Think of mutual funds as investment baskets of securities. Each basket has its own objective and manager (or management team). The manager also has a team of analysts that assist in doing the research. Also keep in mind that, when it comes to management, mutual funds fall into two primary categories — one is active management and the other is passive management. Managers of actively-managed funds will use their resources to try and ”beat the market,” which is to say that they’ll attempt to outperform a certain benchmark, such as the S&P 500 index. However, the manager of a passively-managed mutual fund will not try to beat the index but will instead buy and hold a basket of stocks that will replicate the holdings and performance of the index.
Mutual fund research can be made easier with a good online research tool. Whether you are a beginner or a pro; if you are looking to buy the best mutual funds, review an existing fund, compare and screen different funds or you are just trying to learn something new, mutual fund research sites go a long way in helping streamline and clarify investment research objectives. Past performance of a mutual fund may not be a guarantee of future results but knowing how to analyze performance–what to look for and what to avoid–will help better-inform your investment decisions. To say that the best S&P 500 Index funds are those having the lowest Expense Ratios is mostly correct. However, in addition to low costs, a delicate balance of science and art to indexing exists, allowing only a few mutual fund companies to offer the best index funds.
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Investors Can Buy Many Different Types of Mutual Funds. Investment objectives are unique to every investor, which means that there are many different reasons to buy mutual funds. Fortunately, there are several categories of funds that can suit any investment need. Some of the most common investment objectives include retirement and education, each of which may require different funds to suit the needs of the investor. Target retirement funds are good examples of low-cost, diversified funds tailored to meet a variety of time horizons. This category of funds will invest in other mutual funds that combine to be suitable for a certain age range of investor. Target retirement funds are categorized by decade. For example, a 25-year old investor may expect to retire in 35 to 45 years. Therefore a fund like Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 (VFIFX) can work well in a 401(k) or IRA for this investor.
Saving for Your Initial Mutual Fund Purchase. Most mutual funds have what’s called a minimum initial purchase, which is the amount you’ll need to have saved prior to buying shares of your first fund. Most mutual fund companies have minimum initial purchase amounts of at least $1,000. For example, most of Vanguard’s mutual funds have a minimum initial purchase requirement of $3,000. Fidelity funds are typically at $2,500. However, once you make your first purchase, subsequent purchases of the same fund are usually as low as $100.
S&P 500 Index Funds: Index funds can be a great place to begin building a portfolio of mutual funds because most of them have extremely low expense ratios and can give you exposure to dozens or hundreds of stocks representing various industries in just one fund. As their name suggests, index funds simply hold the same securities that are found in an index. S&P 500 Index funds invest in approximately 500 of the largest U.S. companies. Index funds are passively managed, which means their primary objective is to mirror the holdings and performance of an index and therefore costs to operate these funds are extremely low. Therefore, you can meet the initial goal of getting a low-cost, diversified mutual fund when you buy index funds. For more on index funds, check out our Index Investing FAQ page. Again, mutual fund companies like Vanguard, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price are good places to find the best index funds. You can also look at Charles Schwab.