An index fund maintains investments in companies that are part of major stock (or bond) indices, such as the S&P 500, while an actively managed fund attempts to outperform a relevant index through superior stock-picking techniques. The assets of an index fund are managed to closely approximate the performance of a particular published index. Since the composition of an index changes infrequently, an index fund manager makes fewer trades, on average, than does an active fund manager. For this reason, index funds usually have lower trading expenses than actively managed funds, and usually incur fewer short-term capital gains which must be passed on to shareholders. Additionally, index funds do not incur expenses to pay for selection of individual stocks (proprietary selection techniques, research, etc.) and deciding when to buy, hold or sell individual holdings. Instead, a fairly simple computer model can identify whatever changes are needed to bring the fund back into agreement with its target index.
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