAV), which is the value of the ETF shares and underlying securities calculated at the end of the trading day. Mutual funds don’t have this discrepancy, giving them a lower liability to the short-termintradayfluctuations of the stock market.

How are ETFs and mutual funds taxed?

When creating an investment strategy for index ETFs and mutual funds, one must consider how they are taxed. While both types of investments are subject to capital gains tax, there are some key differences to understand.

ETFs are generally taxed at a lower rate than mutual funds, as they are not subject to the same level of turnover. In addition, ETFs tend to have a lower expense ratio than mutual funds, making them a more efficient investment.

Expense ratios, essentially, are fees that cover administrative costs associated with portfolio management — ETFs, which track market indexes, are less work to run on the administrative side, which is why their expense ratios tend to be lower.

Remember that you should make all investment decisions with a financial advisor. Taxes are just one factor when investing in ETFs and mutual funds.

What are the key similarities between ETFs and mutual funds?

ETFs and mutual funds share several similarities, and each can significantly benefit the investor.

You can use both investment types to:

  • Diversify your portfolio
  • Access different asset classes (groups of investments with similar characteristics, subject to the same regulations; i.e., equities, currency, fixed-income, commodities, real estate)
  • Save for retirement
  • Reinvest your dividends

Whichever type of investment you choose, research and consult with a financial advisor to ensure it’s the right move.

What are the primary differences between ETFs and mutual funds?

Now that you know the basics of ETFs and mutual funds, it’s time to take a closer look at the key differences between these two investment products.

Here are seven of the most important differences to keep in mind:

  1. ETFs are bought and sold on an exchange, while mutual funds are not.
  2. Mutual funds are more expensive to manage than ETFs.
  3. ETFs typically have lower fees (such as management fees and redemption fees) than mutual funds.
  4. ETFs offer more transparency than mutual funds.
  5. Mutual fund managers make all investment decisions, while with ETFs, you can see which stocks are in the basket.
  6. Both ETFs and mutual funds are subject to capital gains tax. A capital gains tax is a tax on the profit an investor makes once an investment is sold.
  7. ETFs are generally taxed at a lower rate than mutual funds.

There is no right or wrong answer when deciding between ETFs and mutual funds. It ultimately depends on your financial goals and risk tolerance.

The benefits of ETFs

For the average investor, exchange-traded funds (ETFs) offer many advantages over traditional mutual funds. ETFs are typically more transparent than mutual funds, meaning investors can see what they hold.

Additionally, ETFs tend to be tax efficient, as they only generate capital gains when sold. This is in contrast to mutual funds, which are subject to annual capital gains taxes.

Related: The Difference Between Direct Indexing and ETFs

Furthermore, ETFs often have lower expense ratios than mutual funds or index funds, making them more affordable for investors. Finally, ETFs tend to be more liquid than mutual funds so you can buy and sell them more easily. And ETFs can be even more attractive for investors who prefer active management.

The benefits of mutual funds

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) have become a popular investment vehicle for many investors. But mutual funds still offer some distinct advantages that make them worth considering.

One of the most significant advantages of mutual funds is that they offer professional management. This is particularly important in markets subject to high volatility, where having a reputable fund company making investment decisions can help minimize losses and maximize gains.

Related: Which Mutual Fund Plan Should You Choose – Regular or Direct?

Additionally, mutual funds typically offer a higher level of diversification than ETFs. By investing in various asset classes, mutual funds can help reduce risk and improve returns over time. And mutual funds typically have lower fees than ETFs, which can lead to better returns.

When is it best to use an ETF or a mutual fund?

When it comes to investing, there are many different options to choose from. ETFs and mutual funds are two of the most popular choices. So, how do you know which one is right for you?

Generally speaking, ETFs are more efficient than mutual funds. They have lower expense ratios and are more tax-friendly. You can also trade ETFs throughout the trading day, while mutual fund trades are only executed once per day (after the markets close).

On the other hand, mutual funds often have a longer track record than ETFs, which can make them more appealing to some investors. Not to mention mutual funds usually provide greater diversification than ETFs. Further, some investors prefer the hands-off approach of mutual funds, where they don’t have to manage their investments actively.

Related: Mutual Funds: Thing You Should Know Before Investing

Ultimately, your best choice will depend on your individual investment goals and preferences.

If you’re looking for a low-cost investment that you can actively manage, an ETF may be a good option. A mutual fund may be the better choice if you want a hands-off investment with a long track record.

Comparing costs between ETFs and mutual funds

When comparing costs, ETFs typically have lower expense ratios than mutual funds. This is because ETFs are passively managed, so they don’t require a team of fund managers to make decisions about buying and selling stocks. However, ETFs can also incur other costs, such as brokerage fees and bid-ask spreads (the amount by which the ask price exceeds the bid price).

On the other hand, mutual funds are actively managed, meaning they have higher expense ratios. But since mutual funds are bought and sold directly through the investment company, there are no additional transaction costs.

So when it comes to cost comparison, it depends on the type of fees you’re looking at. If you’re focused on expense ratios, then ETFs may be the better choice. But if you’re looking at total costs — including transaction fees, operating expenses, and trading commissions — then mutual funds may be a better option.

Related: Why You Should Invest in Mutual Funds vs. Individual Stocks

ETF vs. mutual funds: Which is right for you?

ETFs and mutual funds are popular investment vehicles. They both have unique benefits as well as drawbacks.

Regarding costs, ETFs tend to be cheaper than mutual funds. However, there are some instances where it may be better to invest in a mutual fund instead of an ETF.

Ultimately, the best way to decide whether or not an ETF or a mutual fund is right for you is to continue researching and consult a financial advisor. Both vehicles can help you achieve your investment objectives if you approach them strategically.

For more informational articles like this one, explore Entrepreneur’s Money & Finance articles here.


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