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.
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.
Since most investors are buying mutual funds for the long-term, and most are moderate investors that want to take some risk to get higher returns (but not a high level of risk) we’ll focus on building a portfolio for this investment objective (long-term, medium risk). Here are some of the best funds to start a long-term portfolio:
Balanced Funds: Also called hybrid funds or asset allocation funds, these are mutual funds that invest in a balanced asset allocation of stocks, bonds, and cash. The allocation usually remains fixed and invests according to a stated investment objective or style. For example, Fidelity Balanced Fund (FBALX) has an approximate asset allocation of 65% stocks and 35% bonds. It considered a medium risk or what industry experts might call a moderate portfolio. Vanguard also has an outstanding index balanced fund, Vanguard Balanced Index (VBINX), which is suitable for investors looking for moderate risk. Balanced funds can be ideal for beginning investors because they are well-diversified and can, therefore, be used as stand-alone investments or as core holdings to begin a larger portfolio.
Simplicity: Mutual Funds Are Easy to Understand, Anything can be made into something more complex than it needs to be and mutual funds are no exception to this truth. However, mutual funds require no experience or knowledge of economics, financial statements, or financial markets to be a successful investor. For beginners, here is a simple definition of mutual fund: A mutual fund is an investment security type that enables investors to pool their money together into one professionally managed investment. Mutual funds can invest in stocks, bonds, cash and/or other assets. These underlying security types, called holdings combine to form one mutual fund, also called a portfolio.