Gold ETF vs Physical Gold: Which is Better?

January 13, 2023

Gold ETF vs Physical Gold

Gold is a mineral that has been invested in for thousands of years. This shiny lump of star debris has been fought over and caused the rise and fall and numerous empires. All that, and it's really, really pretty.

If you're looking to invest in gold, a few things you might consider are Gold Stocks, Gold ETF's, Physical Gold Bullion, and even Gold IRA's from Goldco. If you want to know how to sell your gold, we have information on that too - however In this article, we examine the differences between a Gold ETF vs Physical Gold.  

Today, gold is banked upon for its ability to do nothing but increase in value. This makes it one of the most sought-after forms of investment with newbies and seasoned investors alike.

Of the many ways we have created to use gold for our financial benefit, two methods exist as the most popular. One is in the form of Gold Exchange-traded funds, and the other entails owning gold the good ol' fashion way.

But which is better?

By the end of this article you're going to have a very solid understanding of:

  • What a Gold ETF is
  • What it actually means to own PHYSICAL Gold
  • The Difference Between The Two & The Pros & Cons of Each

We'll try to answer all this and more in the article ahead:

What are Gold ETFs?

In simple terms, a Gold Exchange-Traded Fund is a mutual fund that allows a group of people to own gold bullion.

These have a purity of 99.5% and tend to track the gold's domestic prices. These serve as an alternative to actually owning physical gold and all the complications that come with that.

It is also cost-effective. Mutual funds operate by pooling in the money of investors together and investing it in things. The profits of which will be divided equally among the participants. By buying gold together with other investments, you don't have to shell out too much capital. It means you own the gold together but the firm takes care of the actual storing and securing of the gold.

They have the benefit of gold's value without the responsibility of having to care for it physically.

One unit of a Gold Exchange-traded fund is equivalent to one gram of gold. They are offered in most mutual fund brokerages and some mutual funds even real exclusively in gold. Gold is exchanged everywhere in the world, this also means you could buy gold ETFs anywhere in the world and benefit from their domestic gold prices therein.

Pros & Cons of A Gold ETF


  • They are relatively liquid compared to other investments. Being as they are traded in the stock exchange and are open to being bought and sold without much fuss.
  • Simple enough for anyone to get. Gold ETFs are fairly simple to understand and handle. This makes them a favored choice for those looking for something uncomplicated.
  • Easy Transactions. Gold ETFs can be bought and sold in markets as easily as stocks are. They are readily available for you if you want them.
  • It can be used as a hedge against inflation. Since gold only increases in value, it serves as the perfect countermeasure to fiat money's depreciation.
  • It can be used as loan collateral. Some banks allow ETFs to serve as collateral for loans.


  • There are fees and interest rates. Though not as large compared to other investments' charges, it can definitely put a damper on your investment earning potential.
  • Gold ETFs can also be liquid. Though most are liquid, some ETFs have agreements that do not provide for much liquidity. To avoid this, you need to be informed about all the conditions of the Gold ETF before agreeing to purchase. Liquidity is one of the best things about gold investments and it would be a shame for that to be lost in your Gold ETFs.

What about owning Physical Gold?

Who doesn't want to own actual gold? Something about having the noble metal physically present in your life conjures up images of cartoon gold vaults and treasure stores. Though less grand, there are some benefits to owning physical gold that other forms of gold investments just can't replicate.

Owning actual gold has the benefit of being readily available for liquidation when the need for cash arises. Most cities have places where gold can be traced quite easily.

Gold is also a great backup in times when normal money is rendered useless. Yes, this is a highly paranoid and unlikely scenario, but there is something to be said about being ready for anything. Say that the economy collapses or a natural disaster renders normal forms of payment unavailable. In cases like this, gold and other precious metals and minerals will become the new standard of exchange.

That being said, owning real gold means you'll also have to be concerned with securing it. This could either be in the form of getting home safe or a safety deposit box. There is also a need for getting an insurance policy on the gold. Some could do without it but theft or loss of property is a real fact of life that needs to be properly accounted for.

Pros & Cons of owning Physical Gold Bullion


  • It's a physical, tangible form of investment. Unlike most of the other forms of investment, an investment into physical gold is one you can actually feel with your hands. This goes a long way into making one feel the weight of their money and the value of their investment. Such feelings are important for long-term commitment to an investment.
  • It's a great backup in cases of emergency. Gold is a great source of immediate cash in times of emergencies.
  • It can be used as a hedge against inflation. Like gold ETFs, owning gold that only increases in value serves as the perfect countermeasure to fiat money's depreciation.
  • Control. The ability to own physical gold also allows you greater control and mobility over your assets. You decide when to liquidate and what to do with the money after.


  • Cost of securing. Owning physical gold entails finding the means to secure it safely. This means added costs that some investors aren't willing to put up with. These are things that go directly into your yearly costs and can be quite the hassle if you'd want something more low-maintenance.
  • Liquidation can be difficult. When the time comes to turn the gold into cash, you'll need to find the right place that offers the best rates. Otherwise, you could lose potential profits to markups. In worst cases, you might even have to haggle with pawnshops or gold dealers in order to get the best deal. Luckily, there are online gold dealers which get you the best price possible with minimal markup. Just make sure to do your due diligence before doing business because there are a lot of scams out there.

What Sets Them Apart?

The first thing that sets them apart, is their prices. Buying gold physically costs more than purchasing Gold ETFs. This is because physical gold comes in 10-gram denominations which means you need to have at least enough money for 10 grams. Gold ETFs can be purchased for as low as one unit which is equivalent to one gram.

Even with the need to buy gold at certain amounts, it is not completely guaranteed that you are purchasing the purest gold possible. Gold ETFs on the other hand ensure that the unit you are buying is for 99.5% pure gold. Along with that, the prices of Gold ETFs are strictly uniform whereas that of physical gold fluctuates.

Owning physical gold can provide the owner a lot of liberties with regards to managing finances. The value of your investment is much more easily calculated because you simply need to multiply the grams to the current market price. In times when you need cash, you can simply convert the grams needed to cash and allow the rest to continue increasing in value.

Both come with their set of difficulties tax-wise but, generally, owning gold physically will end up costing you more in taxes. Plus, it requires you to make calculations whereas ETFs just deduct the tax automatically. If you are one of those people who despises lengthy calculations and the tedious running down of taxes, consider ETFs as the mode of investment.

In the end, they both can serve as viable sources of passive income and offer a great hedge against inflation and any depreciation that other investments might experience.


Gold is a good investment no matter what form it takes. Its rarity ensures that it will only get more valuable in the decades to come. If you're an investor that wants to be ahead of his or her investments and have a great emergency fund at the same time. Gold is the way to go.

Both Gold ETFs and owning Physical Gold come with their own set of pros and cons. It's for you to decide which pros you'd benefit from and cons you'd rather deal with. ETFs are easier to hand but physical gold allows for more mobility. No matter what you choose though, know that you'll be owning and benefiting from Gold -- Gold in all its ancient glory.

Recommendation: BUY & Store Your Gold Safely with a Gold IRA with Goldco.

About the author 

Jenna Lofton, an expert in stock trading, investing, and financial planning, combines over a decade of experience with rigorous academic training. Holding dual MBAs in Finance and Business Administration from the University of Maryland, Jenna's expertise is grounded in a deep understanding of the financial markets. Her career, which started on Wall Street, has evolved into empowering others through her insights and analyses in the dynamic world of finance.

Based in New York City, Jenna's approach is informed by her hands-on experience as a former financial advisor and her keen observation of market trends. She is known for translating complex financial concepts into actionable strategies, making her a valuable resource for both seasoned investors and newcomers to the stock market. Her commitment to financial literacy and her ability to demystify investment principles have made her a respected and authoritative voice in the investment community.

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