Mutual funds are organized into categories by asset class (stocks, bonds, and cash) and then further categorized by style, objective or strategy. Knowing how mutual funds are categorized aids in choosing the best funds for asset allocation and diversification purposes. For example, there are stock mutual funds, bond mutual funds, and money market mutual funds. Stock and bond funds, as primary fund types, have dozens of sub-categories further describing the investment style of the fund.
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.
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This is work that most of us are not interested in, do not have the time for, and, most importantly, are probably not as qualified to do. By purchasing shares of a mutual fund, you’re also purchasing the money management and investment skills of the fund manager whose job it is to invest and reinvest the mutual fund’s capital based on the fund’s established goals.
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.
Start your research with one of the best no-load mutual fund companies, such as Vanguard, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price. No-load mutual funds don’t have sales charges, called loads, which can be as high as 5.75% of the purchase. Therefore, when buying no-load funds, you’re buying shares without paying loads. Also, these mutual fund companies offer many different mutual funds with low expenses, which are measured by an expense ratio. For example, many of Vanguard’s funds have expenses below 0.30%, which is $30 for every $10,000 invested, whereas average expenses for most mutual funds are above 1% or three times that of Vanguard’s.