Since mutual funds are easy to understand and a smart investment choice for the majority of savers and investors, these security types are the most commonly held investments in 401(k) plans and IRAs. However, although mutual funds are relatively simple to use, they are not for everyone and investors should be careful to select the best funds that align with their goals and tolerance for risk.
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.
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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.
Equity and fixed-income funds have subcategories which allow an investor to cast a narrow net with their investment dollars. For example, an equity fund investor might invest in a technology fund that only invests in eco-friendly technology companies. Likewise, a bond fund investor who is seeking current income might invest in a government securities fund that only invests in government securities. A so-called balanced fund is a mutual fund that owns both stocks and bonds.
Target Date Mutual Funds: These funds invest in a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash that is appropriate for a person investing until a certain year, which is usually retirement. As the target year approaches, the fund manager will gradually decrease market risk by shifting fund assets out of stocks and into bonds and cash, which is what an individual investor would do themselves manually. Therefore, target-date mutual funds are a type of ”set it and forget it” investment that doesn’t require ongoing management. For example, if you are saving for retirement and think you may retire around the year 2035, a good choice for you might be Vanguard Target Retirement 2035 (VTTHX). Once you choose your first mutual fund, you’ll have the foundation started. You can then build upon that foundation by purchasing more shares of this fund and eventually add more funds for greater diversity.