What’s the distinction between ETFs and ETNs?

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and exchange-traded notes (ETNs) are both securities traded on exchanges, but there is a significant distinction between the two. ETFs are investment companies that hold assets such as products, bonds, or entities and issue shares that investors can buy. ETNs, on the other hand, are unsecured debt obligations of the issuer. This means that if the issuer goes bankrupt, holders of ETNs may not get their money back. So, what’s the difference between ETFs and ETNs? Let’s take a closer look.


ETN and ETF trading are investment vehicles holding a basket of assets and issuing shares. However, there are some critical differences between the two. ETFs are companies regulated by the SEC, whereas ETNs are debt securities that banks issue. ETFs must disclose their holdings daily, while ETNs do not have to disclose their holdings until maturity. Furthermore, ETFs are bought and sold on exchanges, while ETNs are only traded over the counter. 

Finally, ETFs are subject to capital gains taxes, while ETNs are not. As a result of these differences, ETNs and ETFs can offer investors different advantages and disadvantages.


When you invest in an ETF, you buy shares of an investment company. The company then uses the money it receives from investors to buy a portfolio of assets, including stocks, bonds, and other securities. Because ETFs are passively ordered, they typically have lower costs than actively addressed mutual funds. 

However, ETFs do come with some risks. For example, because ETFs are traded on an exchange, their prices can fluctuate throughout the day. And like all investments, ETFs can lose money if the underlying assets decline. Before investing in an ETF, research the risks and decide if the potential rewards are worth the risks.


An ETN (Exchange Traded Note) is a type of financial product that allows investors to trade on the performance of an underlying asset without actually owning the asset itself. Banks and other financial institutions issue ETNs and typically have a lower expense ratio than traditional mutual funds. 

However, there are also some risks associated with ETNs. For example, if the issuer of an ETN goes bankrupt, investors may not get their money back. Additionally, ETNs are often complex products that may need help understanding. As a result, it is essential to carefully research any ETN before investing.


When it comes to taxation, there are some essential differences between ETFs and ETNs that you should be aware of. Firstly, ETFs are subject to capital gains taxes, while ETNs are not. This means that when you sell your ETF shares, you may have to pay taxes on anything that you make. 

However, ETNs are not subject to capital gains tax, making them a more tax-efficient investment. Secondly, ETFs are also subject to dividend withholding tax, while ETNs are not. If you hold an ETF that pays dividends, the government will withhold a portion of those dividends to help pay taxes.


Regarding liquidity, there is a significant difference between ETFs and ETNs. ETFs are traded on an exchange, meaning that there is always a buyer or seller willing to trade at the current market price. ETNs, on the other hand, are unsecured debt instruments that are not traded on an exchange. 

As a result, they can be much more challenging to sell, particularly in market turmoil. ETFs are usually the better choice for investors looking to cash out their positions quickly. However, ETNs can offer opportunities for higher returns if held to maturity.

How to choose

It would help if you considered a few factors when deciding whether to invest in an ETF or ETN. Firstly, think about your investment goals. Are you looking for long-term growth potential, or are you more interested in immediate income? Secondly, look at the fees associated with each type of investment. ETFs typically have lower fees than ETNs, but this is only sometimes the case. 

Finally, consider the tax implications of each investment. ETFs are generally more tax-efficient than ETNs, but this is only sometimes the case. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer when choosing between an ETF and an ETN. Your best decision will depend on your circumstances and investment goals.

In conclusion

Depending on your individual needs, ETFs and ETNs can be great investment options. ETFs offer more liquidity, lower fees and better tax efficiency than ETNs but also come with more risk. 

Conversely, ETNs can provide higher returns if held to maturity. However, their illiquidity and lack of dividend withholding tax make them less attractive in some cases. Before investing in either product, research the risks and decide if the potential rewards are worth the risks. Ultimately, only you can decide whether an ETF or an ETN is right for you.