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.
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.
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 are Professionally Managed. Many investors don’t have the resources or the time to buy individual stocks. This is where professional management is valuable. Investing in individual securities, such as stocks, not only takes resources but a considerable amount of time. By contrast, mutual fund managers and analysts wake up each morning dedicating their professional lives to researching and analyzing current and potential holdings for their mutual fund.