Knowing Your Risk Tolerance. Before choosing funds, it’s important to know your risk tolerance—a measure of the level of fluctuation (a.k.a. volatility—ups and downs) or market risk to which you’re willing to subject your portfolio. If you are just getting started investing with mutual funds, or if you get highly anxious when your $10,000 account value falls by 10 percent (to $9,000) in a one-year period, your risk tolerance is relatively low—high-risk investments probably aren’t for you. You might consider starting with a balanced or ”hybrid” fund.
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.
All Mutual Funds Have High Capital Gains Distributions. If all mutual funds sell holdings and pass the capital gains on to investors as a taxable event, then we have a found a winner for the list of disadvantages of the mutual funds list. Oh well, not all mutual funds make annual capital gains distributions. Index mutual funds and tax-efficient mutual funds do not make these distributions every year. Yes, if they have the gains, they must distribute the gains to shareholders. However, many mutual funds (including index mutual funds and tax-efficient mutual funds) are low-turnover funds and do not make capital gains distributions on an annual basis.
S&P 500 Index Funds: Index funds can be a great place to begin building a portfolio of mutual funds because most of them have extremely low expense ratios and can give you exposure to dozens or hundreds of stocks representing various industries in just one fund. As their name suggests, index funds simply hold the same securities that are found in an index. S&P 500 Index funds invest in approximately 500 of the largest U.S. companies. Index funds are passively managed, which means their primary objective is to mirror the holdings and performance of an index and therefore costs to operate these funds are extremely low. Therefore, you can meet the initial goal of getting a low-cost, diversified mutual fund when you buy index funds. For more on index funds, check out our Index Investing FAQ page. Again, mutual fund companies like Vanguard, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price are good places to find the best index funds. You can also look at Charles Schwab.
How Do I Select a Mutual Fund? This is where you’ll want to laser focus your attention and become an amateur sleuth while doing your research. The number of mutual funds available to investors right now rivals the number of stocks on the North American exchanges. Each one of these funds is unique but can be categorized based on the type of underlying securities held within it. At the broadest level, a fund falls into one of three categories: equity (which is stocks), fixed income (which are bonds), and money markets (similar to cash).
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.