In a mutual fund, the value of your shares goes up and down as the value of the stocks and bonds in the fund rise and fall. For the average investor to have the same exposure to those investment options and potential profits on their own would be extremely costly both in terms of the actual investment dollars and in terms of time. Additionally, investing in a mutual fund is generally a cost-effective way to gain access to professional money management. Were you to try and invest in individual securities and actively manage them the way a mutual fund’s manager does, it could very easily become a full-time job. In order to make wise investment decisions when you buy individual stocks and bonds yourself, at the very least you’d have to have the knowledge to do extensive research on various types of businesses in general (automobile, construction, medical) and on specific companies (GE, IBM, Microsoft).
How Do I Buy a Mutual Fund? Mutual funds are primarily bought in dollar amounts unlike stocks, which are bought in shares. Mutual funds can be purchased directly from a mutual fund company, a bank, or a brokerage firm. Before you can start investing, you’ll need to have an account with one of these institutions prior to placing an order. A mutual fund will be either a “load” or “no-load” fund, which is financial lingo for either paying a commission or not paying a commission. If you are using an investment professional to assist you, you will likely need to pay a load.
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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.
Knowing Your Risk Tolerance. Before choosing funds, it’s important to know your risk tolerance—a measure of the level of fluctuation (a.k.a. volatility—ups and downs) or market risk to which you’re willing to subject your portfolio. If you are just getting started investing with mutual funds, or if you get highly anxious when your $10,000 account value falls by 10 percent (to $9,000) in a one-year period, your risk tolerance is relatively low—high-risk investments probably aren’t for you. You might consider starting with a balanced or ”hybrid” fund.
Joint Brokerage Account: This works the same as an individual brokerage account, except there are two account holders, such as spouses.Individual Retirement Account: Also called an IRA, qualifying individuals can make contributions that are not taxable. Growth is tax-deferred, which means that account holders don’t pay taxes until withdrawals are made. Roth IRA: This is an individual retirement account that is funded with after-tax dollars, which means contributions are not tax-deductible, as with the traditional IRA. However, growth is tax-deferred and qualified distributions (withdrawals) are tax-free. For more on the Roth and the traditional IRA, see this article on how IRAs work.