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.
Mutual funds can be structured in several different ways, including open-ended mutual funds vs. closed mutual funds being one particularly important distinction. To learn more about the way mutual funds are organized, you’ll want to read How a Mutual Fund Is Structured. You may also want to delve into Making Money from Mutual Funds, which explains how investors actually profit (or experience losses) from owning a stake in a mutual fund.
This is work that most of us are not interested in, do not have the time for, and, most importantly, are probably not as qualified to do. By purchasing shares of a mutual fund, you’re also purchasing the money management and investment skills of the fund manager whose job it is to invest and reinvest the mutual fund’s capital based on the fund’s established goals.
A beginning investor may buy their first mutual fund to start saving for retirement, while a large investment firm might use the same mutual fund in a portfolio of funds for a major client, such as a wealthy trust client or an endowment fund used by a major university or non-profit organization. There’s no doubt that mutual funds are here to stay for many more years and decades to come. With trillions of dollars invested in mutual funds in the U.S. alone, and popularity increasing in emerging markets like India, there’s no reason to expect this versatile investment type will do anything but gain in popularity in the future.
Mutual funds give investors the ability to diversify across a wide variety of investments that they otherwise may not carry in their portfolio as individual securities. Since mutual funds invest in a diverse range of securities and investment options, one mutual fund share actually represents proportionate ownership in each and every investment in the mutual fund’s portfolio. Of most interest to investors is that each share also proportionately represents the profits of those investments as mutual funds are required to pass along profits to their investors by way of mutual fund distributions, which come in several forms.
Mutual Fund Fees Cover Administrative Costs. Mutual funds can offer streamlined investing but they’re not free. There are certain fees you have to be aware of when investing in mutual funds.