distributing vs accumulating etfs

Today we’ll go into more detail regarding the differences between distributing or accumulating ETFs as a European investor. Deciding between the two options is not as easy as you may think.

I know there’s just something special about receiving regular payments in the form of dividends from your investments in stocks or distributing ETFs. Even I get a bit excited whenever one of my ETFs pays me dividends. After all, dividends are one of the oldest and easiest forms of earning passive income from your money.

Nonetheless, I moved my own ETF investment strategy more and more towards accumulating ETFs since the beginning of 2021, as I believe they have some advantages over the long run. That being said, the decision is not as easy as you may think and there are many things you need to consider.

Since everyone is different, you might come to a different conclusion for yourself, which is perfectly fine. My goal with this post is to help you with that.

Distributing vs. Accumulating ETFs

In case you’re new, you’re probably wondering what Distributing or Accumulating means in the first place.

In short, distributing ETFs pay out the dividends they receive from the companies in the index to you via distributions, while accumulating ETFs reinvest the dividends they receive, by buying more shares of the companies in the index.

Distributing ETFs 💸Accumulating ETFs 💰
Receiving dividends can be motivating More tax-efficient, capital stays invested longer
Regular cashflow without selling No work needed to reinvest dividends
Taxes on dividends If the market is down, are you more likely to sell?
Work needed to reinvest dividends No cashflow, unless you sell shares (eg. retirement)

Of course when it comes to taxes I can only generalize, so check your local tax laws to make sure.

Now you might think that the choice is pretty straight forward, but it’s actually not that simple.

A Story Of Two Investors

Let me tell you a story of two investors, to give you a better perspective on which strategy might be better for you.

story of two etf investors
You might want to watch this part on YouTube (starts at 02:57 minutes), as I had a lot of fun recording it!

Let’s imagine it’s 2022. The stock market crashed and is now down 30%. Two investors hold the same ETF in their portfolio, the Vanguard FTSE All-World.

Investor 1 chose the distributing version, while investor 2 chose the accumulating version.

Investor 1 sees dividends being paid out to his account on a quarterly basis, on average about 2% per year of the amount he invested. This motivates him to stay invested, as he sees that his investment is still generating cashflow.

He sees the dividends as extra income, which he uses to pay for occasional restaurant dinners with his wife. While he’s not happy to see his ETF in negative territory, he accepts that he can’t time the market. He keeps investing on a monthly basis as he had planned, since he wants to increase future quarterly dividend payments.

Investor 2 chose the accumulating version of the same ETF, where dividends are reinvested automatically into more shares of the companies within the index.

As a result, his ETF is only down 28% instead of 30%. Still, it doesn’t feel like much of a difference to him and he doesn’t feel good about his investment. He chose this version because some guy on YouTube called “Angelo” told him that it’s more tax-efficient to go with an accumulating ETFs.

When he started investing the year before, he was sure that he wouldn’t have any problems holding on to his investment strategy when the market is down, which sadly is now the case. But, since that’s always easier said than done, he starts wondering if he made the right decision.

That same day, he reads a news headline saying that the market is still overvalued! In fear of losing more he pulls the trigger and sells his entire investment at a loss.

You can probably imagine how this story ends.

A year later the market fully recovered.

Investor 1 is happy that he held on to his long-term strategy, which includes monthly investments into the ETF. Because he kept adding to his investments while the market was down, he was able to get more shares at a discount and his portfolio has grown significantly.

Meanwhile, investor 2 is angry at himself for having sold his investment at the worst possible time and is wondering if he should get back into the market.

This is something that happens to many new investors. Investing is always easy when things are going well and it’s a lot harder when it feels like the world is about to collapse. Which is actually more often than you may think.

My ETF Investment Strategy

My wife and I switched to the accumulating Vanguard FTSE All-World ETF in the beginning of 2021. Via a single, low-cost ETF, we’re able to invest into over 3.600 companies from all over the world.

Since we’re not planning on spending dividends we receive anytime soon, we figured it would be easier and a bit more tax-efficient to keep buying the accumulating version long-term.

That being said, seeing regular dividend payments could potentially be what keeps you motivated to stick to your investment strategy, even if you end up paying a bit more on taxes over your investment career compared to an investor with an accumulating ETF.

Ultimately, you know yourself best, so choose whichever strategy you’re more likely to stick to.

The Best Brokers for European Investors

In case you’re still looking for a low-cost broker to buy ETFs, make sure you check out Interactive Brokers and Degiro.

If you’re based in Austria or Germany, where taxation is a bit more complicated, your best option is going with a local broker, as they take care of everything for you. These are my favorites.

Alright, I hope I was able to make your investment journey a bit easier with this post. I would love to know in the comments below if you prefer accumulating or distributing ETFs.

You might enjoy these posts:

Distributing vs. Accumulating ETFs – The Video

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4 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article.
    I’m wondering what do you think of the accumulating ETF fund SPXP? is it a good investment?

    Thanks

    1. My pleasure, Alex! Are you based in the UK? I’m asking because that ticker has GBP as trade currency – so if you make your money in EUR, I’d go with P500 or SPXS.
      Other than that, there are two more considerations:
      – It’s the S&P 500 index, so it only covers US companies. That’s ok, but you just need to be aware that you’re betting on the US stock market to keep outperforming indefinitely vs. the rest of the world
      – The replication method is synthetic, meaning the ETF doesn’t actually hold any of the stocks, it’s just replicating the performance via SWAP-contracts. I’m not a big fan of those, but that’s up to you. I prefer the Accumulating Vanguard S&P 500 (VUAA).

  2. Hi Angelo! thanks for the response. I’m based in the UK at the moment, but we’ll be moving to Bucharest in the future. So you’d recommend P500 or SPXS. Yes, I know it only covers the US companies, I think it would be good broader my spectrum and also look at EU / World stock market.
    Do you have any articles videos that explain what an synthetic ETFs is?

    1. Alright, then I understand why you were asking about the one traded in GBP. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which ticker you pick, they all contain the same stocks – just make sure you have to do as little currency conversion as possible to buy it (to minimize fees). And if you do have to exchange something, you could go via Revolut first for example and then send the right trade currency to the broker (eg. Interactive Brokers).
      I only mentioned it a few times on the surface, but this JustETF article does a better job explaining synthetic ETFs.