Index Funds vs Mutual Funds: Understand the Difference | Share India
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There are several options when investing in financial markets, such as index funds and mutual funds. In recent years, these two investment vehicles have become increasingly popular due to their ability to diversify a portfolio across different asset classes. Index funds track specific market indices, like the Nifty 50 or BSE Sensex, through passive investments. The returns they provide closely mirror those of the overall market.


On the other hand, mutual funds are actively managed by a professional fund manager who selects stocks and bonds according to their investment strategy. However, which one is best to invest in? In this article, let’s explore the key difference between index fund and mutual fund and determine which is better: index funds vs. mutual funds.

What Are Mutual Funds And Index Funds?

A mutual fund is a professionally managed investment that pools money from several investors. Investing in a mutual fund is like purchasing a piece of the company. In return for that slice, you receive a proportional share of the earnings and capital gains generated by the fund. The investment manager invests the fund's assets in stocks, bonds, and other securities.

Active vs. Passive Management

A mutual fund can either be actively managed or passively managed:


Actively-managed mutual funds

Portfolio managers select investments for actively managed mutual funds with the aim of outperforming a stock market benchmark. There are usually higher fees associated with actively managed funds.


Passively-managed mutual funds

A passively managed mutual fund mimics the performance of a market index. Fees are generally lower because of automated or mostly hands-off systems that cost less to manage.


The most common goal of mutual fund investors is retirement. The diversification provided by mutual funds makes them a good choice for retirement savings. Mutual fund investors may also save for emergencies or for their children's college education.

What is an Index Fund?

An Index Mutual Fund invests in stocks that mimic stock market indices like the NSE Nifty, BSE Sensex, etc. The funds are passively managed. It means they invest in the same securities as the underlying index in the same proportions and do not change the portfolio composition. Their goal is to provide returns comparable to the indexes they track.

Difference Between Index Fund And Mutual Fund

Here are the key difference between index fund and mutual fund:

Investment And Management Style

Mutual funds and index funds have different investment and management styles, which can affect their performance and costs.


Investors who prefer passive investment strategies will benefit from index funds, as they require minimal management intervention. Furthermore, they have lower management fees, resulting in lower expense ratios. A portfolio of index funds is diversified across various securities by tracking a specific index. Investors with a low-risk tolerance can benefit from this diversification since it reduces risk.


Mutual funds are managed actively, and securities are selected to outperform the market by fund managers. It requires more time, expertise, and resources, so fees and expenses are higher for active investors. For investors with a high tolerance for risk, mutual funds offer the potential for higher returns.

Expense Ratio

When comparing index funds and mutual funds, considering expense ratios is crucial. Fund managers charge an expense ratio for managing the assets of their funds.


Compared to actively managed mutual funds, index funds have lower expense ratios because they require less management intervention. Investors benefit from lower expenses because they save money, which increases their returns.


In actively managed mutual funds, expenses are higher due to active management, which the investors must bear, reducing their overall returns. If a mutual fund outperforms the market, a high expense ratio may be justified.                                                                                                                                               


A market index fund's returns closely track the market's overall performance since it invests in all the securities that comprise it. Thus, index funds aim to mirror the performance of the market rather than outperform it. Historically, index funds have delivered reliable long-term returns because of their passive investment strategy and low expenses.


Alternatively, mutual funds have the potential to achieve higher returns by actively selecting individual securities that outperform the market. Nevertheless, active management can also result in underperformance if a fund manager's investment decisions fail to pan out. 


Despite mutual funds’ potential to outperform the market, higher management fees can erode their overall returns. It is important to remember that past performance does not guarantee future success.


Since index funds are low-expense and passive investments, they have outperformed actively managed mutual funds over the long term. 


Due to their passive investment approach, index funds are generally more straightforward than mutual funds. It is the manager's goal to replicate the performance of an index, so all investment decisions are predetermined. The portfolios of index funds are usually diversified, mirroring the composition of the indices they track. As a result, investors can easily understand the fund's holdings and performance, and portfolio adjustments do not need to be frequent.


An investment strategy based on mutual funds is more complex and can lead to a greater turnover of assets. As a result, investors may face higher expenses and potentially higher taxes. It is important for investors to evaluate the fund manager's track record, investment philosophy, and decision-making process before investing in mutual funds.


Indexes and mutual funds carry some level of risk. Thus, investors should consider their respective risk tolerances and goals when selecting a fund.


An index fund has a lower risk than a mutual fund. Investment managers typically hold diversified portfolios, spreading risk across companies and sectors and minimising the impact of individual security performance.


However, mutual funds may result in a higher concentration of risk in individual securities, sectors, and investment styles. Mutual funds are capable of outperforming the market, but their investment decisions can also lead them to underperform.

Passive vs. Active management

Fund managers choose securities for their portfolios in either a passive or an active manner. Index funds are passively managed, while mutual funds are actively managed.

Index Fund or  Mutual Fund- Which Is Better?

Listed below are a few tips to help you choose between mutual funds and index funds:

Nature Of The Fund

Active mutual funds have the potential to outperform the market since they are managed by professionals, which makes them more efficient. An active fund manager does not manage an index fund. Yet, it is still possible for index funds to outperform active funds. It all depends on your financial goals and the type of fund you want to invest in. 

Risk Involved

Beginners or investors with a lower tolerance for risk should consider index funds. Investors with a moderate to high tolerance for risk should consider active funds.


Check the past performance of the funds you plan on investing in to know what you're getting into. It is important to track the fund manager's performance for active funds. If you are considering investing in an index fund, check its performance in the past. 

Long-term Investments

A mix of active and passive investments is good for long-term investments. Active funds are better suited to investors with a moderate to high appetite for risk. While passive funds are better suited to investors just starting to invest. 


An investor's financial goals, risk tolerance, and beliefs determine which is better: an index fund vs. mutual fund. Investors may think that fund managers perform better than passive funds, but some may prefer passive investments due to their low expense ratios. However, research is always recommended before investing to make an informed decision.


Index fund vs. mutual fund depends on your investment objectives, your comfort with risk, and the length of time you plan to invest. If you're looking for a strategy that offers lower risk and consistent returns, index funds could be a fitting choice. On the other hand, if you're open to assuming greater risk in the hopes of achieving potentially higher rewards, mutual funds might align better with your preferences. When considering investing options like these, Share India provides a platform where you can explore and make informed decisions to achieve your financial goals.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Over the long run, index funds have typically outperformed other types of mutual funds. Due to their high diversification, index funds also provide low fees, tax advantages, and low risk.

Index funds or mutual funds should be selected based on your investment goals, risk tolerance, and investment strategy. Passive investors may prefer index funds, while active investors may prefer mutual funds.

Yes, index funds pay dividends.

With SIP, you can invest as little as Rs. 500 in a Nifty index fund.
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