If you’re new to investing, you might be wary of buying individual stocks. Mutual funds offer an alternative way to build your portfolio. But just what are they? Mutual funds offer a way for a group of investors to effectively pool their money so they can invest in a wider variety of investment vehicles and take advantage of professional money management through the purchase of one mutual fund share. When you buy a mutual fund share, you’re investing in stocks, bonds and other securities that are held within the fund.
While it can be confusing, the answers to the following three questions will help you navigate the mutual fund waters—from how they work to how to add them to your investment portfolio. What Is a Mutual Fund? For all intents and purposes, mutual funds serve as an alternative for investors who can’t afford an individually managed account. Mutual funds are formed when investors with smaller amounts of capital, pool their money together and then hire a portfolio manager to run the consolidated pool’s portfolio—subsequently buying different stocks, bonds, or other securities in a manner consistent with the fund’s prospectus. Each investor then receives their respective piece of the pie while sharing the expenses, which show up in something called the mutual fund expense ratio.
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The reason why diversification is important is that investing in just one or two securities can be too risky. For example, if an investor buys just a few stocks and those stocks see significant declines in price over a short period of time, the investor’s portfolio can drop dramatically in value. But if the investor buys a mutual fund that holds 100 stocks, and a few of those stocks see price declines, the impact on the investor’s account value is less.
Variety: Mutual Funds Come In Many Different Categories and Types. As you grow your portfolio of mutual funds, you will want to diversify into various mutual fund categories and types. You can invest in mutual funds that cover the main asset classes (stocks, bonds, cash) and various sub-categories or you can even venture into specialized areas, such as sector funds or precious metals funds. Affordability: Mutual Funds Have Low Minimums, Most mutual funds have minimum initial investment requirements of $3,000 or less. In many cases, if the investor initiates a systematic investment program, where they have a fixed dollar amount or fixed number of shares purchased once per month, the initial investment can be as low as $1,000.
In a mutual fund, the value of your shares goes up and down as the value of the stocks and bonds in the fund rise and fall. For the average investor to have the same exposure to those investment options and potential profits on their own would be extremely costly both in terms of the actual investment dollars and in terms of time. Additionally, investing in a mutual fund is generally a cost-effective way to gain access to professional money management. Were you to try and invest in individual securities and actively manage them the way a mutual fund’s manager does, it could very easily become a full-time job. In order to make wise investment decisions when you buy individual stocks and bonds yourself, at the very least you’d have to have the knowledge to do extensive research on various types of businesses in general (automobile, construction, medical) and on specific companies (GE, IBM, Microsoft).