Mutual Funds and ETFs: What Are the Main Differences?

Mutual Funds and ETFs: What Are the Main Differences?
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Point Editorial

Like stocks and bonds, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, both exist in similar contexts. They both represent a mix of assets and help investors broaden their financial portfolios. But they're actually two entirely different entities. 

The most significant difference between mutual funds and ETFs comes down to management styles. Mutual funds require active supervision, while passive management is the norm when it comes to ETFs.

Read on to learn more about mutual funds and ETFs, how they compare, and which is the best choice for you if you're looking to invest. 

All about mutual funds and ETFs

A mutual fund is an amalgamation of investors' money and other assets used to invest in different securities like stocks and bonds. The aim is to eventually acquire enough wealth to incur additional income or capital gains. 

In comparison, an ETF is an economic vessel that tracks commodity prices through various indexes and the progress of a particular financial sector. Funds are tradable on the stock market, too. 

Many investors choose to deal in these entities since they help diversify their portfolios and provide exposure to supplemental income and private, specialized markets that are not always accessible to the general public.

The net asset values — or NAV — of a mutual fund determine its selling price. Calculations for this value occur only at the end of each trading day. ETFs, on the other hand, are buyable, sellable, and tradeable throughout the business day, just like stocks. 

Mutual funds are actively managed entities, meaning that a third party supervises them daily and decides how to distribute money. As a result, mutual funds come with steeper fees than ETFs, because they require a more hands-on management style. Also, mutual funds typically require a higher minimum deposit than ETFs, which varies from company to company.

In the United States currently, mutual funds are more common than ETFs, totaling more than $23 trillion in assets as of 2020. While ETFs collectively amount to a little more than $5 million, they are gaining popularity thanks to their lower fees and simpler trading protocols.

Mutual funds

Mutual funds fall into two categories, open-ended and close-ended, outlined below. 

Open-ended funds

The most common type of mutual fund, open-ended funds are bought and sold directly between investors and issuing companies.

There is no limit as to how many shares a single fund can distribute. 

Close-ended funds

Close-ended funds refer to funds that only offer a certain number of shares to investors. The level of demand doesn't influence the number of shares for sale, but it does affect share prices. Higher demand boosts prices. 

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) 

Again, ETFs are less costly than their market counterpart, but that doesn't factor in extra fees or commissions. Tax advantages may be available to ETF investors as well. 

The three classifications of ETFs are as follows:  

Exchange-traded open-end index mutual fund

This type of fund encompasses dividends, which are additional shares allocated to investors when a company brings in a profit surplus. The federal government regulates open-ended index funds through the Investment Company Act of 1940. 

Exchange-traded unit investment trust (UIT)

Exchange-traded UITs must limit their investments to 25 percent each time they issue shares. They also pay dividends to investors, usually in cash, and also must adhere to federal government regulations through the Investment Company Act. 

Exchange-traded grantor trust

These are very similar to closed-ended mutual funds. The most significant difference is that investors own a share of the ETF and a portion of the company that received the ETF for investment purposes. As a result, they have voting rights in organizational decisions.

Mutual funds versus ETFs


Mutual funds ETFs
 Types of assets  Stocks, bonds, gold, silver etc. Stocks, bonds, gold, silver etc. 
 Trading time Buyable whenever, but only priced at the end of the day, which means your order won’t be filled until then.  Traded during the day. 
 Purchase price  Relatively costly. Based on the overall net value. Typically charge at least $2,500 to get started.  Must purchase at least a single share, though you may be able to purchase fractional shares. Costs can range from $20 to $250. Based on market price.
 Expenses  Higher.  Lower.
Commissions   1–2 percent, depending on the management firm.  None.
 Management  Actively managed.  Passively managed.
 Tax efficiency Low.   High.
 Automation (regarding payment)  Usually yes. No.  

Mutual funds or ETFs: which is better for you 

Mutual funds and ETFs are very similar. Both aim to bring in supplemental income and grow investors' wealth over an extended period. Deciding which investment opportunity is best for you all comes down to your personal goals, how you wish to achieve them, and in what types of goods or services you'd like to invest your money.

You should consider investing in mutual funds if: 

One: You want a fund that could outperform the market. This applies more to actively managed mutual funds. Fund managers have access to market insight that individual investors and the general trading population do not, so not only can they learn of different assets up for sale, but they can act immediately and acquire them earlier. 

Overall, mutual funds often generate more returns for investors than ETFs, but capital gains taxes apply to those earnings. 

Two: You are investing in a less efficient sector of the market. Certain businesses and products are considered more desirable than others. "Efficient businesses" are top-rated, and information about their products is widespread. Unlike ETFs, mutual funds are available for more specialized sectors of the market.  

Three: You want higher returns. Mutual funds tend to yield higher returns than ETFs, but, once again, capital gains taxes apply, and they can add up over time. 

You should consider investing in ETFs if:

One: You trade actively. You are only taxed when you sell the ETF. 

Two: You want niche exposure. Depending on the ETFs, you may have access to a particular market and its commodities and services. The majority of mutual funds do not dabble in niche markets. 

Three: You want tax efficiency. ETFs offer tax advantages in the United States, but this is not always the case with foreign ETFs. 

Four: For liquidity reasons. ETFs have a relatively high degree of liquidity, meaning they are bought and sold quickly and are converted to cash just as effortlessly. Funds that encompass more assets and are traded more frequently throughout the day will result in more money once converted.

Point's contributions 

Mutual funds, ETFs, individual stocks, and bonds are vessels that can aid you in the process of supplementing your income and growing your financial wealth in the long run. These strategies require a relative degree of patience before the returns amount to something worthwhile.  

That said, there are steps you can take along the way to improve your financial situation in the short term, too. Multiple tools are available to help you, such as credit cards, debit cards, or Point Card

You work hard for your money, and Point works hard for you in return. Point Card is an alternative yet easy-to-use instrument designed for those who value financial independence. Cardholders can use their own money while receiving exclusive benefits, including unlimited cash-back on all purchases. Point also comes with fraud protection, no interest rates, and bonus cash-back on subscriptions, food delivery, rideshare services, and coffee shops, not to mention travel perks.

With the money you are saving and earning back regularly, you'll be able to work toward broadening your portfolio through riskier investments like mutual funds and ETFs if you choose. And Point will be there acting as a safety net the entire time.

Simply put, Point Card is a great tool for intelligently navigating your financial journey.

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