I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about investing. She just recently received her tax refund and had yet to “spend it” as she said. Naturally I suggested that she invest it. We got to talking about what she might invest her money in and since she has absolutely no investing experience I suggested that she might consider a mutual fund. She had heard of mutual funds before, but wasn’t exactly sure what they are. Of course I told her she should read my blog post about mutual funds, when suddenly I realized I didn’t have one. Thinking that it was really quite irresponsible of me to not have covered this topic as of yet, I am now going to right this wrong. Welcome to Mutual Funds 101.
What is a Mutual Fund?
A Mutual Fund is a diversified portfolio of investments… essentially a ready-made, specifically focused, investment portfolio. A Mutual Fund is a large pool of money which is used to invest in stocks, bonds or other securities. Mutual Funds are attractive to a large number of people because it is easy to purchase shares and they are great for investors who do not have the time or the desire to create their own diversified investment portfolio. Mutual Funds are usually geared towards one of three different goals: income, growth or a mixture of the two. An income fund invest mainly in – you guessed it – income investments such as bonds, preferred stock and income-oriented common stock (stocks that pay a high dividend). A growth fund invests mainly in high-growth (often small or mid-cap stocks) stocks and other types of growth investments. And finally the growth/income fund would invest in a mixture of these types of investments so as to provide a stream of income to the investor as well as potential for future growth.
How do I purchase a Mutual Fund?
To invest in a Mutual Fund is similar to investing in the stock of a company. Mutual Funds are sold by the share, just as stocks are. The Net Asset Value (NAV) of a Mutual Fund refers to the value of just one share of a Mutual Fund. This NAV is updated daily. Investors have two choices when it comes to investing in a mutual fund. They can purchase shares of the fund from the fund company directly or purchase shares through a brokerage account.
If you already have a brokerage account you might consider purchasing shares of funds directly through your brokerage, so as to keep all of your investments in one “place.” One thing to keep in mind is that some brokerages charge a flat fee to invest in a fund. This fee might make it more practical to purchase directly from the mutual fund company.
Update: A great place to do research on mutual funds is over at Morningstar.com