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 Are Diversified Investments. The nature of mutual funds as pooled investments that are professionally managed means that investors generally can easily accomplish one of the most important standards of smart investing — diversification. To diversify means to spread market risk by holding a variety of several different securities, rather than just a few. Most mutual funds invest in dozens or hundreds of stocks or bonds within one portfolio. Depending upon the type of fund, this accomplishes the fundamentals of diversification with as little as one or two mutual funds. However, when building a portfolio of mutual funds, especially as investment assets and objectives grow more complex over time, investors are smart to diversify across several funds in different categories.
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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.
Mutual Funds Offer Automatic Reinvestment. An investor can easily and automatically have capital gains and dividends reinvested into their mutual fund without a sales load or extra fees. Unless you are looking for income (i.e. dividends separated and deposited into cash for income reasons), you’ll want to choose the option to reinvest dividends and capital gains. This will take advantage of compounding interest, which essentially means that the interest, dividends, and gains will go to buy more shares of your mutual funds, rather than the cash coming out and being deposited into a separate account.
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.