Simplicity: Mutual Funds Are Easy to Understand, Anything can be made into something more complex than it needs to be and mutual funds are no exception to this truth. However, mutual funds require no experience or knowledge of economics, financial statements, or financial markets to be a successful investor. For beginners, here is a simple definition of mutual fund: A mutual fund is an investment security type that enables investors to pool their money together into one professionally managed investment. Mutual funds can invest in stocks, bonds, cash and/or other assets. These underlying security types, called holdings combine to form one mutual fund, also called a portfolio.
However mutual funds can be significantly less expensive. A mutual fund manager will place all the necessary trades to maintain the mutual fund portfolio but the investor may only be responsible for one low expense. But if investors are not careful, investing in mutual funds can be more expensive than buying individual stock securities. To keep costs low, mutual fund investors are wise to buy no-load mutual funds with low expense ratios. Costs can also be minimized by investing with one of the best no-load mutual fund companies like Vanguard, Fidelity or T. Rowe Price, all of which have a diverse selection of no-load funds with low expense ratios.
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.
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.
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.