What Is a Good Annual Return for a Mutual Fund?

Average Returns for Mutual Funds: Annual vs Annualized Returns

A confident young business woman takes a break from reviewing her returns.

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If you want to know what a good annual return for a mutual fund is, the answer will depend on a few primary factors. These factors include the type of fund and the time frame or horizon of your investment. For example, a good annual return for a stock mutual fund is expected to be much higher than that of a bond fund.

Mutual Fund Returns: Annual Return vs. Annualized Return

When researching mutual fund returns, it’s wise first to understand the distinction between annual return and annualized return. The annual return is the gain or loss of the initial investment over a year. Annualized return is the average rate of return over a multiple-year time frame. 

For example, you see that a mutual fund had a 15% return last year, and the 10-year historical return is 10%. The previous year’s gain is the annual return, and the 10-year performance is the average return during the period. For some years—during the measured period—the mutual fund may have had large gains, whereas other years it may have had declines. The average return over the period is annualized.

Calculating Mutual Fund Annual Return and Annualized Return

For a better understanding of a mutual fund’s annual return and annualized return, it’s helpful to know how each is calculated. Keep in mind that a mutual fund’s valuation is not measured in price like stocks and ETFs. Instead, it is expressed as a net asset value (NAV).

Net Asset Value is the total of the value of a mutual fund’s holdings, minus its liabilities. It is calculated daily, at the end of trading, based on the end of day market price of each security in the fund.  

Mutual Fund Annual Return Calculation

To find a mutual fund’s annual return—based on the calendar year—you need to find the change in NAV during the year. First, you will subtract the beginning NAV on Jan. 1 from the ending NAV on Dec. 31 of the same year. Then you divide that difference in NAV by the beginning NAV. This calculation will give you the annual return, like this:

(Ending NAV - Beginning NAV) / Beginning NAV = Annual Return 

For example, if your beginning NAV on Jan. 1 during a calendar was 100 and the ending NAV on Dec. 31 was 110, your annual return would be 10%, and the calculation would be like this:

110 - 100 = 10

10/100 = 0.10 or 10%

Mutual Fund Annualized Return Calculation

To find a mutual fund’s annualized return, you will add the annual returns for every year within a specific time frame, such as three years, five years or 10 years, and divide the total return by the number of years.

For example, say you were calculating the three-year annualized return of your mutual fund. The annual returns during the period were 6% in year one, 8% in year two, and 10% in year three. In this case, your three-year annualized return would be 8%, and the calculation would look like this:

(6 + 8 + 10) / 3

36 / 3 = 8

The annual return is simply the gain or loss of particular investment security during a calendar year. The annualized return is the average return for an investment for a multiple-year time frame.

Return on Investment vs. Return of Investment

Another important distinction to make when analyzing mutual fund returns, as well as the performance of other investment securities, is the difference between the return on investment and the return of the investment. Return on investment (ROI) is the actual return realized by the investor. Return of the investment is the return of the investment itself. These returns can be different and are often confused.

Many investors implement a systematic investment plan (SIP), which means they make periodic investments, such as monthly mutual fund purchases. This system of investing is also called dollar-cost averaging (DCA) and will often make an investor’s ROI different than the stated annual return of the mutual fund.

For example, if you use DCA for a stock mutual fund during any given year—and the stock market is crashing during that time frame—your ROI will be higher than the annual return. This result is because the annual return calculates the change in price—NAV in the case of a mutual fund. It runs from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. However, most investors don’t make a lump sum investment on Jan. 1. Instead, they make periodic investments throughout the year. 

When you DCA monthly in a year where the market is crashing, you’ve made purchases every month at progressively lower NAV, which means any decline in value is not the same as it would be if you made one lump sum investment, just before the crash began.

Good Average Annual Return for a Mutual Fund  

A good average annual return for a mutual fund depends on two primary factors—the type of fund and the historical time frame you are reviewing. When researching mutual funds, it’s wise to review long-term returns, such as the 10-year annualized return, to get a reasonable expectation of future performance.

For stock mutual funds, a “good” long-term return (annualized, for 10 years or more) is 8%-10%. For bond mutual funds, a good long-term return would be 4%-5%. For more precise, “apples to apples” comparisons, use a good online mutual fund screener. You can then compare any given return for a mutual fund with its category average or against a benchmark index.

A measure of what determines good long-term performance is when a fund can beat a benchmark index (or a fund that tracks a benchmark index) for 10 years or more. 

For example, since its inception in January 1993, the SPDR S&P 500 Index ETF (SPY) has an annualized return of 9.44%. In terms of performance alone, a stock mutual fund that has long-term returns—such as the 10-year annualized return—that beats this is considered a good fund. Since its inception in September of 2003, the iShares Core Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG) has an annualized return of 4.29%. A bond fund that has long-term performance that beats this would be considered a good fund.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is 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.

Article Sources

  1. Corporate Finance Institute. "Annual Return." Accessed Aug. 3, 2020.

  2. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "Mutual Funds and Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) – A Guide for Investors." Accessed Aug. 3, 2020.

  3. Fidelity Investments. "SPDR S&P 500 ETF TRUST (SPY)." Accessed Aug. 3, 2020.

  4. BlackRock. "iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF." Accessed Aug. 3, 2020.