5 Disadvantages of Mutual Funds

Frustrated businessman standing in front of the stock exchange on Wall Street with his cellphone.

 Westend61 / Getty Images

Before you invest in mutual funds, you should do your homework. And fortunately, we're here to help you with that! Which funds are the best to use? Will you choose to use mutual funds, closed-end funds, ETFs, and/or individual stocks and bonds?

Inevitably, your homework assignment will lead you to articles outlining the disadvantages of mutual funds. But are all of these so-called disadvantages of mutual funds really disadvantages of mutual funds? Let’s take a look at several so-called disadvantages of mutual funds, and how you can avoid them.

Key Takeaways

  • Some of the so-called disadvantages of mutual funds are myths or do not apply to every fund.
  • For example, “hidden fees” must be revealed in the mutual fund prospectus; plus, not every mutual fund charges these fees.
  • Investors who like the flexibility of ETFs may balk at waiting until the close of market for mutual fund order transactions.
  • There are strategies to avoid the capital gains distributions including tax-loss harvesting and selling a mutual fund prior to the distribution.

Mutual Funds Have Hidden Fees

If fees were hidden, those hidden fees would certainly be on the list of disadvantages of mutual funds. The hidden fees that are lamented are properly referred to as 12b-1 fees. While these 12b-1 fees are no fun to pay, they are not hidden. The fee is disclosed in the mutual fund prospectus and can be found on the mutual funds’ websites. Many mutual funds do not charge a 12b-1 fee. If you find the 12b-1 fee onerous, invest in a mutual fund that does not charge the fee. Hidden fees cannot make the list of disadvantages of mutual funds because they are not hidden and there are thousands of mutual funds that do not charge 12b-1 fees.

Mutual Funds Lack Liquidity

How fast can you get your money if you sell a mutual fund as compared to ETFs, stocks and closed-end funds? If you sell a mutual fund, you typically have access to your cash the day after the sale. ETFs, stocks, and closed-end funds require you to wait two days after you sell the investment. I would call the “lack of liquidity” disadvantage of mutual funds a myth. You can only find more liquidity if you invest in your mattress.

Mutual Funds Have High Sales Charges

Should a sales charge be included in the disadvantages of mutual funds list? It’s difficult to justify paying a sales charge when you have a plethora of no-load mutual funds. But, then again, it’s difficult to say that a sales charge is a disadvantage of mutual funds when you have thousands of mutual fund options that do not have sales charges. Sales charges are too broad to be included on my list of disadvantages of mutual funds.

Mutual Funds and Poor Trade Execution

If you buy or sell a mutual fund, the transaction will take place at the close of the market regardless of the time you entered the order to buy or sell the mutual fund. I find the trading of mutual funds to be a simple, stress-free feature of the investment structure. However, many advocates and purveyors of ETFs will point out that you can trade throughout the day with ETFs. If you decide to invest in ETFs over mutual funds because your order can be filled at 3:50 pm EST with ETFs rather than receive prices as of 4:00 pm EST with mutual funds.

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 found a winner for the list of disadvantages of the mutual funds. 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.

In addition, retirement plans (IRAs, 401ks, etc.) are not impacted by capital gains distributions. There are also strategies to avoid the capital gains distributions including tax-loss harvesting and selling a mutual fund prior to the distribution.

Are There Disadvantages of Mutual Funds?

Are there disadvantages of mutual funds? Absolutely, there are disadvantages of mutual funds. There are advantages and disadvantages to each and every investment vehicle. However, if you come across a list of the disadvantages of mutual funds, scrutinize each item on the list and determine if it applies as a disadvantage of mutual funds or a disadvantage of a particular mutual fund (or to investment vehicles as a whole regardless of the structure).

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.