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.
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.
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How Do I Select a Mutual Fund? This is where you’ll want to laser focus your attention and become an amateur sleuth while doing your research. The number of mutual funds available to investors right now rivals the number of stocks on the North American exchanges. Each one of these funds is unique but can be categorized based on the type of underlying securities held within it. At the broadest level, a fund falls into one of three categories: equity (which is stocks), fixed income (which are bonds), and money markets (similar to cash).
Target Date Mutual Funds: These funds invest in a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash that is appropriate for a person investing until a certain year, which is usually retirement. As the target year approaches, the fund manager will gradually decrease market risk by shifting fund assets out of stocks and into bonds and cash, which is what an individual investor would do themselves manually. Therefore, target-date mutual funds are a type of ”set it and forget it” investment that doesn’t require ongoing management. For example, if you are saving for retirement and think you may retire around the year 2035, a good choice for you might be Vanguard Target Retirement 2035 (VTTHX). Once you choose your first mutual fund, you’ll have the foundation started. You can then build upon that foundation by purchasing more shares of this fund and eventually add more funds for greater diversity.
If you’re a bit more experienced in investing or are fortunate enough to have a bit of money to ”play around with” for a while, a somewhat more aggressive approach might be right down your alley. Determining Asset Allocation. Once level of risk tolerance is determined, consider your desired asset allocation—the mix of investment assets (stocks, bonds, and cash) comprising your portfolio. The proper asset allocation will reflect your level of risk tolerance: aggressive (high tolerance for risk), moderate (medium risk tolerance) or conservative (low risk tolerance).