What Is An Index Fund And How Does It Work?

What is an index fund, and how does it work?

If you’ve checked news channels like CNBC, you may have heard about index funds. You might have seen words like the S&P 500 streamed below other numbers and arrows. These are often mentioned during talks of a booming economy. Investors see them as one of the safest asset classes in their portfolio.

We’ll start by describing what index funds are and how they work. Then, we’ll go through the two kinds of index funds, passive and active. Next, we’ll explain the advantages and disadvantages you’ll find in these options. Last, we’ll discuss how you could add index funds to your portfolio.

If you’re looking for new investments, index funds may provide safe long-term yields. Of course, you need to learn more about them before you proceed. If you have no assets, you’re probably wondering why they get so much media attention. You’ll know why they’re often seen as signs of a good economy and why it’s often inaccurate.

What are index funds?

What are index funds?

When you’re buying a stock, you buy partial ownership of a corporation. Index funds track the returns of a particular market index, letting you invest in several companies.

These include the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor 500 Index. You have several S&P 500 index funds like Vanguard, iShares Core, and Fidelity.

They often follow a passive investment strategy since they only match a particular index. Each fund has a portfolio manager who decides the expense ratios for its companies.

Their market capitalization determines the weight of the companies in these indexes. Otherwise known as market cap, it’s the share price multiplied by the number of shares.

When asked about what index funds are, investors often think of safe passive investments. As you’ll find out later, even these have risks. These can be reduced but not removed.

Index funds vs. actively managed funds

Index funds vs. actively managed funds

Some of these go against what index funds usually are. They don’t just follow how market indexes perform. Instead, they try to beat the market by mixing up their investments.

Actively managed funds have a team of portfolio managers that look for new investment opportunities. They buy and sell, so their fund does better than certain indexes.

This means you’ll have to pay more for actively managed funds than index funds. After all, the work of its portfolio managers will bring additional costs.

If the team succeeds, your active fund may net more yields. If they fail, though, the fund may do worse than the index. You lose in the investment, and you have to deal with fees too.

Safe yields often define what index funds are. Still, this isn’t always the case. Even the indexes could fail after all. Once they do, you also lose from investing in them.

You won’t have to pay that much compared to actively managed funds. The portfolio manager won’t have to put in as much effort. They only have to match an index, not beat it.


Multiple investments often define what are index funds. They minimize risks by putting money into several companies. If one corporation fails, the other ones may still perform well.

The longer you hold on to index funds, the lower your annual tax returns become. Specifically, it’s reduced after a year. It’s similar to how taxes on stocks work.

They’re often a safe bet since these indexes include significant corporations. In other words, some think they’re “too big to fail” since these companies usually perform well.

Some of the big brands in the S&P 500 include Apple and Amazon. Their stocks continue to perform well despite the pandemic.

Still, this depends on several factors like expense ratio. Some companies may receive more money, so their success or failure could significantly impact the fund.


No matter what index funds are to people, they still carry some risks. Remember that you can lose money in any investment. Don’t believe folks who tell you otherwise!

Passive and active funds both have risks. Actively managed funds have experts who try and beat the index. This means you foot an extra bill for their skills and effort.

Still, this doesn’t mean that they can’t fail. It might perform worse than the index fund. Not following the indexes could mean investing in the wrong companies.

On the other hand, following the indexes doesn’t guarantee success. The companies included could still fail even though it’s seldom. If the index falls, it may take your fund along with it.

People often think of safe earnings when asked what index funds are. Yet, you should have several investment options like stocks or bonds.

How do I invest in index funds?

How do I invest in index funds?

Now that you know general information about what index funds are, you should learn even more. Understand all there is to know before investing in an index fund.

This includes its prospectus and its most recent shareholder report. You should also ask these questions to understand your chosen index fund:

  1. What expenses would I need to pay for purchasing, owning, and selling this fund?
  2. Could you tell me the specific risks of this fund?
  3. How are the companies in this fund selected?
  4. Will my investment goals match the fund’s investment strategy?

You may get more info about a specific fund from its website. Also, you may consult your financial professional and EDGAR for more details.

The ideal investment strategy

The ideal investment strategy

Similar to what index funds are, most investing strategies involve diversification. They put money into different kinds of stock market options and other investments.

Companies and industries don’t have a steady stream of income. Businesses could fail and eventually close down. If you only invested in one company and it fails, so will your investment.

If you place money into different companies, you still earn from those who keep making. Even better, you could gain even more if all of them perform well!

On the other hand, you shouldn’t just buy into every investment. The famous investor Warren Buffett even spoke against the stock market’s rule of thumb.

He commented that it shows an investor’s attempt to protect against ignorance. It highlights that they don’t know what they’re doing. They place money into everything and hope for the best.

The Oracle of Omaha doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Instead, he emphasizes how important research is when investing. This will help you select suitable options based on sound judgment.

Learn what index funds are before you pour money into them. What’s more, you should understand other factors that may affect the fund.

Final thoughts

The financial markets offer much more than just index funds. You could check similar investments such as mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Again, understand what are index funds before you invest in them. These aren’t risk-free, and you have several options. You should find the ones that fit your investment strategy.

Most importantly, you should be clear about your investment goals. If you’re looking for easy gains, don’t bother. You’ll take a long time earning from stocks and other investment options.

Instead, you should learn financial literacy. Money management and proper spending habits are a must for everyone. Check out personal finance tips online to learn more.