If you’re new to investing, you might be wary of buying individual stocks. Mutual funds offer an alternative way to build your portfolio. But just what are they? Mutual funds offer a way for a group of investors to effectively pool their money so they can invest in a wider variety of investment vehicles and take advantage of professional money management through the purchase of one mutual fund share. When you buy a mutual fund share, you’re investing in stocks, bonds and other securities that are held within the fund.
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).
Equity and fixed-income funds have subcategories which allow an investor to cast a narrow net with their investment dollars. For example, an equity fund investor might invest in a technology fund that only invests in eco-friendly technology companies. Likewise, a bond fund investor who is seeking current income might invest in a government securities fund that only invests in government securities. A so-called balanced fund is a mutual fund that owns both stocks and bonds.
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.
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 Are Accessible. Many mutual fund companies allow investors to get started in a mutual fund with as little as $1,000. Schwab’s mutual fund family has a minimum of $100 for many of their mutual funds. And since mutual funds can be easily traded, the combination of low cost and ease of use makes them accessible. Systematic Investing and Withdrawals with Mutual Funds. It’s simple to take advantage of systematic investing with mutual funds. Many mutual fund companies allow investors to invest as little as $50 per month directly into a mutual fund. Money can be pulled directly from a bank account and invested directly in the mutual fund. On the other hand, money can be regularly withdrawn from a mutual fund and be deposited into a bank account. There are generally no fees for this service.