Thanks to computers and the Internet, investing in mutual funds has never been easier. That said, there are many important considerations an investor should take into account before adding shares of a mutual fund to their portfolio. Mutual funds come in a multitude of varieties, including those that focus on different asset classes, those that seek to mimic an index (also known as index funds), and those that focus on dividend stocks. The list covers everything from geographic mandates to those that specialize in investing in securities that fall within a certain market capitalization.
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.
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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.
The reason why diversification is important is that investing in just one or two securities can be too risky. For example, if an investor buys just a few stocks and those stocks see significant declines in price over a short period of time, the investor’s portfolio can drop dramatically in value. But if the investor buys a mutual fund that holds 100 stocks, and a few of those stocks see price declines, the impact on the investor’s account value is less.
Each investor is charged a percentage of his or her investment to help cover all the costs of running the mutual fund, including having a professional fund manager as well as researching, buying, and selling stocks. But again, investors can benefit from their collective investments. Mutual fund fees are spread out over all of the investors, so the costs to each individual investor is still much less than it would have been if he or she had purchased the stocks directly and paid a broker or financial advisor to manage the investments. Though many mutual fund options are indeed cost-effective, there are many types of mutual fund fees, from front-load fees to constant-load fees, so it is always best to be aware of the type of fee and how it is calculated before investing in a mutual fund.