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.
Mutual Funds Are Diversified Investments. The nature of mutual funds as pooled investments that are professionally managed means that investors generally can easily accomplish one of the most important standards of smart investing — diversification. To diversify means to spread market risk by holding a variety of several different securities, rather than just a few. Most mutual funds invest in dozens or hundreds of stocks or bonds within one portfolio. Depending upon the type of fund, this accomplishes the fundamentals of diversification with as little as one or two mutual funds. However, when building a portfolio of mutual funds, especially as investment assets and objectives grow more complex over time, investors are smart to diversify across several funds in different categories.
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.
Saving for Your Initial Mutual Fund Purchase. Most mutual funds have what’s called a minimum initial purchase, which is the amount you’ll need to have saved prior to buying shares of your first fund. Most mutual fund companies have minimum initial purchase amounts of at least $1,000. For example, most of Vanguard’s mutual funds have a minimum initial purchase requirement of $3,000. Fidelity funds are typically at $2,500. However, once you make your first purchase, subsequent purchases of the same fund are usually as low as $100.
Start your research with one of the best no-load mutual fund companies, such as Vanguard, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price. No-load mutual funds don’t have sales charges, called loads, which can be as high as 5.75% of the purchase. Therefore, when buying no-load funds, you’re buying shares without paying loads. Also, these mutual fund companies offer many different mutual funds with low expenses, which are measured by an expense ratio. For example, many of Vanguard’s funds have expenses below 0.30%, which is $30 for every $10,000 invested, whereas average expenses for most mutual funds are above 1% or three times that of Vanguard’s.
Mutual Funds Lack Liquidity. How fast can you get your money if you sell a mutual fund as compared to ETFs, stocks and closed-end funds? If you sell a mutual fund, you have access to your cash the day after the sale. ETFs, stocks and closed-end funds require you to wait three days after you sell the investment. I would call the “lack of liquidity” disadvantage of mutual funds a myth. You can only find more liquidity if you invest in your mattress.
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