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.
Since mutual funds are easy to understand and a smart investment choice for the majority of savers and investors, these security types are the most commonly held investments in 401(k) plans and IRAs. However, although mutual funds are relatively simple to use, they are not for everyone and investors should be careful to select the best funds that align with their goals and tolerance for risk.
Opening an investment account is incredibly easy at most mutual fund companies. The easiest way to open an account is online. Information required will include things you already know, such as your name, address, date of birth, and social security number. You’ll also need to know which type of account is best for your investing needs. Here are the basic account types and how they work: Individual Brokerage Account: This is a regular brokerage account established for an individual (one person). Contributions are not tax-deductible, and investors pay taxes on capital gains and dividends. For more on this, see this article on taxation of mutual funds.
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.
Choosing the Best Funds. With thousands of mutual funds to choose from and hundreds of different fund families offering them, choice overload and the potential to make needless mistakes exists. Without a doubt, no-load funds are the best choice for mutual fund investors. Once asset allocation has been established, begin choosing the best mutual funds for you and your investment goals. When choosing from a broad selection of mutual funds begin by using a fund screener, or simply comparing performance to a benchmark. Consider other important qualities of mutual funds, such as fund fees and expenses (see the Expense Ratio), and manager tenure, as well. Most importantly be sure to choose a diverse selection of funds which combine to suit your risk tolerance and investing goals.