What are Index Funds

An index fund is a portfolio of stocks or bonds designed to mimic the composition and performance of a financial market index. Read the full blog to explore everything about index funds.
What are Index Funds
3 mins read
03 May 2024

Index funds are passive mutual funds that replicate popular market indices. The Fund Manager does not actively select industries or stocks but invests in all index stocks to match their weightage. This passive approach aims to mirror the index's performance. Diversification is vital in investment strategy, spreading investments across various asset types and sectors to minimise risks. Index funds facilitate diversification by investing in a wide range of stocks across sectors and market capitalisations. This strategy helps investors mitigate risks in equity investment, making index funds in India an essential tool for building a diversified investment portfolio.

But what exactly are index funds, and why are they favoured by investors? In this article, we will explore the fundamentals of index funds and their role in the financial market.

What are Index Funds?

An index fund is a type of mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) designed to replicate the performance of a specific financial market index. Rather than relying on the expertise of active fund managers to select individual stocks or securities, index funds aim to mirror the overall performance of the underlying index. These indices can represent various segments of the market, such as large-cap stocks, small-cap stocks, specific industries, or even entire markets like the S&P 500.

How do index funds work?

Index funds work by investing in the same securities that make up the index they are tracking, in the same proportion.

  • For instance, if an index fund tracks the Nifty 50 index, it will invest in the 50 stocks comprising the Nifty 50, maintaining the same proportions.
  • The value of the index fund fluctuates in line with the index's performance. This strategy negates the necessity for active stock picking, reducing trading costs.

Consequently, index funds are typically more cost-effective compared to actively managed funds.

Example of an index fund

An index fund is a type of passive mutual fund that aims to mirror the performance of a specific market index. Instead of relying on active fund managers to select individual stocks, index funds invest in a basket of securities that replicate the composition of a chosen index, such as the Nifty 50.

Imagine the Nifty 50 Index, which represents the performance of the 50 largest publicly traded companies in India. An index fund that tracks the Nifty 50 would invest in these 50 companies’ stocks in proportion to their market capitalisation. By doing so, the index fund aims to replicate the overall performance of the Nifty 50.

Investors who buy shares in this index fund effectively own a piece of all 50 companies in the index. The fund does not rely on active stock picking; instead, it mirrors the index composition. This approach provides diversification and typically comes with lower fees compared to actively managed funds.

Types of Index Funds

In India, investors have various types of index funds to consider. Here is a breakdown of these funds, their strategies, and associated risks:


  • Broad market index funds: Diversify investments across various stocks, often spanning different market sizes and regions.
  • Factor-based or smart beta index funds: Select stocks based on factors like quality and performance, offering potential for enhanced returns.
  • Market capitalisation index funds: Invest in stocks according to their market value in the index, closely managed by the fund manager.
  • Equal weight index funds: Allocate equal funds to each stock in the portfolio, ensuring balanced representation.
  • Debt index funds: Passively track debt indices, providing simplicity and low costs.
  • Sector-based Index funds: Invest in specific industry sectors like banking or technology, requiring in-depth sector knowledge.
  • Custom index funds: Allow for personalised portfolio management, offering flexibility beyond standard fund structures.


Advantages of Index Funds

Index funds offer broad market exposure and low expense ratios, making them cost-effective investment options with the potential to match market returns. They eliminate the need for active stock selection and generally outperform actively managed funds over the long term. Here are some reasons why investors favor index funds:

  • Cost-Efficiency: Index mutual funds are known for their cost-effectiveness. In contrast to actively managed funds with higher fees and potential underperformance, index funds keep costs low. This is because index fund managers replicate index holdings without incurring additional fees.
  • No Need for Investment Expertise: Index funds do not demand financial expertise or stock selection skills, making them accessible to anyone with savings to invest.
  • Diverse Investment Options: Index funds offer a wide range of investment choices. Investors can access stock index funds and bond index funds, both popular options. Additionally, specialised index funds targeting specific market segments are available.
  • Time Savings: Investing in index funds requires minimal time commitment. Depending on your choice of index funds, you may need only a few minutes to a few hours annually. Index funds streamline the research process, eliminating the need for individual stock analysis.
  • Tax Efficiency: Index funds tend to be tax-efficient compared to other investments. They often offer benefits like reduced long-term capital gains taxes since you are not actively buying and selling holdings.
  • Simplified Management: Index funds are easier to manage than many other fund types. Portfolio managers are not tasked with tracking individual stock performance but focus on periodic portfolio rebalancing.

Who should invest in an index fund?

Investing in an index fund can be a suitable option for a wide range of investors. Whether you are a seasoned investor or just starting your investment journey, index funds offer several benefits that make them appealing to different individuals:

  • Cost-conscious investors: Index funds typically have lower expense ratios compared to actively managed funds. If you prefer a cost-effective investment approach, index funds can be an attractive choice.
  • Beginners: For those new to investing, index funds provide a simple and straightforward way to get started. They offer broad exposure to the market without the need for active stock picking, making them easy to understand.
  • Long-term investors: If you are focused on building a long-term investment portfolio, index funds offer diversification across multiple assets and sectors, reducing risk while potentially providing steady returns over time.
  • Passive investors: Investors who prefer a hands-off, passive approach benefit from index funds. These funds automatically track a specific market index, eliminating the need for continuous monitoring and frequent adjustments.
  • Risk-averse individuals: Diversification is a key feature of index funds. By spreading investments across various companies and industries, they help reduce the impact of individual stock price fluctuations on the overall portfolio.

Factors to Consider Before Investing in Index Funds in India

Investing in index funds in India requires careful consideration of several factors to make informed decisions. Here are key factors to keep in mind:

  1. Investment Objective: Clearly define your investment goal. Index funds are designed to replicate the performance of a specific index, so your objective may include capital appreciation or regular income.
  2. Choice of Index: Choose the index that aligns with your investment objective. Popular Indian indices include Nifty 50, Sensex, Nifty Bank, and more. Ensure the index represents the market segment you want exposure to.
  3. Risk Tolerance: Assess your risk tolerance. While index funds are generally less risky than actively managed funds, they can still be affected by market fluctuations. Consider your risk capacity when selecting an index.
  4. Tracking Error: Evaluate the fund's tracking error, which measures how closely the fund's returns match the index it's designed to replicate. A lower tracking error indicates a better replication.
  5. Expense Ratio: Compare expense ratios across different index funds. Lower expenses lead to higher returns, as they minimise the drag on your investments.
  6. Fund House Reputation: Choose index funds offered by reputable fund houses with a history of efficient fund management, low tracking errors, and investor-friendly practices.
  7. Fund Size: Larger funds may have lower expense ratios due to economies of scale. Ensure the fund size is adequate for efficient index replication.
  8. Exit Load and Redemption: Be aware of exit loads or penalties for early withdrawals. Some funds may have an exit load if you redeem your investment before a specified period.
  9. Diversification: Consider diversifying your portfolio by including different index funds representing various market segments to spread risk.
  10. Investment Horizon: Determine your investment horizon, whether it's short-term, medium-term, or long-term. Choose an index fund that aligns with your investment timeline.

What are the costs associated with index funds?

Index funds are known for their cost-effectiveness, primarily due to their lower expense ratios compared to actively managed funds. The expense ratio represents the annual fee charged by the fund manager to cover operating expenses. Index funds also incur transaction costs when buying or selling securities to match the target index. While they aim to replicate the index's performance, there might be slight deviations known as tracking error. Additionally, investors should consider the impact of taxes on capital gains as part of their overall investment decision. Despite these costs, index funds remain an attractive option for cost-conscious investors seeking diversified exposure to the market.

How to Invest in index funds

Investing in index funds in India is a straightforward process. These funds allow you to participate in the stock market’s performance by mirroring a specific market index, such as the Nifty 50. Here is how you can get started:

1. Open a mutual fund account

  • Choose a secure website or app of your preference to open a mutual fund account.
  • If you have not already, complete your KYC (Know Your Customer) procedures.

2. Select the right Index Fund

  • Research and pick an index fund that aligns with your investment goals.
  • Ensure that the chosen fund tracks the Nifty 50 or any other index you are interested in.

3. Visit your bank or Demat service provider

  • You can do this either online or in person.
  • Set up an investment account with them.

4. Open an investment account

  • Follow the necessary steps to open your investment account.
  • Provide the required information as requested.

5. Choose your investment amount and mode

  • Decide whether you want to invest a lump sum amount or through a Systematic Investment Plan (SIP).
  • SIP allows you to invest a fixed sum at regular intervals (monthly, quarterly, etc.). You can start investing in Nifty index funds with an amount as low as Rs. 500 via SIP.

Remember that index funds are passively managed, which means fund managers do not actively make investment decisions. This results in lower management fees and a lower expense ratio, making it a cost-effective way to invest in a diversified portfolio of top companies.

Index funds taxation in India

In India, taxation on index funds mirrors that of other mutual funds and varies based on the holding period and fund type. Here are the tax implications:

  • Tax on short-term capital gains: Selling index fund units within one year incurs short-term capital gains taxed at the investor's income tax rate.
  • Tax on long-term capital gains: Selling after one year incurs long-term capital gains. For equity-oriented index funds (investing ≥65% in equity), gains exceeding Rs. 1 lakh are taxed at 10% (+surcharge and cess). For non-equity index funds (primarily in debt), gains are taxed at 20% (+surcharge and cess) post inflation adjustment.
  • Dividend distribution tax: Index fund dividends face a 10% DDT (+surcharge and cess) deducted at source.

Risks associated with index funds

Typically, an index fund shares similar risks with the stocks and securities in the index it follows. Additionally, it may face other risks such as:

  • Potential underperformance
    In many instances, index funds may underperform their benchmark due to factors like trading costs, fees, and tracking errors.
  • Short-term fluctuations
    Index funds may experience significant short-term fluctuations that can negate investment gains, making them more suitable for long-term investors.
  • Reduced flexibility
    Compared to non-index funds, index funds exhibit less flexibility in responding to price declines in index securities.
  • Tracking errors
    There's a risk of tracking errors where an index fund may inaccurately mirror its benchmark, possibly due to partial investment in index securities. This divergence affects the fund's performance and its ability to match the index.


In summary, Index funds offer investors a low-cost, passive investment option that seeks to replicate the performance of a particular market index. They are an excellent investment option for those looking to build a long-term investment portfolio, as they offer diversification and low investment costs. If you are considering investing in index funds in India, make sure to do your research and consider your investment goals and risk tolerance carefully.
With careful consideration, index funds can be an excellent addition to your investment portfolio. Index funds are intended for investors with a 7-year or longer investment horizon. Short-term volatility in these funds has been seen, although they average out over the long run. You may link your long-term investing objectives with these assets and remain involved for as long as possible.

Start investing in index funds on the Bajaj Finserv platform. Benefit from low-cost, passive investing with broad market exposure. Begin your journey towards financial growth today.

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Frequently asked questions

What is an index fund and how it works?

An index fund is a type of mutual fund that aims to replicate the performance of a specific stock market index (such as Nifty 50 or Sensex).

It works by investing in the same stocks in the same proportion as the index, providing broad market exposure to investors.

Is an index fund good or bad?

Index funds are generally considered good for long-term investors seeking low-cost, diversified exposure to the market. They offer simplicity, low fees, and consistent returns over time.

Compare index funds vs mutual funds.

Index funds track specific indices and have lower fees. Mutual funds are actively managed, aiming to outperform the market but often come with higher costs and risks.

What is an index fund with an example?

The Nifty 50 Index Fund replicates the Nifty 50 index, comprising the top 50 companies listed on the National Stock Exchange (NSE).

Are index funds better than stocks?

Index funds provide diversification and stability, while individual stocks can be riskier. It depends on your risk tolerance and investment goals.

Are index funds 100% safe?

While not risk-free, index funds are considered safer due to diversification. However, market fluctuations can impact their value.

Is the Nifty 50 index fund good?

The Nifty 50 index fund is popular and reliable for long-term investors. It mirrors the Nifty 50 index’s performance.

Which index fund has the highest return?

Historical returns vary, but Nifty 50 index funds have consistently performed well over time.

Is an index fund tax-free?

Index funds are subject to capital gains tax. Long-term capital gains tax applies after holding for more than one year.

Is SIP in an index fund good?

Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) in index funds is a disciplined approach. It allows you to invest regularly and benefit from rupee cost averaging.

How do I buy an index fund?

You can buy index funds through mutual fund platforms or directly from asset management companies (AMCs).

What is the lock-in period for index funds?

Index funds do not have a specific lock-in period. You can redeem them anytime, but long-term holding is recommended for better results.

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