What Is The Difference Between ETF And Mutual Fund?

by Siddharth Singh Bhaisora

Published On March 28, 2024

In this article

Individuals are increasingly exploring avenues beyond traditional savings to amplify their wealth. Two such investment options garnering significant attention are Mutual Funds and Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs). Especially so, since Zerodha has launched Liquidcase. Mutual fund vs ETF - Both vehicles offer pathways to diversify portfolios but differ in operation, cost, and management. Understanding the difference between etf and mutual fund can be crucial for investors aiming to align their investment choices with their financial goals and risk appetite.

What are ETFs? (Exchange Traded Funds)

ETFs are investment that are traded on stock exchanges, similar to stocks. They encompass a variety of assets, mirroring the composition of an index like the Nifty 50 or BSE Sensex. The liquidity and continuous pricing throughout the trading day allow investors flexibility to buy and sell shares. ETFs are known for their passive management approach, aiming to replicate the performance of their underlying index, resulting in lower expense ratios and potentially lower capital gains taxes.

What Are Mutual Funds?

Mutual Funds gather capital from a pool of investors to invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, or other securities. Managed by professional fund managers, these funds aim to outperform the market, adjusting the portfolio based on market analysis and the fund's investment objective. Unlike ETFs, mutual funds are priced at the end of the trading day based on their net asset value (NAV). This structure might lead to higher expense ratios due to active management, but offers a broader diversification and potential for higher returns through expert portfolio management.

Key Differences Between ETFs and Mutual Funds

Despite their similarities, such as pooling investors' money to purchase a basket of securities, these two types of funds have distinct differences that cater to different investor needs and preferences. Understanding differences of mutual fund vs etf is crucial for making informed investment decisions that align with one's financial goals and risk tolerance. Here's a concise table highlighting the key difference between etf and mutual fund:



Mutual Funds


Trade like stocks on exchanges throughout the trading day at current market prices.

Bought and sold at the end of the trading day at the Net Asset Value (NAV).

Management Style

Typically passively managed, tracking a specific index.

Usually actively managed by professional fund managers aiming to outperform the market.


Generally have lower expense ratios due to passive management. Fewer transaction costs if held long-term.

Higher expense ratios due to active management and operational fees. May include sales charges (loads).

Investment Minimum

Lower minimum investment, allowing purchase of single shares.

Often require a higher minimum investment, which can vary by fund.


High liquidity, with the ability to buy and sell during market hours.

Liquidity at the end of each trading day based on NAV.

Tax Efficiency

More tax-efficient due to the in-kind redemption process and lower turnover.

Less tax-efficient, potentially incurring higher capital gains distributions due to active trading.


Diversification depends on the index being tracked.

Broader diversification through a managed portfolio of various assets.

Dividend Reinvestment

Dividends are paid to shareholders in cash, which can then be reinvested.

Offers automatic dividend reinvestment to purchase additional shares.


Holdings are typically disclosed daily.

Holdings are usually disclosed monthly or quarterly.

Why Should You Invest in ETFs?

Investing in ETFs offers several compelling benefits. ETFs provide a level of flexibility unmatched by many other investment vehicles, allowing you to buy and sell shares throughout the trading day at market prices, similar to stocks. This can be particularly advantageous in rapidly changing markets where timing and price are crucial. ETFs typically come with lower expense ratios compared to mutual funds, primarily due to their passive management strategy. This cost efficiency is a significant draw, potentially leading to higher investment returns over time. Another difference between etf and mutual fund, ETFs offer tax advantages; their unique structure can lead to fewer capital gains tax liabilities than mutual funds. For investors looking for diversified exposure to various sectors or indices with the added benefit of stock-like trading, ETFs present an attractive option.

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Lower expense ratios mean more of your investment goes towards growing your wealth.

  • Flexibility: Trade any time during market hours at current market prices.

  • Tax Efficiency: Generally incur lower capital gains taxes.

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Why Should You Invest in Mutual Funds?

Mutual funds are a popular choice for investors seeking diversification and professional management of their portfolio. By pooling resources with other investors, you gain access to a broader range of securities than might be possible individually, spreading out risk across various assets. Active management by experienced mutual fund managers can offer the potential for higher returns; these professionals dedicate their time to analyzing market trends and adjusting the fund's holdings accordingly to outperform the market. Mutual funds also simplify the investment process—investors don’t need to meticulously track individual assets but can rely on the fund's management to navigate the complexities of the financial markets. With the wide variety of mutual funds available, investors can easily find a fund that matches their risk tolerance and investment goals, whether they prefer equities, bonds, or a mix of asset types.

  • Professional Management: Benefit from the expertise of fund managers making informed investment decisions.

  • Diversification: Access a wide range of assets within one investment, potentially lowering your investment risk.

  • Customization: Choose from equity, debt, or hybrid funds to match your investment goals and risk tolerance.

ETFs vs Mutual Funds: What Are Its Types?

Mutual funds vs ETF, both offer a range of types catering to different investor needs and market exposures. Here are some common types of ETFs:

  • Stock ETFs: Track stock indices.

  • Bond ETFs: Invest in government or corporate debt.

  • Sector/Industry ETFs: Focus on specific market areas.

  • Commodity ETFs: Invest in physical goods like gold or oil.

Mutual Funds also come in various forms. Here are some common types of mutual funds:

  • Equity Mutual Funds:Equity mutual funds investing primarily in stocks, aiming for growth through capital appreciation.

  • Debt Mutual Funds:Debt mutual funds focus on bonds and other debt instruments, seeking to generate income for investors.

  • Hybrid/Balanced Funds:Hybrid or balanced mutual funds invest in a mix of equities and fixed-income securities, offering a balance of risk and return.

  • Specialized Funds: Specialized mutual funds, such as index funds, money market funds, or international funds, provide additional options for investors looking for specific exposures or strategies.

    Both ETFs and mutual funds provide a spectrum of choices to suit diverse investment preferences and goals, from conservative income-focused portfolios to aggressive growth-oriented strategies.

    Factors to Consider When Investing in ETFs

    When considering investment in ETFs , several factors warrant attention. Firstly, understand the underlying index or sector the ETF tracks to ensure it aligns with your investment goals and risk tolerance. Consider the ETF’s expense ratio and trading costs, as these can impact overall returns. It's also essential to evaluate the ETF’s liquidity; more liquid ETFs are generally easier to buy and sell without significant price impact. Additionally, consider the tax implications of your investment, as ETFs often offer tax efficiency but may still trigger taxes on dividends and capital gains. Finally, research the fund's performance history to assess how it has managed under different market conditions, though past performance is not always indicative of future results. Here are some factors to consider when investing in ETFs:

    • Market Knowledge: Ideal for investors with a solid understanding of market indices and a desire for hands-on investment management.

    • Investment Goals: Suitable for those seeking lower-cost investments with flexibility and transparency.

    • Underlying Index/Assets: Ensure alignment with investment goals and risk tolerance.

    • Expense Ratio and Trading Costs: Lower costs can lead to better net returns.

    • Liquidity: High liquidity facilitates easier trades with minimal impact on price.

    • Tax Efficiency: Understand potential tax liabilities to maximize net returns.

    • Performance History: Consider past performance as one of many factors in decision-making.

    Factors to Consider When Investing in Mutual Funds

    Investing in mutual funds requires careful consideration of several key aspects. The fund's performance history, while not indicative of future returns, can provide insights into how it has weathered past market fluctuations. The expense ratio and any associated fees are critical to understanding, as they can significantly eat into your investment returns over time. Assess the fund manager's experience and track record, as their decisions will directly influence the fund's performance. Diversification is another important factor; ensure the fund spreads risk across a wide array of assets, aligning with your investment strategy. Lastly, consider the fund's investment objectives and how they match your financial goals, risk tolerance, and investment horizon. Here are some factors to consider when investing in mutual funds:

    • Performance History: Provides a glimpse into the fund's resilience and adaptability.

    • Expense Ratios and Fees: Higher costs can significantly erode investment gains.

    • Fund Manager's Experience: A skilled manager can be key to outperforming the market.

    • Diversification: Essential for spreading risk and enhancing potential returns.

    • Investment Objectives: Should match your financial goals and investment horizon.

    • Expertise: Perfect for individuals who prefer expert guidance and a hands-off approach to investing.

    • Long-term Goals: Best for investors aiming for tailored investment strategies to meet specific financial objectives, willing to pay a premium for active management.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    1. Is an ETF Considered as a Mutual Fund?

    Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) and Mutual Funds are both types of investment funds, pooling investors' money to purchase a diversified portfolio of assets. However, they are structured and operate differently. ETFs are traded on stock exchanges like individual stocks, offering price fluctuations and trading opportunities throughout the day. In contrast, mutual funds are bought and sold based on their Net Asset Value (NAV) at the end of the trading day. While ETFs share some characteristics with mutual funds, they are not classified as mutual funds due to their distinct trading and management features.

    2. How Do ETFs and Mutual Funds Differ in Trading?

    ETFs trade like stocks on exchanges throughout the trading day at market prices, allowing for intra-day trading. This trading flexibility offers investors the advantage of responding quickly to market movements. Mutual funds, however, are bought and sold at the end of the trading day at their NAV, which is calculated after the markets close. This means investors in mutual funds cannot take immediate action based on intra-day market changes.

    3. What Are The Cost Differences Between ETFs and Mutual Funds?

    The primary cost differences between ETFs and mutual funds stem from their management style and operational expenses. ETFs typically have lower expense ratios due to their passive management approach, aiming to replicate the performance of an index. Additionally, ETFs may incur fewer transaction costs if held long-term. On the other hand, mutual funds often have higher expense ratios because they are usually actively managed, which involves more operational fees and possibly sales charges known as loads.

    4. Are ETFs or Mutual Funds Better for Long-Term Investment?

    The suitability of ETFs or mutual funds for long-term investment depends on the investor's goals, risk tolerance, and investment strategy. ETFs may be more appealing for those seeking lower-cost, passive investments with tax efficiency. Mutual funds might be a better choice for investors desiring professional management, customized investment strategies, and are willing to pay a premium for the potential of higher returns through active management.

    5. What Are The Risks Involved in Investing in ETFs and Mutual Funds?

    Both ETFs and mutual funds carry market risk, meaning the value of the investments can fluctuate based on the performance of the underlying assets. ETFs might also involve trading risks due to their stock-like trading features, such as bid-ask spreads and potential pricing discrepancies. Mutual funds face risks related to active management, including the possibility that the fund manager's investment choices may not achieve the desired outcomes. Both types of investments can also be impacted by broader economic and political events.

    6. Where Can I Buy ETFs and Mutual Funds?

    ETFs can be bought and sold through brokerage accounts on stock exchanges during market hours, similar to buying individual stocks. This accessibility allows investors to utilize various trading strategies, including the use of limit orders and trading on margin. Mutual funds can be purchased directly from mutual fund companies or through brokerage accounts or robo-advisors such as Wright Research, but trades are executed at the NAV calculated at the end of the trading day. Some mutual funds may also be available on stock exchanges as Exchange-Traded Mutual Funds (ETMFs), offering a hybrid of features from both ETFs and mutual funds.

    Read these articles to understand all about mutual funds and how you can invest in mutual funds with Wright Research:

    1. What is SIP in Mutual Funds? An Experts Guide

    2. The Crucial Role of Risk Profiling in Mutual Fund Investments

    3. How many funds should you have in your Mutual Fund Portfolio?

    4. What is Standard Deviation in Mutual Fund and How Does it Help in Portfolio Management?

    5. Online KYC for Mutual Fund Investments in India

    6. Smallcase vs Mutual Fund: Understand Difference and Similarities
    7. SIP Investment Guide: What is SIP, How to Start, Benefits, & Is It Worth It
    8. Which One is the Better Option: Liquid Funds or Arbitrage Mutual Funds Instead of Fixed Deposits?
    9. Understanding Mutual Fund Risks: A Comprehensive Guide for Investors in India
    10. How To Invest In Mutual Funds in India?

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