Mutual Funds
by 5paisa Research Team Last Updated: 2023-07-04T12:16:34+05:30


When investing in financial markets, you have several options, such as index funds and mutual funds. These two investment vehicles have become increasingly popular for their ability to diversify your portfolio across a range of securities.

Index funds are passive investment vehicles that track the performance of a particular market index, such as the Nifty50 or BSE Sensex. They provide investors with returns that closely mirror the overall market performance.

Mutual funds, on the other hand, are actively managed by a professional fund manager who selects stocks or bonds based on their investment strategy. The goal of the mutual fund is to outperform the market and deliver higher returns to investors.

Whether you're a seasoned investor or just starting, index and mutual funds are great options when building your portfolio. But which one should you invest in? Here are some vital differences between mutual funds and index funds.

Differences Between Index Funds and Mutual Funds

#1: Investment and management style

Index funds and mutual funds have different investment and management styles that can affect their performance and cost.

Index funds are ideal for investors who prefer a passive investment strategy, as they require minimal intervention from a fund manager. They are also cost-effective with lower management fees, which translates to lower expense ratios. Index funds track a specific market index, providing investors with a diversified portfolio across various securities. This diversification helps reduce risk, making it a suitable option for investors with a low-risk tolerance.

However, fund managers actively manage mutual funds and select individual securities to outperform the market. This active management style requires more resources, expertise, and time, leading to higher investor expenses and fees. Mutual funds offer the potential for higher returns, making them a suitable option for investors with a high-risk tolerance.

#2: Expense ratio

Before investing in financial markets, the expense ratio is essential when considering index funds vs mutual funds. The expense ratio is the annual fee charged by the fund manager for managing the fund's assets.

Index funds have lower expense ratios than actively managed mutual funds because they require less intervention from the fund manager. These lower expenses translate to cost savings for investors, increasing their overall returns.

Actively managed mutual funds have a higher expense ratio due to the fund manager's active management style, which the investors must bear, reducing their overall returns. However, a high expense ratio may be worth it if a mutual fund outperforms the market.

#3: Performance

In terms of performance, index funds offer returns that closely track the market's overall performance because they invest in all the securities that make up a specific market index. This way, index funds do not aim to outperform the market but mirror its performance. Due to their passive investment strategy and lower expenses, index funds have historically delivered reliable long-term performance. 

Mutual funds, in contrast, offer the potential for higher returns by actively selecting individual securities to outperform the market. However, this active management style can also lead to underperformance if the fund manager's investment decisions do not pan out as expected. 

While mutual funds have the potential to outperform the market, the higher fees charged to investors to cover the fund manager's active management can erode their overall returns. It's important to note that past performance does not guarantee future returns. 

However, index funds have outperformed actively managed mutual funds over the long term due to their low expenses and passive investment strategy. 

#4: Simplicity

Index funds are generally more straightforward than mutual funds because of their passive investment approach. The fund manager's goal is to replicate the performance of a specific market index, so the investment decisions are predetermined and straightforward. Index funds typically hold a diversified portfolio of securities, mirroring the index composition they track. This means that investors can easily understand the fund's holdings and performance, and there is little need to monitor and adjust the portfolio frequently.

Mutual funds can lead to a more complex investment strategy and a larger portfolio turnover. This results in higher expenses and potentially more tax implications for investors. Mutual funds often require more research and analysis than index funds and investors must assess the fund manager's track record, investment philosophy, and decision-making process to determine the fund's suitability.

#5: Risk

Both index and mutual funds carry some degree of risk, and investors should consider their risk tolerance and investment goals when selecting a fund.

Index funds have lower risk than mutual funds. They typically hold a diversified portfolio of securities, spreading the risk across various companies and sectors and minimising the impact of individual security performance on the overall portfolio.

At the same time, mutual funds can lead to a higher concentration of risk in individual securities, sectors, or investment styles. While mutual funds have the potential to outperform the market, they also have a higher risk of underperforming due to the fund manager's investment decisions.

#6: Passive vs active management
Passive vs active management refers to fund managers' approach when selecting securities for their portfolio. Index funds are passively managed, while mutual funds are actively managed.

Here is a table outlining passive vs active management.


Passive management

Active management

Investment approach

Replicates market index

Selects securities to outperform

Investment decisions

Rules-based and predetermined

Manager discretion and analysis

Trading activity



Management fees






Risk management



Investor involvement



Investment returns

Market Returns

Outperform/Underperform Market

Suitability for investors

Passive, long-term investors

Active, sophisticated investors



When selecting between the index and mutual funds, you should consider your investment goals, risk tolerance, and investment time horizon to determine the most suitable option. 

Index funds may be suitable for investors prioritising lower risk and steady returns. In comparison, mutual funds may be a better option for investors willing to take on higher risk in pursuit of potentially higher returns.

However, 5paisa can be a great pick for you!  The user-friendly platform offers a wide range of resources and tools to help you make informed investment decisions, including detailed research reports, market analysis, and a wide selection of funds.

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More About Mutual Funds

Frequently Asked Questions

There is no definitive answer, as both funds have unique advantages and disadvantages. You should carefully evaluate your options based on your investment goals, risk appetite, and overall investment strategy.

Index funds are generally less risky than actively managed mutual funds due to their passive investment approach and lower expense ratios.

Investors should evaluate their investment goals, risk tolerance, and investment strategy to determine whether an index fund or mutual fund is a better fit. Index funds may be a better option for passive investors, while mutual funds can be better for active investors.

The fees for index funds are generally lower than mutual funds, as index funds are passively managed and have lower operating costs. Mutual funds typically have higher costs due to the active management and research in selecting the underlying securities.