Index vs. active mutual funds

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When selecting a mutual fund, one of the decisions is whether to invest in an index fund or actively managed fund. Active or index investing isn’t an either-or proposition. In fact, many mutual fund companies offer both types of funds. Likewise, many investors choose to use both types of funds in their portfolios to pursue different objectives.

About index funds

An index is a selection of investments intended to represent a particular market.  Indexes like the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) make an appearance on the news every night. Other indexes represent markets that are less well known.  Index funds are based on indexes that track the performance of a particular market or investment style, such as growth or value.

About actively managed funds

An actively managed fund has a portfolio manager or a team of managers who are trying to beat a particular benchmark (usually a broad index).  An index fund also has a portfolio manager, but attempts to match the performance of a particular index.

How index and active funds differ

Index funds
Simplicity, low costs, and exposure to a market without having to do research to select an active manager
No opportunity to outperform the market index, or avoid components of the index that may perform poorly
Active funds
Opportunity to outperform the market, depending on the manager you select and the fees charged
Potential to underperform the index if the manager makes poor selection decisions or charges high fees 

How to choose

Deciding which type of fund to buy doesn’t need to be an either-or.  Many investors use a mix of index funds and active funds in their portfolios to combine the cost advantage of indexing with the possibility of outperforming the market with active funds.  Consider working with an advisor who can help you select the best mix of mutual funds for your portfolio.
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TIAA products may be subject to market and other risk factors. See the applicable product literature for details.

You should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before investing. Please go to for product and fund prospectuses that contain this and other information. Please read the prospectuses carefully before investing.

This article is for general educational purposes only.  It is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific individualized investment advice.  Speak to an investment advisor regarding your situation.