Think of mutual funds as investment baskets of securities. Each basket has its own objective and manager (or management team). The manager also has a team of analysts that assist in doing the research. Also keep in mind that, when it comes to management, mutual funds fall into two primary categories — one is active management and the other is passive management. Managers of actively-managed funds will use their resources to try and ”beat the market,” which is to say that they’ll attempt to outperform a certain benchmark, such as the S&P 500 index. However, the manager of a passively-managed mutual fund will not try to beat the index but will instead buy and hold a basket of stocks that will replicate the holdings and performance of the index.
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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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.
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.
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.