Mutual funds give investors the ability to diversify across a wide variety of investments that they otherwise may not carry in their portfolio as individual securities. Since mutual funds invest in a diverse range of securities and investment options, one mutual fund share actually represents proportionate ownership in each and every investment in the mutual fund’s portfolio. Of most interest to investors is that each share also proportionately represents the profits of those investments as mutual funds are required to pass along profits to their investors by way of mutual fund distributions, which come in several forms.
Getting Started. Investing begins before buying the first mutual fund (or prior to buying the next one). If you’re investing independent of a financial advisor, ask yourself a few questions: What do you hope to accomplish with your savings? A secure retirement? Accumulation of wealth for strengthening your financial security? What is your time horizon? One year? Five years? 10 years?
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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.
Joint Brokerage Account: This works the same as an individual brokerage account, except there are two account holders, such as spouses.Individual Retirement Account: Also called an IRA, qualifying individuals can make contributions that are not taxable. Growth is tax-deferred, which means that account holders don’t pay taxes until withdrawals are made. Roth IRA: This is an individual retirement account that is funded with after-tax dollars, which means contributions are not tax-deductible, as with the traditional IRA. However, growth is tax-deferred and qualified distributions (withdrawals) are tax-free. For more on the Roth and the traditional IRA, see this article on how IRAs work.
However mutual funds can be significantly less expensive. A mutual fund manager will place all the necessary trades to maintain the mutual fund portfolio but the investor may only be responsible for one low expense. But if investors are not careful, investing in mutual funds can be more expensive than buying individual stock securities. To keep costs low, mutual fund investors are wise to buy no-load mutual funds with low expense ratios. Costs can also be minimized by investing with one of the best no-load mutual fund companies like Vanguard, Fidelity or T. Rowe Price, all of which have a diverse selection of no-load funds with low expense ratios.