Getting Started. Investing begins before buying the first mutual fund (or prior to buying the next one). If you’re investing independent of a financial advisor, ask yourself a few questions: What do you hope to accomplish with your savings? A secure retirement? Accumulation of wealth for strengthening your financial security? What is your time horizon? One year? Five years? 10 years?
Think of mutual funds as investment baskets of securities. Each basket has its own objective and manager (or management team). The manager also has a team of analysts that assist in doing the research. Also keep in mind that, when it comes to management, mutual funds fall into two primary categories — one is active management and the other is passive management. Managers of actively-managed funds will use their resources to try and ”beat the market,” which is to say that they’ll attempt to outperform a certain benchmark, such as the S&P 500 index. However, the manager of a passively-managed mutual fund will not try to beat the index but will instead buy and hold a basket of stocks that will replicate the holdings and performance of the index.
Choosing the Best Funds. With thousands of mutual funds to choose from and hundreds of different fund families offering them, choice overload and the potential to make needless mistakes exists. Without a doubt, no-load funds are the best choice for mutual fund investors. Once asset allocation has been established, begin choosing the best mutual funds for you and your investment goals. When choosing from a broad selection of mutual funds begin by using a fund screener, or simply comparing performance to a benchmark. Consider other important qualities of mutual funds, such as fund fees and expenses (see the Expense Ratio), and manager tenure, as well. Most importantly be sure to choose a diverse selection of funds which combine to suit your risk tolerance and investing goals.
Mutual Funds Have Hidden Fees. If fees were hidden, those hidden fees would certainly be on the list of disadvantages of mutual funds. The hidden fees that are lamented are properly referred to as 12b-1 fees. While these 12b-1 fees are no fun to pay, they are not hidden. The fee is disclosed in the mutual fund prospectus and can be found on the mutual funds’ websites. Many mutual funds do not charge a 12b-1 fee. If you find the 12b-1 fee onerous, invest in a mutual fund that does not charge the fee. Hidden fees cannot make the list of disadvantages of mutual funds because they are not hidden and there are thousands of mutual funds that do not charge 12b-1 fees.
Mutual Funds Offer Transparency. Mutual fund holdings are publicly available (with some delays in reporting), which ensures that investors are getting what they pay for. Investors can also see the underlying securities (stocks, bonds, cash, or a combination of those) that the mutual fund portfolio holds. All of the information you need to know, plus some you don’t need for investing, will found in the mutual fund prospectus, which can easily be found on the mutual fund company’s website.