The Surprising Tax Efficiency Of ETFs Versus Mutual Funds

Vern Sumnicht CEO | CIO |

ETFs are generally considered to be more tax-efficient than mutual funds due to their unique structure and trading mechanism. Here are a few reasons why:

  • ETFs tend to have lower portfolio turnover compared to mutual funds. Since ETFs are passively managed, they generally buy and hold securities for longer periods of time, resulting in fewer capital gains (which are directly passed through to fund shareholders) compared to actively managed mutual funds.
  • In-kind Creation and Redemption: ETFs use an in-kind creation and redemption process, which means that authorized participants (APs) can exchange baskets of securities with the ETF issuer in exchange for ETF shares. This process allows the ETF to avoid selling securities on the open market, which can result in realized capital gains taxes. In contrast, mutual funds must sell securities to meet redemptions, which can create capital gains for investors.
  • Flexibility to Manage Capital Gains: ETFs have greater flexibility to manage capital gains and losses than mutual funds. ETFs can use a variety of techniques, such as using futures contracts, options, and swaps, to manage their exposure to securities while avoiding capital gains. Mutual funds, on the other hand, are required to distribute all capital gains to shareholders at the end of the year.
  • ETFs tend to have lower expense ratios than mutual funds, which can also contribute to their tax efficiency. Lower expense ratios mean that investors keep more of their returns, reducing the tax drag on their investments.

For example, suppose an investor owns shares in a mutual fund and an ETF that both invest in the same basket of securities. If the mutual fund manager buys and sells securities more frequently than the ETF, the mutual fund is more likely to generate capital gains, which will be distributed to shareholders and taxed at the end of the year. In contrast, the ETF is less likely to generate capital gains due to its lower portfolio turnover and in-kind creation and redemption process, resulting in lower tax liabilities for the investor.

In summary, while both mutual funds and ETFs can be tax-efficient, the ETF structure generally provides greater flexibility and control over capital gains taxes, which can result in higher after-tax returns for investors.

Contact us to learn more about how iSectors investment process seeks to maintain low overall investment costs using ETFs.