Mutual funds can be structured in several different ways, including open-ended mutual funds vs. closed mutual funds being one particularly important distinction. To learn more about the way mutual funds are organized, you’ll want to read How a Mutual Fund Is Structured. You may also want to delve into Making Money from Mutual Funds, which explains how investors actually profit (or experience losses) from owning a stake in a mutual fund.
In a mutual fund, the value of your shares goes up and down as the value of the stocks and bonds in the fund rise and fall. For the average investor to have the same exposure to those investment options and potential profits on their own would be extremely costly both in terms of the actual investment dollars and in terms of time. Additionally, investing in a mutual fund is generally a cost-effective way to gain access to professional money management. Were you to try and invest in individual securities and actively manage them the way a mutual fund’s manager does, it could very easily become a full-time job. In order to make wise investment decisions when you buy individual stocks and bonds yourself, at the very least you’d have to have the knowledge to do extensive research on various types of businesses in general (automobile, construction, medical) and on specific companies (GE, IBM, Microsoft).
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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.
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.
So in preparation for making the first purchase of a mutual fund, you’ll need to save enough to cover the minimum.