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The distinction between ETFs and index funds


When considering the pros and cons of investing in an ETF or an index fund, it is crucial to consider their differences. ETFs and index funds are both types of investment products that allow investors to gain exposure to a wide range of asset classes, but there are distinct differences between them. This article will overview the significant distinctions between ETFs and index funds in Singapore.

Taxation rules

The first distinction between ETFs and index funds is their respective tax treatments. In Singapore, gains from exchange-traded fund purchases are subject to capital gains tax, while dividends on index funds may be taxed as income. Furthermore, ETFs may incur additional costs due to annual taxes on the management fees they charge investors, while index funds are usually exempt from such taxation. Moreover, ETFs are also subject to stamp duty and other transaction costs, while index funds are usually not.

Investment Strategy

Another significant distinction between ETFs and index funds is their investment strategies. ETFs typically follow a passive investment strategy, tracking a target benchmark or index, whereas index funds often employ an actively managed approach in selecting stocks. With the active approach, managers seek opportunities that may outperform the broader market rather than simply following them passively, as an ETF does. Furthermore, ETFs are usually more diversified and liquid than index funds.

Cost of investing

Another difference between ETFs and index funds is the cost of investing. In general, exchange traded funds are cheaper than index funds because they don’t require a minimum balance or management fees. On the other hand, index funds often come with higher management fees and may require a minimum investment amount. In addition, ETFs may also incur additional costs due to commissions on trades and other transaction fees.

Trading flexibility

The fourth significant distinction between ETFs and index funds is the trading flexibility offered by each product type. ETFs can be traded on exchanges, meaning investors can enter or exit their positions at virtually any time during market hours. Index funds, however, are usually only available for purchase directly from the fund manager, meaning there is typically less trading flexibility for these products. Index funds may also require investors to pay redemption fees, whereas ETFs do not.


The last distinction between ETFs and index funds is their respective performance records. While past performance does not guarantee future returns, ETFs have generally outperformed index funds in recent years due to their lower fees and more diversified portfolios. For many investors, an ETF may be the better option if they look for higher returns over a more extended period. Moreover, ETFs have also seen greater price appreciation than index funds in recent years, making them a more attractive option for investors with a higher appetite for risk.

Benefits of investing in ETFs over index funds

While there are several benefits to investing in either instrument, ETFs have some that stand out. Investors should be aware of these to ensure they make the most informed decision when choosing a product.

Lower fees

ETFs typically have lower management and transaction fees than index funds, meaning investors can keep more of their returns. Even if the ETF’s performance doesn’t match up to the market, it will still be able to come out ahead financially due to the lower costs associated with investing in it.

Tax efficiency

Due to their passive investment strategy and tax treatments, ETFs are typically more tax efficient than index funds for most investors. Therefore, investors will save money when it comes time to pay taxes on their gains from ETF investments.

Flexible trading hours

Unlike index funds, which usually trade only at certain times of the day or week, ETFs can be traded on exchanges at any time during market hours. Therefore, investors can take advantage of even the slightest shifts in the market to maximise their returns.

More diversification

ETFs offer investors more diversification than index funds by tracking a broad range of assets. It can reduce risk and give investors more significant exposure to a wide range of markets, enabling them to take advantage of opportunities that may be unavailable in the narrower scope of an index fund.