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.
The reason why diversification is important is that investing in just one or two securities can be too risky. For example, if an investor buys just a few stocks and those stocks see significant declines in price over a short period of time, the investor’s portfolio can drop dramatically in value. But if the investor buys a mutual fund that holds 100 stocks, and a few of those stocks see price declines, the impact on the investor’s account value is less.
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Mutual Funds and Poor Trade Execution. If you buy or sell a mutual fund, the transaction will take place at the close of the market regardless of the time you entered the order to buy or sell the mutual fund. I find the trading of mutual funds to be a simple, stress-free feature of the investment structure. However, many advocates and purveyors of ETFs will point out that you can trade throughout the day with ETFs. If you decide to invest in ETFs over mutual funds because your order can be filled at 3:50 pm EST with ETFs rather than receive prices as of 4:00 pm EST with mutual funds.
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.
That said, a “no-load” fund is not free. All mutual funds have internal expenses. Part of your investment dollars will help pay the fund company, the fund manager, and other fees associated with running a mutual fund. These fees will often be made transparent to you and are taken out of the assets of the mutual fund. You should always take the time to consider all the various fees and charges when investing in mutual funds.