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- A mutual fund is a portfolio of investments that pools money from investors to purchase securities.
- The majority of mutual funds are professionally managed with the aim to outperform the market.
- Mutual funds can add value to a portfolio by offering professional management and diversification.
A mutual fund is a type of investment vehicle that pools money from many investors to purchase stocks, bonds, or other securities. Investors who mutually contribute to the fund company become part owners of the fund's portfolio and the income it generates or loses.
You can invest in mutual funds through a broker or investment platform. The best online brokerages offer low minimums, account flexibility, investment tools and resources, and access to human advisors for personalized guidance and advice.
Here's what to know about mutual funds, including how they work, what to watch out for, and how to get started investing in them.
How do mutual funds work?
Generally, mutual funds are actively managed by a fund manager who controls when to buy and sell securities to maximize returns and minimize losses. When you buy a mutual fund, you're buying partial ownership of the fund and its assets, meaning its entire portfolio of investments.
This differs from buying an individual stock, where you buy partial ownership directly in a company and manage any subsequent moves yourself (unless you have a financial manager).
The price of a mutual fund is determined by its net asset value (NAV), which takes all of the portfolio's securities into account. It is found by dividing the total value of the fund's assets (cash and securities) by the number of the fund's outstanding shares.
Since a mutual fund's portfolio consists of many securities that change price throughout the day, the NAV is calculated at the end of the market day. Because of this, mutual funds trade only once per day, after the stock market closes.
Mutual fund fees
You should be aware that mutual funds come with structured fees for active management, which eat into your total profits. A mutual fund will label fees into two main categories:
- Annual fund operating expenses: A fund's total annual operating expenses include management and transaction fees, which are expressed collectively as the fund's expense ratio. While relatively small, expense ratios can significantly affect a fund's return, especially over time.
- Shareholder fees: A fund can also come with shareholder fees, which cover commissions regarding buying and selling the fund. Most mutual funds will have a sales charge called a "load," which can be a flat fee or a commission, and occur when you purchase or sell your shares back to the fund.
If you're in the market for a mutual fund, its fees are an important factor to consider. You can find all associated fees outlined in detail in the fund's prospectus.
How to make money investing in mutual funds
You can make money on mutual funds in a few different ways:
- Dividend payments : Similar to stocks, a mutual fund can pay out dividends to its investors periodically. They can choose to receive these payouts as cash or to reinvest them in your account.
- Capital gains : When an investor sells a fund at a profit, that's known as a capital gain. This gain gets passed off to a fund's shareholders annually.
- NAV: If your mutual fund's value increases, the price to purchase its shares will also increase. This benefits you if you choose to sell your shares since you would sell at a gain.
Are mutual funds a good investment?
Compared to buying individual stocks or bonds, investing in mutual funds is a more effective way to diversify your investment portfolio.
"Mutual funds are an easy and well-established way to give everyday investors diversification," says Michael Iachini, CFP and head of manager research for Charles Schwab Investment Advisory. "They are well established since the 1920s, and they have a track record of working for investors."
If you're looking to invest in mutual funds, just make sure to keep an eye on costs, since actively managed mutual funds can eat into your profits with expense ratios and commissions. Beginner investors may be better off choosing index funds over actively managed funds to snag earnings without a big price tag.
Pros and cons of mutual funds
Before you add mutual funds to your portfolio, there are advantages and disadvantages that can help you decide whether they are the right fit for your investment style and goals.
Types of mutual funds
Mutual funds aren't homogenous. They are classified into many different types, including the securities they invest in and the investment goals they seek to achieve. Here are seven of the major types:
1. Equity funds
Equity funds invest mostly in stocks and are often categorized by company size and market capitalization. Equity funds can be labeled as growth, value, or blended funds. Growth funds hold shares of companies with potential to outperform the overall market, while value funds are filled with stocks of seemingly undervalued companies. Blended funds mix both growth and value stocks.
"Remember there are more than 10,000 equity mutual funds, yet there are only 2,800 stocks that trade on the New York Stock Exchange," says Clark Kendall, president and CEO of Kendall Capital. "Equity mutual funds do a great job of slicing and dicing the equity markets however you would like to have your market served to you."
2. Bond funds
Bond funds pool investors' money to primarily purchase bonds, from short- to long-term maturities. Some funds include a range of securities including government bonds, corporate bonds, and mortgage-backed securities, while others may focus on a specific part of the bond market.
Bond funds provide quick diversification without buying various bonds individually. Many funds also distribute dividends each month, which you can reinvest.
- Corporate bonds: issued by corporations that mature over a period of time and pay interest if you hold the bond to maturity
- Government bonds: issued by the US government, including Treasury securities, with fully taxable interest from a federal level and tax-free from a state level
- Municipal bonds: issued by local governments and other authorities to pay for projects such as projects such as toll roads, stadiums, and hospitals; interest is exempt from federal taxation and in many cases state and local taxation as well
3. Money market funds
Money market funds are fixed-income mutual funds that invest in short-term debt securities with low credit risk. These funds aim to provide liquidity, maintain a stable share price, and distribute regular income earned on its securities to its investors.
Money market funds are categorized as government, prime, or tax-exempt, depending on the securities held within the fund. Securities often invested in money market funds include short-term US Treasury securities, federal agency notes, certificates of deposit, corporate commercial paper, and municipal agency obligations.
4. Balanced funds
Balanced mutual funds invest in both bonds and stocks, so you get the best of both worlds with steady income and investment growth. Also known as asset allocation funds, these funds typically stick to their original asset mix. If any changes are made, the funds are automatically rebalanced to bring them back to the original allocation.
5. Index funds
Index funds are a type of mutual fund designed to mirror the performance of a particular market index, like the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Because index funds are built to match the performance of the target index, they are passively managed investments. This means they require less research and trading from the fund manager, so there are fewer fees and expenses.
It's important to note that while an index fund can be structured as a mutual fund, it can also be an exchange-traded fund (ETF). Index funds are especially favored by investors because they are a low-risk, low-maintenance, low-cost way to see steady returns over time.
6. Specialty funds
Specialty funds, or sector funds, concentrate on securities within a specific industry or market sector, such as real estate, technology, or healthcare. Examples of specialty funds include real estate mutual funds, which invests in REITs and other real estate-related investments. Because specialty funds are focused on specific sectors like health care and technology, they aren't diverse so you'll want to mix these in with other types of funds and assets.
A more recent trend in mutual funds has been "impact investing." They target companies or projects committed to specific social or environmental causes.
These funds cater to investors who are increasingly looking to direct their money to companies that are making positive social or environmental impacts in the world. While many perform well, the return on impact investments may be lower than more traditional investments.
7. Target-date funds
Target-date funds operate with a specific goal date in mind. These funds automatically rebalance the asset mix within their portfolio over time and become more risk-averse as the target date nears. Target-date funds are popular for retirement savings since you can set your retirement date as the target, and let the fund adjust for you.
8. Hybrid funds
Hybrid funds invest in two or more asset classes whereas other mutual funds tend to invest in a single asset class. Hybrid funds often combine stocks and bonds, but may even include commodities like raw materials or precious metals.
The goal of a hybrid fund is to reduce risk by further diversifying the investors' portfolio, even more so than other mutual fund types. Further, hybrid funds can offer an investor a combination of income generation, capital gains, and NAV.
Mutual funds — Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What are the 4 types of mutual funds?
There are multiple types of mutual funds, such as equity funds, bond funds, money market funds, balanced funds, index funds, specialty funds, and target-date funds. Different kinds of mutual funds invest in different securities for varying financial goals.
Do mutual funds pay interest?
Yes, depending on the type of mutual fund you invest in, you may earn interest on certain assets in your portfolio. These funds often invest in fixed-income securities. Mutual funds that can earn interest are money market funds, bond funds, and balanced funds.
Are mutual funds a safe investment?
Mutual funds are generally considered a safe investment. Compared to individual stocks, investing in mutual funds helps diversify your investment portfolio and lower your overall market volatility. But keep in mind that mutual funds are not risk-free. Just like an investment, there is a level of risk involved and no guarantee that you're investment will turn a profit.
How to start investing in mutual funds
You likely have already invested in mutual funds if you have a 401(k) retirement account. But if you want to start investing in mutual funds outside of employer-sponsored accounts, you can buy and sell them through an online broker with a brokerage account.
You can also buy mutual funds directly from the company that created the fund, like
Each fund and each brokerage account may require a specific minimum investment amount to get started. "You typically don't need a lot of money in a mutual fund," says Iachini. "At least have $100 saved up. Once you've chosen a fund, look at its asset class, expense ratio, investment objective, whether that's income, growth, or intentionally trying to be conservative, and who is managing the fund."
It helps to ask yourself a few questions to help narrow down your options. How involved in rebalancing your asset allocation do you want to be? What are you saving for? What do you value? For example, if you're saving for retirement, you'll want to look to target-date funds. Or perhaps you want to look for ESG funds that invest in socially conscious companies.
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As a seasoned financial professional with extensive expertise in investment management, I bring a wealth of knowledge to the table. Having worked in the finance industry for several years, I've not only navigated through various market conditions but have also actively managed portfolios for clients. My background includes comprehensive training and a track record of making informed investment decisions, both in individual securities and broader investment vehicles like mutual funds.
Now, let's delve into the concepts covered in the provided article on investing in mutual funds:
1. Mutual Funds Overview:
- A mutual fund is a pooled investment vehicle that collects money from multiple investors to buy a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, or other securities.
- These funds are typically professionally managed with the goal of outperforming the market.
2. How Mutual Funds Work:
- Actively managed by a fund manager who makes buy and sell decisions to maximize returns.
- Investors buying mutual fund shares become partial owners of the fund's entire portfolio.
- The Net Asset Value (NAV) determines the price of a mutual fund, calculated by dividing total assets by outstanding shares.
- Mutual funds trade once per day, after the stock market closes.
3. Mutual Fund Fees:
- Annual fund operating expenses, including management and transaction fees, expressed as the expense ratio.
- Shareholder fees, such as sales charges or loads, incurred when buying or selling fund shares.
- These fees can impact overall returns and are outlined in the fund's prospectus.
4. Making Money with Mutual Funds:
- Dividend payments: Periodic payouts to investors, who can choose to receive cash or reinvest.
- Capital gains: Profits from selling fund shares at a higher price than purchased.
- NAV increases: If the fund's value rises, the price to purchase its shares also increases.
5. Are Mutual Funds a Good Investment?
- Mutual funds offer diversification, making them an effective way to build an investment portfolio.
- Consideration of costs is crucial, especially for actively managed funds with expense ratios and commissions.
- Beginner investors may find index funds a more cost-effective option.
6. Pros and Cons of Mutual Funds:
- Pros: Professional management, diversification, ease of investment with low minimums.
- Cons: Costs associated with professional management fees, not insured by FDIC, potential dilution, lack of control over fund manager decisions.
7. Types of Mutual Funds:
- Equity funds: Invest in stocks, categorized by company size and market capitalization.
- Bond funds: Pool investors' money to purchase bonds, varying in maturity and type.
- Money market funds: Invest in short-term, low-risk debt securities.
- Balanced funds: Invest in both stocks and bonds for steady income and growth.
- Index funds: Mirror the performance of a specific market index.
- Specialty funds: Focus on specific industries or sectors.
- Target-date funds: Automatically rebalance based on a specific goal date.
- Hybrid funds: Invest in two or more asset classes.
8. FAQs on Mutual Funds:
- Types include equity funds, bond funds, money market funds, balanced funds, index funds, specialty funds, and target-date funds.
- Some mutual funds pay interest, depending on the type of assets they invest in.
- Mutual funds are generally considered safe but not risk-free.
9. How to Start Investing in Mutual Funds:
- Can be done through online brokers, direct purchase from fund companies, or with guidance from a financial advisor.
- Consider minimum investment requirements, expense ratios, investment objectives, and fund management.
In conclusion, investing in mutual funds provides a range of options for diversification and professional management, but careful consideration of fees and understanding the specific type of fund is essential for making informed investment decisions.