In different words, Mutual funds can be considered baskets of investments. Each basket holds dozens or hundreds of security types, such as stocks or bonds. Therefore, when an investor buys a mutual fund, they are buying a basket of investment securities. Simple! Yes, there are many things to know about mutual funds but compared to the broad world of financial products, mutual funds are quite easy to use and understand.
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.
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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).
Target Date Mutual Funds: These funds invest in a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash that is appropriate for a person investing until a certain year, which is usually retirement. As the target year approaches, the fund manager will gradually decrease market risk by shifting fund assets out of stocks and into bonds and cash, which is what an individual investor would do themselves manually. Therefore, target-date mutual funds are a type of ”set it and forget it” investment that doesn’t require ongoing management. For example, if you are saving for retirement and think you may retire around the year 2035, a good choice for you might be Vanguard Target Retirement 2035 (VTTHX). Once you choose your first mutual fund, you’ll have the foundation started. You can then build upon that foundation by purchasing more shares of this fund and eventually add more funds for greater diversity.
Mutual funds are organized into categories by asset class (stocks, bonds, and cash) and then further categorized by style, objective or strategy. Knowing how mutual funds are categorized aids in choosing the best funds for asset allocation and diversification purposes. For example, there are stock mutual funds, bond mutual funds, and money market mutual funds. Stock and bond funds, as primary fund types, have dozens of sub-categories further describing the investment style of the fund.