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.
Getting Started. Investing begins before buying the first mutual fund (or prior to buying the next one). If you’re investing independent of a financial advisor, ask yourself a few questions: What do you hope to accomplish with your savings? A secure retirement? Accumulation of wealth for strengthening your financial security? What is your time horizon? One year? Five years? 10 years?
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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.
S&P 500 Index Funds: Index funds can be a great place to begin building a portfolio of mutual funds because most of them have extremely low expense ratios and can give you exposure to dozens or hundreds of stocks representing various industries in just one fund. As their name suggests, index funds simply hold the same securities that are found in an index. S&P 500 Index funds invest in approximately 500 of the largest U.S. companies. Index funds are passively managed, which means their primary objective is to mirror the holdings and performance of an index and therefore costs to operate these funds are extremely low. Therefore, you can meet the initial goal of getting a low-cost, diversified mutual fund when you buy index funds. For more on index funds, check out our Index Investing FAQ page. Again, mutual fund companies like Vanguard, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price are good places to find the best index funds. You can also look at Charles Schwab.
Think of mutual funds as investment baskets of securities. Each basket has its own objective and manager (or management team). The manager also has a team of analysts that assist in doing the research. Also keep in mind that, when it comes to management, mutual funds fall into two primary categories — one is active management and the other is passive management. Managers of actively-managed funds will use their resources to try and ”beat the market,” which is to say that they’ll attempt to outperform a certain benchmark, such as the S&P 500 index. However, the manager of a passively-managed mutual fund will not try to beat the index but will instead buy and hold a basket of stocks that will replicate the holdings and performance of the index.