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.
Accessibility: Mutual Funds Are Easy to Buy, Mutual funds are offered at brokerage firms, discount brokers online, mutual fund companies, banks, and insurance companies. Even beginning investors can easily open an account at a no-load mutual fund company, such as Vanguard Investments, and open an account within minutes. Diversification: Mutual Funds Have Broad Market Exposure, One mutual fund can invest in dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of different investment securities, making it possible to achieve diversification by investing in just one fund. However, it is smart to diversify into several different mutual funds.
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Mutual Funds Are Liquid. If you need to withdraw money from your brokerage account, you can get cash from most mutual funds within a few days. If you want to sell your mutual fund, the proceeds from the sale are available as soon as the day after you sell the mutual fund. Some mutual funds have a ”settlement” period of up to three days. But this level of liquidity (quick access to your money), is much better than some investment assets, such as real estate. Mutual Funds Have Audited Track Records : A mutual fund company must maintain performance track records for each mutual fund and have them audited for accuracy, which ensures that investors can trust the mutual fund’s stated returns. Mutual fund companies also offer a prospectus for each fund, as well as semi-annual or annual reports. These documents provide a wealth of information about how the fund invests, the amount of assets under management, the internal fund expenses, and more.
Variety: Mutual Funds Come In Many Different Categories and Types. As you grow your portfolio of mutual funds, you will want to diversify into various mutual fund categories and types. You can invest in mutual funds that cover the main asset classes (stocks, bonds, cash) and various sub-categories or you can even venture into specialized areas, such as sector funds or precious metals funds. Affordability: Mutual Funds Have Low Minimums, Most mutual funds have minimum initial investment requirements of $3,000 or less. In many cases, if the investor initiates a systematic investment program, where they have a fixed dollar amount or fixed number of shares purchased once per month, the initial investment can be as low as $1,000.
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.