Index funds vs target-date funds: What's the difference?

Index funds vs target-date funds: What’s the difference?

Index funds and target-date funds are two popular types of mutual funds in India. While both can be useful components of a diversified investment portfolio, there are some key differences between them. Read on to find out more about target-date funds and index funds in India.

What are index mutual funds?

An index fund is a type of mutual fund that aims to mimic the performance of a specific market index, like Nifty 50 or Sensex. Index funds invest in the same stocks that are included in the index they track, in approximately the same proportions.  For example, an index fund based on the Nifty 50 will invest in the 50 largest and most liquid Indian stocks in the Nifty 50. As the underlying index rises or falls, the index fund’s value should follow suit. Index funds offer broad market exposure at low costs. Actively managed mutual funds charge higher fees because fund managers are constantly researching, buying and selling stocks to try to beat the market. Index funds take a passive approach – the portfolio only changes when the underlying index changes. This results in lower expense ratios.

What are target-date funds?

Target-date funds are mutual funds designed to provide an all-in-one investment solution based on your projected retirement date. Target-date funds hold a mix of stocks, bonds and other assets. They start out invested primarily in equities to enable growth. As the target date approaches, the fund’s asset allocation automatically becomes more conservative with higher bond allocation to preserve capital. For example, a Target 2040 fund is suited for someone planning to retire around the year 2040. In early years, the fund may have 80-90% in stocks. Closer to 2040, it will shift to a 60/40 stock/bond mix. At the target date, it may be 40/60 in stocks and bonds. 

Key differences between index and target-date funds

While both index and target-date funds can play a role in an Indian investor’s portfolio, there are some notable differences.

Investment approach

– Index funds: Passive, aiming to match the market

– Target-date funds: Actively managed, with a glide path strategy


– Index funds: Focus on a single index, so less diversified

– Target-date funds: Hold a strategic mix of stocks, bonds, and other assets


– Index funds: Require the investor to rebalance their own portfolio

– Target-date funds: Automatically rebalance as the target date approaches


– Index funds: Attempt to match market returns, not beat them

– Target-date funds: Seek to optimize returns for the target timeline

Index funds provide a simpler, low-cost approach to match the market while target-date funds offer more diversification and automatic adjustments over time. Your needs and preferences as an investor will determine which approach may be more suitable.

Which one is right for you?

Here are some things to consider when deciding between target-date funds vs index funds in India.

  • Choose index funds if you want minimal involvement and lower costs. They can provide an easy way to get exposure to Indian equities. 
  • Target-date funds may be preferable if you want a more customized solution for retirement. They provide automatic rebalancing and diversification in one fund.
  • Consider combining both approaches – using index funds for your core equity exposure, and target-date funds for retirement savings that adjust over time.
  • Pay attention to expense ratios – index funds tend to have lower fees. But higher fees for target-date funds may be justified by the active management.
  • Review the underlying holdings – index funds should closely track their benchmark indices, while target-date funds can vary in allocation strategies.

As with any investment, there are pros and cons to each approach. Evaluate both in the context of your specific goals, time horizon, and risk appetite when choosing funds for your portfolio. Consult a financial advisor if needed to determine how index funds and target-date funds fit into your overall strategy.

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