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.
Building Your Portfolio. Building a mutual fund portfolio is similar to building a house: Many different strategies, designs, tools and building materials exist, and may be applied; but each structure shares some basic features. To build the best mutual funds portfolio, go beyond the sage advice, ”Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” A structure designed to withstand the test of time requires smart design, a strong foundation and a simple combination of mutual funds that works well for your needs.
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Mutual Funds Come in Many Varieties. A mutual fund comes in many types and styles. There are stock funds, bond funds, sector funds, target-date mutual funds, money market mutual funds and balanced funds. Mutual funds allow you to invest in the market whether you believe in active portfolio management (actively managed funds) or you prefer to buy a segment of the market with no interference from a manager (passive funds and index mutual funds). The availability of different types of mutual funds allows you to build a diversified portfolio at low cost and without much difficulty.
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.
Choosing the Best Funds. With thousands of mutual funds to choose from and hundreds of different fund families offering them, choice overload and the potential to make needless mistakes exists. Without a doubt, no-load funds are the best choice for mutual fund investors. Once asset allocation has been established, begin choosing the best mutual funds for you and your investment goals. When choosing from a broad selection of mutual funds begin by using a fund screener, or simply comparing performance to a benchmark. Consider other important qualities of mutual funds, such as fund fees and expenses (see the Expense Ratio), and manager tenure, as well. Most importantly be sure to choose a diverse selection of funds which combine to suit your risk tolerance and investing goals.