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.
How Do I Select a Mutual Fund? This is where you’ll want to laser focus your attention and become an amateur sleuth while doing your research. The number of mutual funds available to investors right now rivals the number of stocks on the North American exchanges. Each one of these funds is unique but can be categorized based on the type of underlying securities held within it. At the broadest level, a fund falls into one of three categories: equity (which is stocks), fixed income (which are bonds), and money markets (similar to cash).
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Opening an Account to Buy Mutual Funds. If you don’t already have an investment account at a brokerage firm or mutual fund company, you’ll need to open one before you’re ready to make your first purchase. Opening an account doesn’t require money; all you need to do is choose the company where you’ll invest and follow their procedures.
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.
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?