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.
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.
If you’re a bit more experienced in investing or are fortunate enough to have a bit of money to ”play around with” for a while, a somewhat more aggressive approach might be right down your alley. Determining Asset Allocation. Once level of risk tolerance is determined, consider your desired asset allocation—the mix of investment assets (stocks, bonds, and cash) comprising your portfolio. The proper asset allocation will reflect your level of risk tolerance: aggressive (high tolerance for risk), moderate (medium risk tolerance) or conservative (low risk tolerance).
Bottom Line on Buying Mutual Funds
Mutual fund research can be made easier with a good online research tool. Whether you are a beginner or a pro; if you are looking to buy the best mutual funds, review an existing fund, compare and screen different funds or you are just trying to learn something new, mutual fund research sites go a long way in helping streamline and clarify investment research objectives. Past performance of a mutual fund may not be a guarantee of future results but knowing how to analyze performance–what to look for and what to avoid–will help better-inform your investment decisions. To say that the best S&P 500 Index funds are those having the lowest Expense Ratios is mostly correct. However, in addition to low costs, a delicate balance of science and art to indexing exists, allowing only a few mutual fund companies to offer the best index funds.