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Jul 19, 2022

What Is Passive Investing?

By Stash Team

Passive investing is a strategy meant to build wealth gradually by buying securities and holding them long-term. Also known as a buy-and-hold strategy, passive investing methods seek to avoid the fees and risk often associated with frequent trading. It assumes that the market posts positive returns over time, so it’s better to put time into the market instead of trying to time the market. Index funds, which can include mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), are designed to mimic the performance of market indexes, making them the primary player in a passive investment strategy. 

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The invention of the passive investing concept

Jack Bogle, the founder of The Vanguard Group, pioneered the index fund in 1975. Also known as a passive fund, index funds were a revolutionary addition to the market because they allowed retail investors with a brokerage account to compete with professionals. When index funds were first introduced, mutual funds were the main vehicle for passive investing. Since then, ETFs have become the most common type of passive fund. Today, around 71% of investors agree that passive investing is generally superior to active investing for maximizing long-term market returns. 

Active vs. passive investing

As the names imply, active investing requires a more hands-on approach, while passive investing requires less frequent buying and selling of stocks and other securities. 

Active investing is done with the goal of “beating” or “timing” the stock market, usually with a very hands-on portfolio manager. It tends to be riskier, as investors must guess how stock prices may change day-to-day, or even within a single day. This type of investing can also be more expensive as active investors pay more fees associated with making trades. It’s geared toward more aggressive investors who aim to take advantage of short-term price fluctuations in the market. 

On the other hand, passive investing is a long-term game. It can be a more cost-effective way to invest because fewer trades mean fewer fees. Passive investors build a diversified portfolio, often with the support of a robo advisor, then adopt a “buy and hold” mentality, resisting the urge to predict or react to market fluctuations. Successful passive investing rides out short-term setbacks in favor of focusing on long-term returns and overall portfolio performance, which may reduce the risk associated with market volatility. 

Active investing (hands-on)Passive investing (hands-off)
High volume of tradesBuy-and-hold approach
Hands-on portfolio managementLess frequent portfolio management
Tends to focus on individual securitiesTends to focus on a diversified portfolio
Higher riskLower risk
Geared toward short-term returnsGeared toward long-term returns

Passive investing strategies

While many different types of investments may support a passive strategy, passively managed mutual funds and ETFs are common choices because they have a degree of diversification built in. Index funds are especially suited to passive investing because they aim to mimic the way indexes like the S&P 500 behave; these indexes often reflect steady growth over time. ETFs are unique in that they can be bought and sold on a stock exchange the same way that a regular stock can.

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Pros of passive investing

Passive investing relies on a diversified portfolio that’s built to see slow but steady gains over time. This approach is usually a simple, lower-risk, less expensive way to invest, especially for beginning investors. Additionally, the buy-and-hold strategy typically doesn’t result in a massive yearly capital gains tax. Pros of passive investing include:

  • Low maintenance 
  • Tax-efficient
  • Diversified investments
  • Lower fees
  • Less risk
  • Steadier returns

Cons of passive investing

Investors hunting for large, short-term gains may find passive investing too limited. The strategy excludes opportunities to jump on a stock whose price may rise quickly, then sell before it falls; this active investing approach can be risky, but may provide a market return that exceeds overall market performance. If you have an aggressive risk profile, you might see some cons to passive investing, including:

  • Limited investment options
  • Fewer short-term gains
  • No above-market returns

Assessing your risk tolerance and profile

Knowing your tolerance for risk is key to determining the right investment strategy for you. Any type of investing has risks, of course, including the risk that you could lose money. But you can determine what you’re comfortable with by determining your risk profile. Depending on your age, income, time horizon, and financial goals, you’ll likely fall into one of these categories:

  • Conservative: You might be focused on stability, even if it means smaller gains.
  • Moderate: You’re probably looking for long-term growth potential, but you still want some amount of stability.
  • Aggressive: You may want to maximize your gains in the long run, even if it means sacrificing stability in the short term.

Discovering your investing approach

While investing strategies are flexible, it’s best to understand the overall investing approach that may work best for you before diving in. It could be passive management of your investments, active management, or a combination of both. It all depends on how much hands-on involvement you want and how much risk you’re willing to take with your investments. The good news is that if you choose one approach and it doesn’t work for your risk tolerance or time horizon, you can switch it up. 

Passive investing is often focused on building wealth for the future, such as in retirement. These calculators can help you identify your long-term growth goals and how to get there:

Combined with your risk profile, those numbers can give you an idea of how much to invest and what strategy makes the most sense for you. 

Passive investing with Stash

Ready to start investing for the long haul? Stash makes it easy to get started with a passive investing strategy. The first step is a diversified Smart Portfolio customized to your risk profile, time horizon, and budget. All you do is put money into your account, and Stash does the rest. 

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