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).
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.
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Joint Brokerage Account: This works the same as an individual brokerage account, except there are two account holders, such as spouses.Individual Retirement Account: Also called an IRA, qualifying individuals can make contributions that are not taxable. Growth is tax-deferred, which means that account holders don’t pay taxes until withdrawals are made. Roth IRA: This is an individual retirement account that is funded with after-tax dollars, which means contributions are not tax-deductible, as with the traditional IRA. However, growth is tax-deferred and qualified distributions (withdrawals) are tax-free. For more on the Roth and the traditional IRA, see this article on how IRAs work.
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.
Getting Started. Investing begins before buying the first mutual fund (or prior to buying the next one). If you’re investing independent of a financial advisor, ask yourself a few questions: What do you hope to accomplish with your savings? A secure retirement? Accumulation of wealth for strengthening your financial security? What is your time horizon? One year? Five years? 10 years?