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What Are Index Funds?


Since the 1970s, index funds have been around. In the 2010s, the popularity of passive investing, the enticement of low fees, and a long-running bull market all conspired to drive them soaring. Investors put more than US$458 billion into index funds across all asset classes in 2018, according to Morningstar Research. Actively managed funds saw outflows of $301 billion during the same period.

The fund that started it all, launched by Vanguard chairman John Bogle in 1976, is still one of the finest in long-term performance and low cost. In terms of composition and performance, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund has closely followed the S&P 500. As of July 2020, it had a one-year return of 7.37 percent, compared to the index’s 7.51 percent. The expense ratio for its Admiral Shares is 0.04 percent, and its minimum investment is $3,000.


A mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) that tracks the components of a financial market index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500), is classified as an index fund. A broad market exposure, low operating expenses, and low portfolio turnover are all claimed benefits of an index mutual fund. Regardless of the situation of the market, these funds track their benchmark index.

Index funds are commonly regarded as appropriate core portfolio holdings for retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s. Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, has advocated index funds as a safe harbor for retirement money. He has stated that rather than select particular businesses to invest in, it is more cost-effective for the average investor to acquire all S&P 500 firms through an index fund.


The term “indexing” refers to a type of passive fund management. Instead of actively stock selecting and market timingthat is, deciding which securities to invest in and when to buy and sell them—a fund portfolio manager develops a portfolio whose holdings mirror those of a specific index. The concept is that by replicating the index’s profile—the stock market as a whole or a broad section of it—the fund will equal its performance.

For practically every financial market that exists, there is an index and an index fund. The most popular index funds in the United States track the S&P 500.

However, several different indexes are extensively used, including:

  • Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index, the most extensive U.S. equities index 
  • Russell 2000, a small-cap firm stock index
  • MSCI EAFE, which includes international stocks from Europe, Australasia, and the Far East.
  • The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index tracks the entire bond market.
  • Nasdaq Composite, which is made up of 3,000 Nasdaq-listed equities.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) stock market index includes 30 large-cap businesses.

For example, an index fund tracking the DJIA would invest in the same 30 large, publicly traded companies that make up the index.

Index funds’ portfolios vastly change when their benchmark indices change. If the fund follows a weighted index, the managers may adjust the percentage of different securities to reflect the weight of their participation in the benchmark quarterly. In an index or a portfolio, weighting is a means of balancing off the impact of any single position.


Everyone compliments index mutual funds, and with good reason: they’re a simple, hands-off, diversified, and low-cost method to invest in the stock market. Before you invest, there are a few things you should do.

1. Pick which Index to use.

Mutual funds that track numerous indices are known as index mutual funds. Because the 500 companies it covers are major, well-known U.S.-based organizations representing a wide range of industries, The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is one of the most well-known indexes.

The S&P 500 isn’t the only index in town, though. There are indexes — and index funds — that are made up of stocks or other assets. Despite the abundance of options, you may only need to invest in one. Warren Buffett, His Royal Investment Highness, has stated that to be appropriately diversified, an average investor merely has to invest in a broad stock market index.

2. Select which Index Fund to use.

After determining which index you want to invest in, you’ll need to determine which index fund to buy. Frequently, it comes down to cost. One of the most appealing features of index funds is their low expenses. They’re inexpensive to run because they’re programmed to track changes in the value of an index. Don’t assume that all index mutual funds are cheap.

They have administrative costs, even if a team of well-paid analysts doesn’t actively manage them.

Before investing, consider the following costs:

Investment minimum

Account minimum

Expense ratio and

Tax-cost ratio.

3. Decide where to buy

 An index fund can be purchased directly from a mutual fund firm or a brokerage. Exchange-traded funds (ETFs), similar to mini mutual funds that trade like stocks throughout the day, are the same.

Consider the following factors when deciding where to invest in an index fund:

Fund selection

Trading cost


Impact investing

Commission-free options


Best S&P 500 index funds with low costs for 2021

ACCORDING TO THE INVESTMENT COMPANY INSTITUTE, the S&P 500 index funds are by far the most popular type of index fund; according to the Investment Company Institute, approximately 30% of all investor money in index funds tracked that benchmark index in 2019.

The following are some of the best S&P 500 index funds.

Vanguard 500 Index Fund – Admiral Shares (VFIAX)

Schwab S&P 500 Index Fund (SWPPX)

Fidelity 500 Index Fund (FXAIX)

Fidelity Zero Large Cap Index (FNILX)

T. Rowe Price Equity Index 500 Fund (PREIX)

Some critical questions need to be answered before taking a step into the journey of index fund investment;

Is the index fund performing as expected? The performance of your index fund should be identical to that of the underlying index.

Is the index fund you want to invest in too expensive? Invest in an index-tracking exchange-traded fund. Instead of purchasing the entire mutual fund, you only buy a portion of it. (Here are some advantages and disadvantages of ETFs over mutual funds.)

Because of their ease of use, quick diversification, and returns that often outperform actively managed accounts, index funds have become one of the most popular methods for Americans to invest.

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