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.
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.
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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.
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).
Mutual Funds Have Hidden Fees. If fees were hidden, those hidden fees would certainly be on the list of disadvantages of mutual funds. The hidden fees that are lamented are properly referred to as 12b-1 fees. While these 12b-1 fees are no fun to pay, they are not hidden. The fee is disclosed in the mutual fund prospectus and can be found on the mutual funds’ websites. Many mutual funds do not charge a 12b-1 fee. If you find the 12b-1 fee onerous, invest in a mutual fund that does not charge the fee. Hidden fees cannot make the list of disadvantages of mutual funds because they are not hidden and there are thousands of mutual funds that do not charge 12b-1 fees.