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.
Mutual Funds Are Diversified Investments. The nature of mutual funds as pooled investments that are professionally managed means that investors generally can easily accomplish one of the most important standards of smart investing — diversification. To diversify means to spread market risk by holding a variety of several different securities, rather than just a few. Most mutual funds invest in dozens or hundreds of stocks or bonds within one portfolio. Depending upon the type of fund, this accomplishes the fundamentals of diversification with as little as one or two mutual funds. However, when building a portfolio of mutual funds, especially as investment assets and objectives grow more complex over time, investors are smart to diversify across several funds in different categories.
Other Types of Mutual Funds: Index Funds. Today, not all funds are managed by a financial manager. Index funds use a computer program to buy all of the stock in a particular index, such as the Russell 3000 or the S&P 500, regardless of how they’re performing. They don’t have to do research or try to time the movement in the market to buy or sell at the ”right” time. Index fund fees, therefore, are generally much lower than the fees for managed funds, and, therefore, the return on investment is higher.
All Mutual Funds Have High Capital Gains Distributions. If all mutual funds sell holdings and pass the capital gains on to investors as a taxable event, then we have a found a winner for the list of disadvantages of the mutual funds list. Oh well, not all mutual funds make annual capital gains distributions. Index mutual funds and tax-efficient mutual funds do not make these distributions every year. Yes, if they have the gains, they must distribute the gains to shareholders. However, many mutual funds (including index mutual funds and tax-efficient mutual funds) are low-turnover funds and do not make capital gains distributions on an annual basis.
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.