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.
Mutual Funds Lack Liquidity. How fast can you get your money if you sell a mutual fund as compared to ETFs, stocks and closed-end funds? If you sell a mutual fund, you have access to your cash the day after the sale. ETFs, stocks and closed-end funds require you to wait three days after you sell the investment. I would call the “lack of liquidity” disadvantage of mutual funds a myth. You can only find more liquidity if you invest in your mattress.
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Mutual funds give investors the ability to diversify across a wide variety of investments that they otherwise may not carry in their portfolio as individual securities. Since mutual funds invest in a diverse range of securities and investment options, one mutual fund share actually represents proportionate ownership in each and every investment in the mutual fund’s portfolio. Of most interest to investors is that each share also proportionately represents the profits of those investments as mutual funds are required to pass along profits to their investors by way of mutual fund distributions, which come in several forms.
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.
Mutual Funds Have Hidden Fees. If fees were hidden, those hidden fees would certainly be on the list of disadvantages of mutual funds. The hidden fees that are lamented are properly referred to as 12b-1 fees. While these 12b-1 fees are no fun to pay, they are not hidden. The fee is disclosed in the mutual fund prospectus and can be found on the mutual funds’ websites. Many mutual funds do not charge a 12b-1 fee. If you find the 12b-1 fee onerous, invest in a mutual fund that does not charge the fee. Hidden fees cannot make the list of disadvantages of mutual funds because they are not hidden and there are thousands of mutual funds that do not charge 12b-1 fees.