The most effective, profitable method for investing success with mutual funds never forgets the fundamentals: researching and choosing the best funds, building a solid, trustworthy portfolio and sticking with it. From beginning the financial planning process to selection, analysis, building a portfolio and taxation, understanding investment options and mounting a solid foundation based on comprehension is key to investment success.
Investing begins before buying the first mutual fund (or prior to buying the next one). If you're investing independent of a financial advisor, ask yourself a few questions: What do you hope to accomplish with your savings? A secure retirement? Accumulation of wealth for strengthening your financial security? What is your time horizon? One year? Five years? 10 years?
Basic Types and Categories of Mutual Funds
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.
Knowing Your Risk Tolerance
Before choosing funds, it's important to know your risk tolerance—a measure of the level of fluctuation (a.k.a. volatility—ups and downs) or market risk to which you're willing to subject your portfolio.
If you are just getting started investing with mutual funds, or if you get highly anxious when your $10,000 account value falls by 10 percent (to $9,000) in a one-year period, your risk tolerance is relatively low—high-risk investments probably aren't for you. You might consider starting with a balanced or "hybrid" fund.
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).
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 (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 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.
Building Your Portfolio
Building a mutual fund portfolio is similar to building a house: Many different strategies, designs, tools and building materials exist, and may be applied; but each structure shares some basic features. To build the best mutual funds portfolio, go beyond the sage advice, "Don’t put all your eggs in one basket." A structure designed to withstand the test of time requires smart design, a strong foundation and a simple combination of mutual funds that works well for your needs.
The Basics of Mutual Fund Taxation
How does one reduce taxes on mutual funds? Which types of funds are best for taxable accounts? Why did you receive a 1099? Understanding mutual fund taxation will help improve your overall returns by being a smarter investor. As the saying goes, "Nothing is sure in life but death and taxes." However, taxes can be minimized or even avoided with regard to mutual fund investing. Basic knowledge and practice on mutual fund taxation enables an increase in your overall investment portfolio returns.
Avoiding the Dave Ramsey Mistake
Dave Ramsey is a good entertainer and seems like a genuinely nice person. However, regarding mutual funds, his investment philosophies border on dangerous. It is possible to glean a few good mutual fund investment tips from his talk radio show, but any investor is wise to understand the difference between entertainment and sound investment practices.
Armed with sound insight on mutual funds, investors can do well to build their own portfolios. But remember that mutual fund research, analysis and portfolio management is not for everyone. If you don't enjoy doing it, chances are you won't be good at it.
The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.