10 Things You Should Know About Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are one of the most popular ways for new investors to build wealth. Whether you own them through your retirement plans, such as a 401(k) or IRA, or you buy them directly or through a brokerage account, this guide to mutual fund investing is designed to help you understand what they are, how they work, and things you may want to consider.

Mutual Funds 101

Jay Brousseau / Getty Images

First up, you need to understand what mutual funds are. In Mutual Funds 101, you'll be able to see the difference between open-ended funds and closed funds, load vs. no-load funds, and more.

How a Mutual Funds Works

Investment statement depicting asset allocation
pfb1 / Getty Images

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the makeup of a fund, which will give you a much better idea of what happens once you write a check to start investing. For beginners, this is an excellent look at how mutual funds are structured.

How Do I Buy Shares?

Stock market data
tovfla / Getty Images

Once you are ready to begin investing in mutual funds, you have to go about buying your mutual fund shares. There are three popular ways this is done in the United States. This overview will help you understand each of them, and some of the advantages certain methods have over others.

What Is a Sales Load?

Closeup of financial bar graph
Tetra Images / Getty Images

When you buy your first mutual fund, you may encounter something known as a sales load. There are front-end loads, back-end loads, deferred loads, and declining loads. That may sound complicated, but it is really important you understand what these terms mean because buying the wrong type of mutual fund can take thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars directly out of your pocket.

Are Low-Cost Index Funds the Best Investment?

Close-Up Of Chart On Digital Display
Chuanchai Pundej / Getty Images

Many professionals believe that low-cost index funds are a better investment choice for those who want to grow their wealth without a lot of hassle. How are index funds different? Should you consider investing in them instead of actively managed mutual funds? Here are some thoughts that you might want to consider.

10-Part Guide to Picking the Best Funds

Investment Portfolio
benedek / Getty Images

How do you pick the best mutual funds? This step-by-step guide illustrates some of the things to think about and look for when building a mutual fund portfolio. It includes considering specific markets like energy. It should be useful as you make your way through what can seem like an endless list of potential fund investments.

Don't Forget to Watch Out for This Huge Hidden Tax

Tax form and a pencil
Tetra Images / Getty Images

There is a hidden mutual fund tax that could cause you to owe massive amounts of money to the IRS even if you lose money investing in a mutual fund. Most new investors don't know how it works, or even how to spot this potential danger. Don't even consider mutual fund investing until you've learned the cause of potential mutual fund tax problems.

Don't Chase Past Performance

mutual funds
blackwaterimages / Getty Images

While it may seem like a good idea to only buy shares of mutual funds that have good past performance, that's not always the case. Mutual funds are a unique type of investment. For example, portfolio managers change even though the fund name remains the same. If someone new is managing your money, you may not even realize it. Likewise, fund assets grow, making it more difficult to put money to work as the universe of potential investments shrinks.

Should I Invest in Bonds or a Bond Fund?

Online investment keyboard
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Mutual funds aren't just for investing in stocks. A common question for beginners is whether new investors should own bonds or invest in a bond fund, which is a special type of mutual fund that owns bonds and other fixed-income investments.

Are ETFs a Better Choice?

Success on the stock exchange with ETF
gopixa / Getty Images

You may have heard a lot about ETFs, or read about them in the press, especially comparing them to traditional mutual funds. Exchange traded funds do have a lot of benefits, but there are also some drawbacks you need to know about before you make the switch.