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For the past few decades, gold has been one of the most popular commodities and is widely considered to be one of the last (if not the last) safe havens for investments available, especially with the global economy in general disarray. While physical bullion and futures contracts have long been the only ways to gain gold exposure, the popularity of the exchange-traded world has cracked gold investing wide open.

There are now a number of ETFs available that allow investors to add gold exposure to their portfolios with ease. But when it comes time to actually make an allocation, many are stuck between all the options available. Below, we outline the three most popular gold ETFs and how they will fit your investment objectives [see also Why No Investor Should Own GLD].

SPDR Gold Trust (GLD)

Quick Stats (5/15/2015)

GLD is not only the largest gold ETF but also the tenth-largest ETF in the world (it even briefly surpassed SPY in assets during 2011). If nothing else, its sheer size is arguably its most appealing factor. GLD has been trading since 2004 and tracks physical bullion. It should be noted that there is a fair amount of controversy concerning GLD, as a number of bloggers and investors feel that it is nothing more than a “paper asset” and that there is no actual gold behind the fund. Its price is representative of approximately 1/10th an ounce of gold and the fund comes with a number of advantages. Though it can be used as part of a long-term strategy, GLD has a very active options market as well as a healthy daily volume, making it ideal for active traders [for more gold news subscribe to our free newsletter].

GLD is Right for You if: You are an active trader seeking to either speculate on gold’s movements or quickly execute positions in the precious metal.

COMEX Gold Trust (IAU)

Image of gold chips

Quick Stats (5/15/2015)

IAU is a very similar fund to GLD in that it tracks physical gold bullion. Each share is representative of approximately 1/100th of an ounce of gold. But IAU’s real advantage boils down to its fee superiority. IAU charges 0.15% less than GLD, making it the ideal long-term hold. Think that number sounds insignificant? Consider two million-dollar portfolios, one of which is wholly invested in GLD and the other in IAU (obviously a diversification nightmare but ignore that for now). The GLD portfolio will incur annual expenses of $4,000, while its competitor will shell out only $2,500. That $1,500 difference seems miniscule for just one year, but drag it out over a 30-year investment period and the difference between fees amounts to $45,000, or 4.5% of your original investment. Saving yourself a quick 4.5% could have been as simple as buying IAU over GLD.

IAU is Right for You If: You are a long-term investor seeking to hold on to your ETF for an extended period of time.

Physical Swiss Gold Shares (SGOL)

Quick Stats (5/15/2015)

SGOL is another popular gold ETF because it puts a different spin on physically-backed ETFs. Many investors fear for the safety of their physically-backed ETFs because they do not trust the vault locations to securely hold their bullion. SGOL holds all of its gold in Switzerland, allowing some of the more paranoid investors to gain peace of mind when making their gold allocation. This ETF began trading in 2009 and quickly gathered assets as gold bugs around the world flocked to its one-of-a-kind strategy. Also of note is that its expense ratio of 0.39% is curiously one basis point cheaper than the ultra-popular GLD.

SGOL is Right for You if: You are a long-term investor who wants a vault location in secure Switzerland.

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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.

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