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?
Choosing the Best Funds. With thousands of mutual funds to choose from and hundreds of different fund families offering them, choice overload and the potential to make needless mistakes exists. Without a doubt, no-load funds are the best choice for mutual fund investors. Once asset allocation has been established, begin choosing the best mutual funds for you and your investment goals. When choosing from a broad selection of mutual funds begin by using a fund screener, or simply comparing performance to a benchmark. Consider other important qualities of mutual funds, such as fund fees and expenses (see the Expense Ratio), and manager tenure, as well. Most importantly be sure to choose a diverse selection of funds which combine to suit your risk tolerance and investing goals.
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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.
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.
Mutual Funds are Professionally Managed. Many investors don’t have the resources or the time to buy individual stocks. This is where professional management is valuable. Investing in individual securities, such as stocks, not only takes resources but a considerable amount of time. By contrast, mutual fund managers and analysts wake up each morning dedicating their professional lives to researching and analyzing current and potential holdings for their mutual fund.