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ETF vs. mutual fund: Which is right for you?
They both hold baskets of investments, but pricing minimums and trading costs vary.
ETFs vs. mutual funds: What’s the difference?
Despite the similarities between these two types of funds, there are differences, which can make either of them better-suited for your portfolio.
1. How ETFs and mutual funds are managed
ETFs are typically passive funds, meaning there’s little management over its investments. They automatically track an index — say the S&P 500 or Nasdaq 100 — and the performance closely matches the index. Of course, there are actively managed funds, such as Cathie Wood’s ARK funds where they actively buy and sell stocks to try and outperform the S&P 500.
Mutual funds are known for being actively managed, even though some are passively managed, meaning they track an index like an ETF would. Actively managed mutual funds can cost slightly more to own than ETFs because they require people to make those decisions and execute them.
2. How they’re traded
As the name suggests, exchange-traded funds are traded on exchanges. This means you can buy or sell them as you would any other stock on the market, during a trading session at the current price. This gives you greater flexibility, and you can use almost any broker or trading platform to buy ETFs.
On the other hand, mutual funds are traded and priced at the end of each trading day. Typically, large and established brokerages like Vanguard and Interactive Brokers offer mutual funds, while newer trading platforms like Webull and Robinhood don’t.
3. How much they cost
What’s more, ETFs often have lower expense ratio — i.e. an annual fee to own the fund — of less than 0.4% on average. That’s $4 each year for every $1,000 invested. However, most index ETFs, such as the S&P 500 ETF cost around 0.03% or $0.3 for every $1,000 invested.
Depending on the broker and the mutual fund, it can cost you up to $50 to buy the fund. Some brokers, such as TD Ameritrade, offer a number of mutual funds without any fees.
As for the expense ratio, expect to pay slightly more for a mutual fund – between 0.5% and 1% on average. This is between $5 and $10 fee each year for every $1,000 you invest. However, S&P 500 mutual funds also have a low expense ratio, of around 0.04% or $0.4 for every $1,000 invested.
4. How much you need to invest
With ETFs, you can start investing with any amount. In the past, you had to invest enough money to buy at least one share of an ETF. But with many brokers offering fractional shares, you can buy a fraction of an ETF share with as little as $1.
Mutual funds, however, come with certain minimums. For example, to invest in some Vanguard mutual funds, you need to invest at least $3,000. Other funds have lower requirements of at least $1,000.
5. How they’re taxed
ETFs are usually more tax-efficient than mutual funds. Basically, you won’t pay capital gains taxes unless you sell your ETF shares for a profit. If you hold ETFs in an individual account, this can have a huge impact in the long run. But it won’t make a difference with tax-advantaged accounts like IRAs or 401(k).
Mutual funds, on the other hand, tend to incur higher capital gains taxes. That’s because they’re actively managed, meaning the asset manager often buys and sells shares. In that case, capital gains taxes could be passed on to everyone who owns shares in the fund, regardless whether you sold your shares or not. Also, mutual funds that hold stocks and bonds can be taxed differently.
ETFs vs. mutual funds: Summary
Exchange-traded funds and mutual funds are equally worthy of consideration for any investor — they hold similar selections of investments and can help diversify your portfolio. But there are some general differences to take into account before you buy.
|Exchange-traded funds||Mutual funds|
|Selection of assets||Stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities||Stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities|
|Minimum investment||No minimum||Typically $1,000|
|Management type||Most funds are passive||Most funds are active|
|Expense ratios||0.4% on average||0.5% to 1%|
|Trading commissions||$0||$19.99 to $49.99 per fund|
|Taxes||More tax-efficient||Less tax-efficient|
Compare trading platforms
To trade funds you’ll need a brokerage account. Review your platform options by features, fees and investor feedback to find the account best suited to your needs. If you want to invest in ETFs by making frequent purchases, look for a brokerage with a $0 commission on ETFs.
*Signup bonus information updated weekly.
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