The Truth About Index Funds

You may think you're diversified by buying an S&P 500 Index fund, but you're making a substantial wager on a handful of stocks.

uneven balance concepts
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Index funds, which are designed to mimic the ups and downs of a specific index, from the S&P 500 Index to the Barclays Capital California Municipal Bond Index, have become a runaway success. Index investing was introduced to the public with mutual funds in the 1970s. The strategy got a big boost in the 1990s with the rise of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), which can be bought and sold like shares of stock.

It wasn't until the turn of the millennium, however, that index funds really caught on. Between 2010 and 2020, they grew from 19% of the total fund market to 40%, and two years ago, the total assets invested in U.S. stock index funds surpassed the assets of funds actively managed by human beings. The 13 largest stock funds all track indexes.

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James K. Glassman
Contributing Columnist, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
James K. Glassman is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is Safety Net: The Strategy for De-Risking Your Investments in a Time of Turbulence.