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.
Balanced Funds: Also called hybrid funds or asset allocation funds, these are mutual funds that invest in a balanced asset allocation of stocks, bonds, and cash. The allocation usually remains fixed and invests according to a stated investment objective or style. For example, Fidelity Balanced Fund (FBALX) has an approximate asset allocation of 65% stocks and 35% bonds. It considered a medium risk or what industry experts might call a moderate portfolio. Vanguard also has an outstanding index balanced fund, Vanguard Balanced Index (VBINX), which is suitable for investors looking for moderate risk. Balanced funds can be ideal for beginning investors because they are well-diversified and can, therefore, be used as stand-alone investments or as core holdings to begin a larger portfolio.
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Mutual Funds Come in Many Varieties. A mutual fund comes in many types and styles. There are stock funds, bond funds, sector funds, target-date mutual funds, money market mutual funds and balanced funds. Mutual funds allow you to invest in the market whether you believe in active portfolio management (actively managed funds) or you prefer to buy a segment of the market with no interference from a manager (passive funds and index mutual funds). The availability of different types of mutual funds allows you to build a diversified portfolio at low cost and without much difficulty.
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).
The reason why diversification is important is that investing in just one or two securities can be too risky. For example, if an investor buys just a few stocks and those stocks see significant declines in price over a short period of time, the investor’s portfolio can drop dramatically in value. But if the investor buys a mutual fund that holds 100 stocks, and a few of those stocks see price declines, the impact on the investor’s account value is less.