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.
So in preparation for making the first purchase of a mutual fund, you’ll need to save enough to cover the minimum.
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Mutual Funds Are Diversified Investments. The nature of mutual funds as pooled investments that are professionally managed means that investors generally can easily accomplish one of the most important standards of smart investing — diversification. To diversify means to spread market risk by holding a variety of several different securities, rather than just a few. Most mutual funds invest in dozens or hundreds of stocks or bonds within one portfolio. Depending upon the type of fund, this accomplishes the fundamentals of diversification with as little as one or two mutual funds. However, when building a portfolio of mutual funds, especially as investment assets and objectives grow more complex over time, investors are smart to diversify across several funds in different categories.
Bottom Line on Buying Mutual Funds
Each investor is charged a percentage of his or her investment to help cover all the costs of running the mutual fund, including having a professional fund manager as well as researching, buying, and selling stocks. But again, investors can benefit from their collective investments. Mutual fund fees are spread out over all of the investors, so the costs to each individual investor is still much less than it would have been if he or she had purchased the stocks directly and paid a broker or financial advisor to manage the investments. Though many mutual fund options are indeed cost-effective, there are many types of mutual fund fees, from front-load fees to constant-load fees, so it is always best to be aware of the type of fee and how it is calculated before investing in a mutual fund.