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.
Accessibility: Mutual Funds Are Easy to Buy, Mutual funds are offered at brokerage firms, discount brokers online, mutual fund companies, banks, and insurance companies. Even beginning investors can easily open an account at a no-load mutual fund company, such as Vanguard Investments, and open an account within minutes. Diversification: Mutual Funds Have Broad Market Exposure, One mutual fund can invest in dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of different investment securities, making it possible to achieve diversification by investing in just one fund. However, it is smart to diversify into several different mutual funds.
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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.
How Do I Buy a Mutual Fund? Mutual funds are primarily bought in dollar amounts unlike stocks, which are bought in shares. Mutual funds can be purchased directly from a mutual fund company, a bank, or a brokerage firm. Before you can start investing, you’ll need to have an account with one of these institutions prior to placing an order. A mutual fund will be either a “load” or “no-load” fund, which is financial lingo for either paying a commission or not paying a commission. If you are using an investment professional to assist you, you will likely need to pay a load.
However mutual funds can be significantly less expensive. A mutual fund manager will place all the necessary trades to maintain the mutual fund portfolio but the investor may only be responsible for one low expense. But if investors are not careful, investing in mutual funds can be more expensive than buying individual stock securities. To keep costs low, mutual fund investors are wise to buy no-load mutual funds with low expense ratios. Costs can also be minimized by investing with one of the best no-load mutual fund companies like Vanguard, Fidelity or T. Rowe Price, all of which have a diverse selection of no-load funds with low expense ratios.