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.
When you can keep expenses low, and buy quality funds at the same time, your long-term returns are likely to be superior.
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.
Investors Can Buy Many Different Types of Mutual Funds. Investment objectives are unique to every investor, which means that there are many different reasons to buy mutual funds. Fortunately, there are several categories of funds that can suit any investment need. Some of the most common investment objectives include retirement and education, each of which may require different funds to suit the needs of the investor. Target retirement funds are good examples of low-cost, diversified funds tailored to meet a variety of time horizons. This category of funds will invest in other mutual funds that combine to be suitable for a certain age range of investor. Target retirement funds are categorized by decade. For example, a 25-year old investor may expect to retire in 35 to 45 years. Therefore a fund like Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 (VFIFX) can work well in a 401(k) or IRA for this investor.
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.